Rumor’s Block

Memoirs of the Second Age: Hawthorne

So you finally got to me?

From what the other’s said, you’ve heard everything about his death that you could want.

No…you’re right. I suppose there’s a few more things you need to know.

Most people say that that night ended the Second Age. After all, that’s when the biggest monster the world had ever known was finally killed for good. Ten years later, and we’ve never seen anything like him since.

But Ages don’t end when people die. We lost three members of the Council that night, and most of the others retired over the next two years. It was their replacements who started the New Age.

No, I’m not talking about me. I was the last to switch in, and Lux stayed around for years after he stopped serving.

I know a lot of people look on the Second Age like we did the first. I’ve heard them calling it the Gilded Age, as if the Council had just covered up all the shit that had gone wrong, but the rules they set up were solid. The fact is that, at the time, nobody could have fixed the system better than they did.

In the end, there was just too much new blood for the old ways to stick around. Macropolis worked well, but so many other cities were failing under the same rules. The new system works better, it lets people know that they’ll be protected no matter where they live.

But that’s not really what you’re here about is it? You already talked to the others, you know what happened with them.

Fine. I’ll go through it.

After her brother died, Miss Mirror went on a crusade. It took Mach-sorry, I meant Scanner-nearly a year to calm her down. Eventually, she took over Will’s job at the support groups. From what I’ve heard, she does a good job. She makes sure the kids that get to her take it seriously, and she’s been keeping a close eye on them.

Allspades took over the hero gym after Phil died. He has to close up earlier than Phil did to keep up his patrols, but the place is more popular than ever. He lets Miss Mirror use it for meetings when her groups need to let off steam, and I think he’s taken more than a few of the kids under his wing. Better living through punch, I guess.

It was three years before Mach took on her new mantle. Between the physical therapy and learning what her powers could really do…let’s just say that we’re lucky she’s as smart and determined as she is. She mostly consults for the police and other heroes, but she’d solved more cases in the last year than any five precincts combined. I think she works for the government sometimes too, but she doesn’t like talking about it.

Unimportant kept his personal war going until he and Scanner finally tracked Asclepios down five years ago. We thought he was going to retire after that. We even bought a cake. But six months later, he was back on the streets. It’s hard to know just how many people he’s taken down, but every time a new gang’s warehouse has an unexpected fire or a drug shipment ends up spilling onto the road, I’m sure he has something to do with it.

Burnout’s powers keep growing stronger. He works as a hero, but it’s hard to justify sending him after smaller threats. When he goes all out, he looks scarier than most villains do. If we stuck to the old system, then he would have needed to be reclassified by now, but now he’ll always be stuck somewhere in the middle. When you look at him, it’s hard to remember the college kid who was more afraid of his power than anything else.

After Lux took a back seat, I took his place on the Council. I’m in charge of this region, so I didn’t have to leave home, but it still takes me out of the city for a few months every year. Like I said, I came in at the tail end of the changeover, but there were more than a few issues that had to be stamped down to get everything working right. I like to think I helped everything turn out for the better, but it’ll probably be another few years before hindsight kicks in.

…You really want to hear about that?

Okay, it just seems like a bad way to end things.

Red Racer had three funerals. His name was carved into the memorial, just like everyone else who died that day. The whole city was there.

He was buried next to his parents. We wanted to be there, but the only one who had a good reason for showing up at the funeral was Scanner. All of his classmates were there when they lowered him in.

Our funeral couldn’t start until they left. The grave had been filled in, but everyone who was a part of both of his lives was there. We each had something to say-and there’s no way I’m letting you put what that was in your book. After what he did, he deserves the privacy.

Rumor’s name is carved on the memorial with Red’s, but I still can’t think of him and Will as the same person.  Will would have told you that Rumor died years before that, and I think that’s the best way to think of it.

Will’s funeral was massive. I don’t know how many of the people attending were heroes, but line at the graveyard was long enough that I was worried about the city’s safety.

It was almost surreal. Hardly any of them had anything nice to say about Will. All of them thought of him as a hero, and nobody was happy to see him go, but it was almost like they were they out of obligation. But nobody disappeared after they said their piece, and nobody left after the coffin was lowered. They all stayed until the grave was filled in and they were slow leaving after that.

It was like they were waiting for him to be alive again.

Easily a hundred people stood in the rain watching a grave with an empty coffin.

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Chapter 134: The End of an Age

It had gotten cold under the black sky. He’d shoved his hands as deep into the pockets of his coat as he could, but the frigid air was still biting at his fingers.

William Writer walked into the battlefield.

He walked past the injured heroes lying on the streets.

He walked past the exhausted heroes, forced to the sidelines.

Eclipse had stopped using the pillars. If it were any other villain, Will would think that he’d gotten tired, but Eclipse didn’t run out of power. He was just done with his experiment for the day. He had reverted to his older tricks instead.

Most of the heroes were fighting his ghosts. The blackened figures looked like somebody different to everyone who fought them. Will didn’t look too closely. He knew who he would see.

Will stopped. Eclipse would be at the center of it all. He wasn’t in the sky anymore; he would be on the ground to let as many heroes as possible have a chance to attack him. It wouldn’t work. Eclipse couldn’t be hurt by any attack they could throw at him like this.

It had been so simple. He didn’t know how he hadn’t thought of it before.

Will closed his eyes and silenced the world.

His voice rang out over the battlefield, but his lips didn’t move.

Unimportant. Janus. I need your help.

It was a simple, almost mundane use of his power, one of the first things he’d learned to do. It was the kind of thing he’d use to show off as a teenager. He was the only one who could hear anything anymore.

He wanted to let it end there; his message had been sent, but if this was going to work, he would need a clear path. Will targeted the ghosts. He couldn’t hurt them directly-there was too much of a crowd for him to risk it-but he didn’t need to.

Will isolated his power onto the ghosts, and sound returned. With another flex of his power, his power screamed straight into the ghost’s ears.

They weren’t human. They were barely sentient. But Will had fought them for a third of his life, and he knew exactly how much this would hurt.

The ghosts fell back. They didn’t try to cover their ears, they were better than that, but none of their fights lasted long after Will started his attack.

“Janus.”

Even without his powers, Will would have heard her cape flapping in the wind behind him.

“I don’t like being summoned.”

“It’s too late to make you like me. Hello, Unimportant.”

He felt Janus jump as the young hero materialized next to her.

hello will…you showed up”

“I’m sorry.”

“you’re here now…what do you need”

The battle around them had mostly stopped, and most of the heroes were looking his way. Even if they didn’t know who he was, they had to realize he’d been the one to call Janus out. More than a few had already connected the rest of the dots. Soon, everyone would know that Rumor had joined the fight.

“I can stop him. I think I can stop him for good, but I need your help.”

He could have kept it quiet. He could have stopped everyone else from hearing him, but secrets wouldn’t do him any good anymore.

They needed to hurry, but he waited for their answer. He couldn’t rush them into this. No matter how much he wanted to beg.

“Are you sure?”

Will pulled his hands from his pockets and turned around. He’d been getting more sleep in the last few weeks than he’d had in months, but right now he felt more tired than he had in years. Judging by the way the two of them flinched when he met their eyes, they saw it too.

“Yes. I have to do this.”

“what do you need”

“I need you to user your power on me. I need you to split me between as many worlds as possible. All of them if you can.”

No.”

Unimportant’s sudden emergence into reality caused the air to ripple. The only thing still obscured was his face, but the wave of shock and an anger rolling off of him made his message clear.

“You have to. That’s how he does it. We can’t kill Eclipse because he’s barely even here. If we want to beat him, we need to hit him everywhere at once.”

If I do that, you’ll never get back. You may not even be sane enough to do anything once I start.

“That’s what she’s here for. Janus can anchor my mind so that I can keep going long enough to finish it.”

There’s another way.

“No there isn’t!” Will’s power rolled out with his voice, carrying it throughout the city. “Eclipse has killed tens of thousands of people in our world alone. He hasn’t aged since the start of the Cold War. He just killed Red Racer. We have to do this…Please.”

For just a moment, Unimportant let himself appear fully in the world. He met Will’s eyes for the first time since he’d returned from in between. His eyes were red and cracked, whether from crying or from fighting all day. His gaze dared Will to look away, but Will held steady.

Unimportant closed his eyes and let himself fade. “okay

Will looked to Janus.

“You had me at kill Eclipse.”

Will nodded and turned back towards Eclipse, still hovering in the center of the city without a care in the world. “Then I’m ready.”

The two slider’s walked up behind Will and placed a hand each of his shoulders.

Will closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, he was looking at thousands of worlds.

A lot of them, maybe even most of them, looked just like Macropolis. He was in forest. He was on mountains. He was standing on a lake of lava and floating in the emptiness of space. His mind should be in pieces. His brain should be oozing out of his ears. But he focused himself completely on a single thought.

In every world, Eclipse was floating in front of him.

He could see Eclipse clearly for the first time. The cloak of darkness that normally shrouded him from view was practically invisible. Will could see the long slender fingers dancing in the air as if each were conducting its own orchestra. Will could see the same well pressed suit that Eclipse had been wearing the day he got his powers. But most importantly, Will could see the razor thin white line running across his neck.

Will stepped forwards, and Eclipse raised his arms towards him.

“William! It has been too long. And here you are, sitting on the throne of a god, just like I always knew you could. An heir of Mnemosyne deserves so much more than you have given yourself. Even the title you chose was so far beneath your potential that it is almost insulting. Rumor, the master of sound. You are so much more than that.”

Will kept moving.

“I’m here to kill you, Phillip.”

Eclipse laughed. “Kill me? I cannot die, William. You have barely even begun to enter my realm. Even after drinking the ambrosia and spreading yourself so very thin, you are only seeing a tenth of me. And why would you want to? Don’t you realize what you have done? If I were to help you, you could become as invincible as I am.“

“Did you know that I can’t help it? Every day, there are people hurt and killed and every one of them screams for help. And I hear every last one of them. For the last eight years, I have heard the dying words of every person you’ve killed. Every one of them curses your name, and you call yourself a god?”

“And you think that you’ll be the one to stop it? I have seen you in a thousand worlds, fighting millions of battles. You are powerful, but even the greatest of your songs cannot harm me. My experiments will not end here.”

Will didn’t slow down. “Can’t they? Are you sure? After all, you still have that scar.”

“Ah yes, your goddess’s gift. It was the kind of attack that never should have worked on me. But you two did work well together. Nonetheless, it was just a scratch. A fatal blow is nothing to a true god.”

Will was finally in arm’s length of Eclipse.

“For what it’s worth. I’m sorry it came to this.”

Eclipse’s smile only grew wider.

Will reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.

It had been eight years since Will drank the ambrosia. After all that time, he had never pushed his power to its new limit. He knew what it would do to him.

Will’s power reached within Eclipse, past the point of sound, into the smallest level of vibration.

Eclipse felt it almost instantly.

“What are you doing?!”

His hand reached to grab at Will’s, but he was too slow. His finger’s brushing Will’s arm just gave another outlet for his power.

Eclipse’s fingers disintegrated.

“No!”

Will grabbed Eclipse tightly and trapped his arms in a hug. He had to, his fingers were going too.

“I’m sorry. But even you can’t survive this.”

Eclipse screamed, but Will couldn’t hear him anymore. His powers were entirely focused on his task.

For the first time in his life, William Writer experienced silence.

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Chapter 133: Grief

“MITCH!”

Rachel Chase flew for the pillar of light. She didn’t slow down for the shouts ringing from behind her. She didn’t stop for the hands that tried to grab for her. She didn’t stop for the walls of fire and rock and wind that sprung up in front of her.

She didn’t stop because 13 years ago she had complained that her parents brought home the little brother she had never even considered wanting.

She didn’t stop because 9 year ago, she had spent four hours scouring the park for the action figure her brother had dropped, and because the smile on his face when she brought it home had been worth every second her parents had grounded her.

She didn’t stop because 7 years ago, she had had to tell her little brother that their parents were never coming home again, and she had promised him that things would be okay, that she would never leave him.

She didn’t stop because 3 years ago, she had spent two months convincing her grandparents that she needed to move out of their house and take her little brother with her. Because he needed to be closer to school and she needed to be in the city.

She didn’t stop because 3 months ago, she had seen her brother do the impossible. Because after watching him lay in a hospital bed nearly catatonic for countless hours, he had broken free and faced down a villain on his own that had taken out half a dozen more experienced heroes in a few short days.

She didn’t stop because she couldn’t believe that anything could happen to him, because she had promised that she would never leave him, because she always believed that nothing would ever take him away from her.

She stopped after light had faded. When she reached the center of the pillar, where the ground had been scoured clean, she fell to her knees.

There wasn’t a mark on him, but he didn’t look like he was sleeping. She grabbed him and hugged him to her chest and prayed for him to fight her off like he’d done hundreds for times before. His arms hung limply behind him. She pulled the helmet from his head and begged him to breathe, to wake up.

His skin had already grown stiff and clammy. His eyes had already grown glassy. He looked like he’d been dead for hours.

She didn’t scream. She hadn’t taken a breath since the pillar appeared. Her sobs were quiet, but there wasn’t any sound to drown them out. Her tears dripped onto his face and she wiped them away.

She didn’t realize she had turned her power off completely until she felt the hands grabbing her shoulders. She gripped onto Mitch more tightly but they slowly pried her away. They were saying something, but she couldn’t understand them.

She let herself get pulled away, but her eyes never left her brother’s body. He had crumpled onto his side when she let go and she wanted to rush forward and put him back onto his back. She stared at him until the crowd of heroes closed up behind her.

They stared at her as she was pulled through the lines. She could see them turning to watch her, and she wanted to shout at them. She wanted to yell at them because her brother was dead and they were staring at her instead of going after the monster that killed him.

A figure retreated into a dark alley, and she knew who he was, but he couldn’t be here.

They finally pulled her back to the edges of the battle, where the injured heroes were laid out. They found her a spot on the curb and sat her down.

Someone was on one knee in front of her, and trying to talk to her. She let her eyes wander to the face and managed to recognize Hawthorne’s helmet.

“-be okay?”

She hadn’t heard most of the question, but Rachel knew what she was asking.

“Go.”  She put all the venom she had left in her into that word.

Hawthorne jerked back.

“Go get that monster. I’ll be fine.”

Hawthorne’s face was hidden, but Rachel knew she was hesitating.

“GO!”

She had started crying again. When she shouted, her tears were flicked off of her faces and landed on Hawthorne’s suit, which drank the liquid thirstily.

Hawthorne still moved slowly but she got up and walked back to the battle, watching Rachel over her shoulder.

Rachel didn’t watch her walk away. Her mind was drawn to the last image of her brother, lying on his side and slowly growing smaller as she was dragged away.

And then there was the man in the alley. He couldn’t be here, but she knew she saw him. Her mind’s eye lingered on the shadowy image and her face grew hot. The tears running down her face started to sting in her eyes before they were finally squeezed out. Her hands clenched into fists, and she slowly rose into the air.

She stormed through the sky. He wouldn’t be in the alley anymore, but she knew where he’d be running.

Away.

He could move fast, but not quietly. He wouldn’t have gone far.

Miss Mirror slammed into the ground in front of Will Writer.

Her fist slammed into his face. She didn’t put her power into it, but he wasn’t expecting the blow. Will went sprawling back onto the ground.

“Hello, Rachel.”

Even now, he sounded calm.

“You bastard. What the hell are you doing here?”

“I came-” Will got to his feet as he was talking. “when I saw your brother running to the fight. I’m sorry.”

Her tears had been blown dry during her flight, but she felt them melting her eyeballs from the inside, waiting to burst free.

“Sorry?” Her breath hissed through her teeth. “You’re sorry? You were supposed to protect him.”

Her fist slammed into his chest. There was no force behind it.

“You were supposed to watch him.”

Her fist slammed into him again.

“To make sure he was ready.”

Again.

“And you abandoned him. You abandoned all of them.”

Her fist slammed into him again and her tears finally burst free.

He stood there, still as a statue, taking it all.

“You ran away.”

Her fist dropped to her side and Will stepped back.

“I did.”

She looked up. There were circles under his eyes, and wrinkles on his face that she had never seen before.  He wasn’t crying. He didn’t even look sad. He looked up at the black figure hanging against the black sky.

“That man, comes back no matter how many times he’s beaten. No matter how many times he’s killed. He exists somewhere outside of this world that we can’t reach. There isn’t a hero on any world that can touch him.”

“I don’t care.” Miss Mirror was surprised to hear herself speaking.

Will turned back to face her.

“I don’t care where he his or when he is or if he is literally everywhere. That thing killed my brother.”

She looked at Will, and he was staring back at her, but his mind was somewhere completely different. She was going to punch him again, she could feel her skin starting to boil.

He turned and walked towards the battle.

“Where are you going?!” She shouted after him.

“To end it.”

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Chapter 132: Red Racer Saves the Day

The air had grown cold under the sunless sky. It bit into his skin as he rushed through the city until he could feel goose bumps rubbing against his suit. But he barely felt the cold; he was too excited. He hadn’t been able to run this fast since his sister started taking him on patrol with her. He didn’t want to stop.

More than that, he was excited to help. Tina had sent him out here to warn the others, because Eclipse was turning the monsters into something worse, but he had been dying on her couch. He had been trying to figure out the best way to leave since the sky had grown dark.

He was a hero; he wasn’t supposed to sit on a couch and watch other people save the city. His sister would never do that. His parents would never do that. None of his friends were doing that. It wasn’t fair that he was the only one who had to stay behind, just because he was younger.

He was Red Racer. A superhero. Being a superhero meant that it didn’t matter how old he was; he was supposed to help, no matter what happened.

The wound of gunfire echoed in his mind and he ran faster.

Superheroes didn’t let danger stop them. They ran towards danger, because that’s where they needed to be. That’s where Red Racer was going to be.

The battlefield opened in front of him. There were heroes on the outskirts. A lot of them were hurt. Some of them were helping the hurt ones. Red didn’t slow down, but he didn’t have to. His eyes danced along the bloody wounds and missing limbs and settled on their faces. His friends weren’t there.

Red Racer kept running. There were people ahead he could help.

He had an idea of where Allspades was, and where Unimportant would probably be. He could see Hawthorne and Burnout in the sky, slowly gathering a following of other flyers. There were a few silver heroes up there; one of them might be his sister.

Red Racer darted around the next building before running up the far side and stopping at the top. If Allspades wasn’t fighting, he’d be on a roof.

Allspades wasn’t hard to find. With the shadow-dome over the city, he stood out like a firefly. He and a few other heroes had gathered below the flyers on the street below. Red Racer moved straight for them, launching himself from building to building at top speed.

He gave a quick glance up to the flyers, but didn’t see any of them heading his way. When he looked back down, Allspades was staring straight at him.

Red stopped right in front of him. Before Allspades had a chance to react, Red already heard the whispers.

“What’s a kid doing here?”

“He’s going to get himself hurt.”

“He’s going to get someone else killed.”

“Isn’t that the kid who fought Jaeger?”

Red Racer ignored the voices, even though his fingernails were digging into hi palm. Even though his his teeth were clenched. Even though he could see the guns hiding behind his eyelids. Red Racer ignored the voices.

“Allspades we need to-“ He barely and a chance to start. Before the questions started.

“Red? What are you doing here? I thought you were going to stay with Mach.”

“She said-”

“Yes he was.”

Red flinched at his sister’s voice. He knew that tone, and he really didn’t want to turn around to see the face that went with it.

“And he has ten seconds to explain why he left or be in her living room.”

“She sent me. She said he’s trying to make them smarter.”

“What does that mean?” Allspades asked. “How are they getting smarter?”

“She didn’t say; she was looking at the screens-eens and then she was talking really fast-ast and not making any sense-ense and then she was practically shouting at me to get down here and warn you that he was gonna make them smarter and stronger and that we had to stop them before they wake up-up and-”

Red could feel himself running out of breath, which was odd because he hadn’t been out of breath since he’d gotten his powers. A hand rested on his shoulder. He slowly-for him at least-turned until he was looking in his sister’s eyes.

“Calm down, Red. It’s okay. You need to think. Did she say anything about what she meant by wake up?”

“When-en…” Red took a deep breath. And then another. “When she was looking at the screens, she said that they were fighting for control, I think she was afraid of one of them winning.”

Light flooded the sky. Red was facing the other way, and he still had to shut his eyes against the burning light. He heard a few heroes scream.

The light faded, but the screaming didn’t stop. When Red opened his eyes, the other heroes were already moving. His sister was the only one staying behind.

“Red, you have to go back to Mach’s.”

“But I’m already here!”

“You delivered the message. You did a good job, but you can’t fight these things. You need to leave.” Miss Mirror forced her brother to look her in the eyes. He tried not to see the way her entire body was shaking with every word. “Please, go. I can’t let you get hurt.”

“But-“ She didn’t’ let him finish before she flew away. “But that’s not fair.”

Red turned and watched his sister fly at the monster.

The heroes couldn’t even get close. There were no more randomly swatting tentacles or slow crawling movements. The blob of flesh wouldn’t stand still for more than a few moments before every one of its muscle’s would move at once, launching it over heroes and onto buildings. Its tentacles pierced into the towering sky scrapers and let it cling to them like a wasp nest.

Red couldn’t see clearly, but every time it jumped, there were a few heroes who couldn’t get out of the way in time, and the flesh monster was growing bigger.

His sister was only just arriving at the fight. He couldn’t help watching her. She was a flying tank, she could take hits that would flatten people twice her size and laugh them off without a scratch. The flesh monster could slam into her at full speed and it wouldn’t even make her flinch.

But he couldn’t shave the feeling that she was in danger. Something about the way it moved…about the way the heroes were disappearing. It jumped again, and Red watched closely. It was just coming up on another hero when a flash of light nearly blinded him. It happened quickly, almost too quickly for him to see, too quickly for someone who wasn’t as fast as him to have any chance of seeing.

Red launched himself forward. Even before he leapt off the firs roof, he could feel his wake stretching out behind him. He didn’t have long, but he couldn’t go straight here either.

Red jumped from building to building.  Hours of fighting had damaged most of them, and the broken pieces started to follow Red.

He circled the fight twice but he still didn’t have the kind of wake he needed. But he also didn’t have any more time. He saw his sister staring down the flesh monster. She had absolute confidence in her powers to protect her.

Red dragged his wake behind him and charged at the monster clinging on the wall of the skyscraper. His sister shouted, but he didn’t stop. Red grabbed the gravity creating his wake and flung everything he had at the flesh monster, shooting all the rubble he had gathered forward, and shooting himself backwards, straight at the ground. He had the chance to hear the monster scream before he was launched too far. He smiled.

He felt the air forced out of his lungs at the change in speed. He couldn’t breathe with the air rushing past him. He didn’t have a purchase, there was no way for him to stop his fall, but he closed his eyes and trusted that he would be fine.

His sister grabbed his outstretched hand. WHne someone grabbed the other he had to open his eyes. Hawthorne. He heard them screaming as they fought to slow him down and they only barely stopped their fall before his feet touched the ground.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Their voices rang out together.

Red Racer gasped for air. He took three greedy lungfulls before he answered, but he was still out of breath.

“It’s…not…eating people. It’s..teleporting them.”

“What?” His sister’s voice snapped through the air. He couldn’t see her eyebrows, but even under her mask he knew they’d jumped to hide behind her bangs.

“It’s happening fast; I can barely see it, but its opening portals before it actually hits them.”

“Are you saying that thing’s a slider?” She was calming down, but her voice still echoed around them.

“It’s made of heroes,” Hawthorne said. “Who knows what it can do?”

Red looked into his sister’s eyes. His eyes were filling with tears. “You can’t get close; you can’t. Your power won’t protect you”

“Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Okay Red. You managed to hurt it. No one else has made it scream. Do you know what that means?”

“It means…” Red paused, and he could tell his sister was waiting for him to finish. “We need to hit it with a lot of stuff all at once.

“Unless we can get enough sliders to shut its power down,” Hawthorne said. “Unimportant was going to gather them. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to get here.”

There was a moment of silence. Red wanted to say something, but he was afraid his sister was going to send him away again. Then she turned to face him.

“Red…” she began. “Can you do that again? Hit it like that?”

“Yeah!” Red bit back the shout. “I mean… of course I can.”

“Do it. The second its shields are down, hit it with everything you can get. We’ll warn the others.”

Red started running before she finished. He’d grabbed the best pieces of rubble from the closer buildings, so he had to widen his run.

He caught glimpses of the fight between the buildings. Heroes were trying to attack from all sides with as much as they could, but the flesh monster had curled up on itself and none of them hit. Red didn’t stop running though.

He ran for minutes on end in endless circles. He was going as fast as he’d ever ran, maybe even faster. He didn’t have to look behind him to know that his wake had grown beyond what he had hit it with the first time. It had grown beyond what he and his father had traded blows with. When he was the tail end of the wake coming up in front of him, he just tightened his circle.

Through the rushing wind, he heard his sister’s voice. “Its shield is down, clear a path!”

Red Racer charged for the monster.

A thousand yards of debris followed him.

The flesh monster was on the ground this time. They had managed to lure it onto a main road, giving Red a clear path. He charged faster and faster, adding more to his trail until the last moment. There was too much to let him flow around him like he had before. A block out from the blob, Red leaned back and started to slide.

He put his arms over his face and let his wake rush over him. An earthquake flowed over his head. Shards of glass and pebbles bit into his arms and bounced off his helmet.

The monster’s scream was quiet compared to the onslaught flowing past Red; and it died before the torrent ended.

When the last of the noise finally died, Red clumsily got to his feet. His right leg would support his weight and he nearly fell back to the ground. Where the monster had been, there was only a mountain of rubble built up along the wall of the building.

There were people cheering in the distance. Red could see them, but he couldn’t hear them.

His sister and friends were moving towards him. They were shouting and waving.

Red started limping towards them and raised his hand to wave back.

His world turned white.

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Chapter 131: Reform the Lines

Unimportant’s voice was still hoarse. Eclipse had stopped using the white pillars, but he had kept every slider in the city shouting warnings for hours. But, even with everything they could do, he had managed to create dozens of the flesh monsters.

He stared at the creatures slowly rampaging their way through the city. These monsters didn’t make sense. He had seen part of Eclipse’s last attack. He had opened thousands of rifts around the battlefield that had swapped heroes with the most negative versions of themselves. He’d killed more heroes in an hour than these things had all day. Eclipse wasn’t predictable, but he’d never held back from dealing out as much death as he could in his attacks.

Unimportant reached into his bag and grabbed a bottle of water. His feet dangled off the edge of the roof directly over the fight below. He wanted to figure this out, but he couldn’t let himself get distracted for too long. He kept any eye on the fight, but he shifted his focus to the rift.

Even if he’d only gained his powers yesterday, he would know exactly where Eclipse was. Unimportant’s half existence trailed rift radiation around him like a giant can of spray paint held a few stories over his head. Even when other sliders were looking for him, they could never narrow it down to more than a few blocks. But Eclipse shone with it, like the sun breaking through a hole in the clouds. It wasn’t just easy to find him; it was impossible not to know exactly where he was.

Every time he did something, another ray of radiation would break free and strike his target moments before his attack would begin. It gave the sliders almost no time to work with, but it had still saved hundreds of lives today.

Since he was stuck in between, Unimportant had spent more time looking at the radiation other sliders left behind. But he had never seen any of them control it the way Eclipse did. Most sliders, even Janus, used the rift better than Unimportant did. They could create portals that let them teleport or time travel or go to other universes. But Eclipse’s rays were nothing like that. The rift wasn’t just letting things pass through, he was bringing the rift into the world, and somehow that was letting him fuse people together to make these monsters.

Unimportant tore himself away from his thoughts. He was more exhausted than he thought if he couldn’t focus on his task for more than a minute. It didn’t matter how Eclipse was doing this. It would only take a few seconds of distraction for Eclipse to attack before he could warn anyone.

More shouts from below. One of the flesh monsters had stopped moving and sprouted an endless wall of tentacles. It was batting away any attack that got near it. It looked less like a blob now and more like a sea anemone that was moving a few thousand times faster than nature intended.

It was also leaking more rift radiation than it had before. The radiation had been waxing and waning since the flesh monster was created, but it had grown stronger than it had ever been at the exact same time as its strategy changed.

Unimportant let himself fade further from existence to get a better look at the rift, but a mecher flew into the air above the flesh monster and unleashed a laser far larger than his gun should have been able to produce. The flesh monster vanished from sight and broke into dust.

Unimportant pulled his feet back onto the rooftop and ran to the next closest flesh monster. It was still slowly trying to advance through the city, but he needed to see if this could happen again.

Before he could make it, the rift around Eclipse shined, and a dozen heads sprung up to follow it. It was behaving differently this time. The ray was moving slower than before, and it was aimed straight for one of the flesh monsters.

Sliders in the area shouted a warning, and the heroes all backed away from the flesh monster. But when the rift encased the monster, it vanished into the void.

Unimportant stared at the empty space. The rift didn’t return to Eclipse; after it swallowed the flesh monster, it wrapped around itself until it was only a pinprick floating in space.

shit”

Unimportant ran back the way he came; fading into existence as much as he dared and waving his arms over his head.

“Hawthorne!”

She had backed off from the front lines after killing the first flesh monster; she was building walls to keep the other monsters contained. When she heard his shout, her head jerked away from her task. A vine shot from her arm and grabbed the edge of his roof.

He let himself fade further back in between as she pulled herself up to the roof.

“What’s wrong?”

eclipse is hiding one of the monsters…i think there’s more to them than we’re seeing

Hawthorne glanced at the fights below. There were still half a dozen monsters left, and the heroes were getting tired. She looked up at the sky; a few heroes up there were better off, but even staying up there was going to drop a few of them soon.

“What do we need?”

get as many fliers as you can…anyone who can fight from a distance”

Hawthorne, thankfully, didn’t ask any more questions before the giant wing-like flower stretched from her back and propelled her into the air. Unimportant wished he had a better idea of what was coming. The flesh monsters were dangerous, but until the one had sprouted the mass of tentacles, they had been consistent. There was nothing to build on, nothing to tell him what to expect next.

Unimportant tightened his bag on his shoulder and went off the other way. He needed as many sliders as he could find. He didn’t see the red and white blur heading his way.

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Chapter 130: Distance

Even without the binoculars, he could see the glow around Allspades from a few blocks away. The white figure jumped off the roof and dove headfirst into one of the flesh creatures. He vanished from sight as the creature swallowed him whole.

Will gripped the balcony railing until his knuckles turned white. Eclipse was forcing them to kill. He never used the same trick twice, but mutating people like this was something completely new. The heroes were as good as dead as soon as they were fused together, but most of the others weren’t going to be able to handle killing what was left. More than one hero had already been brought to their knees after the bodies reformed.

Cracks appeared in the creature and white light poured out of it. It grew brighter until the creature vanished.

One of the monsters had been under constant bombardment for the last five minutes, and it still wasn’t stopping. These things weren’t smart enough to stop fighting before they died. Each of them had half a dozen minds without a brain cell to speak of. It might have been possible to stop them with a barrier or a cage, but they would just attack it until they bashed themselves into pieces or they wall gave out. Even if they could be contained, there was no guarantee stopping Eclipse would change them back.

The light vanished. Will yanked the binoculars back over his eyes. Allspades had dropped to one knee. He was surrounded by half a dozen bodies but he ignored them and struggled to his feet. He was used to bodies. For once, his history was an advantage.

Hawthorne had done almost as well. She’d frozen when she first saw the bodies hanging from her trees, but she’d avoided Eclipse’s next attack and went straight back to the fight.

Will couldn’t help the light smile tugging at his lips.

Will shouldn’t be here. He should be down in the basement shelter with his neighbors. Instead he was up here, trying to figure out the best way to fight these things.

“You’re not a hero anymore. You’re not even in the same room.”

Saying it out loud didn’t help. The words floated in the air around him, but they felt lifeless. No matter how hard he fought, a part of him wanted to be out there. The sight of Eclipse stoked the rage he’d kept buried for the last three years. But he was done being a hero. Even the kids didn’t need him anymore. He wasn’t going to give up his new life for an old grudge.

A blue comet darted across the sky again and Will focused his sights on the new distraction. Burnout was one of the few heroes who could stay in the sky long enough to attack Eclipse directly. So far they had barely managed to distract him, but eventually he would take enough damage to flee.

Will scanned the streets. He caught himself doing it every few minutes, searching for a tiny red and white blur, but he hadn’t seen it yet. Maybe they’d told him to stay away from the fight. Maybe he’d actually listened.

Miss Mirror was flying too, but she didn’t get anywhere near Eclipse. She couldn’t; he’d have killed well before she could get close enough to punch him. She was stuck getting people away from His attacks and away from the monters’ groping tentacles.

The pillars were rarely hitting heroes anymore. The sliders must have figured out what to look for. But there were still enough of the monsters around to keep everyone busy.

“That’s exactly what he’s looking for.”

Will shifted his gaze up to Eclipse. This couldn’t be all he was planning. It was too simple, too overt. There was something else coming. He focused on Eclipse’s face and watched as closely as he could. His eyes were half lidded and his lips were pressed thin. He turned back and forth until he was looking in Will’s direction. And then he was looking at Will. His lips curved upwards and he raised a single hand.

“What are you planning, Barber?”

Eclipse’s fingers danced in the air, and one of the monsters vanished.

“So they’re more than a distraction.”

Of course they were. They were too big, too complicated, to be just a distraction. If they’d managed to kill them all fast enough, then they could have stopped the plan before it got going.

Will tore his gaze away from Eclipse’s. If anyone down there realized what Eclipse had done, they weren’t spending the time to think about it. Everyone who had been fighting it had split off to fight the others.

Or maybe he had spoken too soon. Hawthorne had left her fight and was talking with nobody. Unimportant must have figured out what was going on. For the second time that day, Hawthorne sprouted wings.

He followed her trail up to Burnout and any flyer she could get on the way. Maybe they would be able to stop it.

Will looked back to Allspades. He had moved in on another of the monsters, but it didn’t look like he would be able to dive in like he had the last one. Will couldn’t tell if he was too tired for it or if he just couldn’t get close enough.

Will scanned the streets again. There were still too many monsters left. If Eclipse unleashed whatever he had locked away, they’d be too divided to handle it.

Will almost looked back at Eclipse before he froze. He panned along the ground quickly. He didn’t want to think he’d seen it, but the way his heart had frozen was all the proof he needed.

A red and white blur was racing towards the battle. A trail of dust followed behind it, growing wider and longer with every step. It moved too fast for him to make out any details, but Will could imagine the goofy grin behind the visor.

Red Racer was coming to fight.

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Chapter 129: Creation

Mitch was sitting on the couch staring at the camera feeds she’d put on the TV. Tina had been watching him closely at first, but she could feel her lungs start to seize up just looking at him. A normal kid on a sugar rush had trouble sitting still, but Mitch had grown extra limbs. His hands were running through his hair and clenching his pants and tapping out a rhythm on the armrest. His legs were reenacting a stampede in place. His eyes were locked on the view through the screen, but his pupils were dancing.

So she looked away and stared at the screen as a half dozen images gave them a view of battles. She had the monitors rotating through the cameras, but she didn’t want to look at them for too long. Even through the monitors, her powers were at work. Each and every hero’s costume was personal to them, and staring at one for too long would force her to delve into its creation.

Only one image wasn’t cycling, but she didn’t want to look at it too long. She’d gotten one of the cameras to focus right on Eclipse, but he’d barely moved more than a finger since he came out of his shell.

Tina risked another glance. She didn’t think her powers would work on him. There was nothing there to look at, or it was too big to understand what you were seeing. Nobody seemed to agree on which. But even so, she needed an object, something somebody had invested enough effort into to leave a mark. There was nothing of the sort for Eclipse.

One of the cycling cameras caught her eye, so she froze the cycle and blew it up to fill half the screen. Hawthorne was floating over some monster that Eclipse had created. She heard Mitch’s breath hitch behind her. She didn’t blame him; she couldn’t look away from the thing on the screen.

Before she could look away, Tina was drawn into the creature’s minds.

There were six of them, and they weren’t screaming.

Their minds were buried beneath a mass of instinct and fear. Each of them was scrambling, clawing their way to the surface. Tina watched one of them make it most of the way to consciousness, and as it crawled towards the light, she felt bile burning in her throat.

Its core was still there, driving it to wake up and become conscious, but the image before her was featureless. No, it was like a hundred thousand minds had all been shoved into one and they had meshed together so completely that there was no personality left.

It wasn’t possible, not with six minds, not with a thousand and not without destroying the core completely. It was like one mind had been broken into pieces and, after each had grown a complete mind of its own, they were shoved back together and forced to fit into the shape of the original.

She shouldn’t be seeing this. Tina’s power had only ever worked on objects, on the parts of people’s minds that they left behind. She couldn’t’ just dive into a monster’s mind, especially not one as convoluted as this.

The creature was almost at the light now, and a part of Tina knew that giving this uncaring intelligence to the monster outside would let it kill hundreds of more heroes than it had already. She didn’t have any experience on fighting in a mind – she could only vaguely remember meeting Will in her own head – but Tina drew back as har as she could and threw the weight of her mind at the blank monster.

And when she crashed into it, the screaming started.

The blank fell into the pit it had crawled its way up, slamming into the others on its way down. All of them screamed in pain and anger and fear and frustration.

Their screams echoed from the pit, slamming into her and forcing her back, back to the edges of their mind. And as she was being thrown out, Tina saw a single eye, all black save for a white pupil, open and stare at here.

Tina shoved herself away from her desk and felt her wheelchair catch on the ruck. It flipped, throwing her off and onto her back.

Mitch was by her side in a flash. He slowly helped her to her feet.

“Thank you. Can you get my chair?”

Mitch didn’t respond. She glanced over at him and saw his eyes transfixed on the screen.

She hand’t changed the images, but the largest was not focuxing on the mad monster floating In the sky abover the city. He was staring straight at het, through the camera and the network and the screen. Their eyes met, and she understood.

“You have to go.”

“What?” Mitch snapped out of his stupor and tore his eyes from the screen to stare at her, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her eyes were glued to the monster’s.

“You have to warn them. He’s going to make something worse. He’s going to make something strong enough and smart enough that it will never be stopped.”

“But-” Mitch stared at her, sitting on the floor with her wheelchair still on its back next to her.

“Red Racer. Our friends are in trouble. Your sister is in trouble. And you are the only one who can warn them about what’s coming. No matter what he makes. No matter how big it is or how many people he used, they have to kill it before it can wake up.”

Red’s outer layer hadn’t hit the floor yet before he was out the door, leaving the glassware from the coffee table shattered on the ground next to the open door.

Tina turned back to the screen. The cameras had changed again. None of them pointed at Eclipse. Tina watched as the last of the monsters was torn apart, and one by one the heroes on the ground stared up at the figure in the sky, waiting for the sign of the next attack.

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Chapter 128: Monster

As Burnout dove at the figure floating above the city, his armor began to change. The patterns on his armor grew more detailed, the nearly solid flames grew scales, and his wings became so thin they were almost transparent. His helmet grew together, hiding his face completely and forming its own. Its eyes were a cold and glassy solid blue. Its mouth was opened wide, revealing row after row of long curved fangs. There should have been an end to the maw, Burnouts real face was centimeters behind the mask, but the rows of fangs never seemed to end. Fire trailed behind him, leading back to the sky, and reaching down to the point of impact.

Burnout slammed into the unyielding form of Eclipse. Fire erupted from the two of them, like a new sun being born in the empty skies.

The heroes below shook themselves free of Eclipse’s attack. Most had to shield their eyes immediately, but a few were able to watch on as a blue form lanced out of the sun and crashed into the streets below.

The sun faded slowly. One by one, the heroes were able to return their eyes to it and watch it vanish from existence.

Against the blackened sky, it almost looked like the attack had succeeded. But the darkness still pulsed around the figure floating above them. Eclipse had not even moved under the assault.

His finger twitched.

A pillar of white light erupted from the ground a full block away from Eclipse. The sliders had tried to warn everyone they could, but at least half a dozen heroes were caught in the blast, but there were no screams. There wasn’t time. When the light vanished, the thing that emerged couldn’t be called human.

The pale mass of flesh half crawled half rolled down the street. A mecher dove down. He gripped a long barreled gun with both hands and unleashed a beam of fiery plasma at it, but a long segmented appendage whipped out of its back and snapped up to smack to weapon from the mechers hands.

The mecher tried to fly away, but the appendage wrapped around his torso and dragged him into its mass.

Hawthorne and Allspades watched from a street over as it began to move again. Most of the nearby heroes were retreating; those that could were launching attacks at it, but nothing seemed to phase it. There were a few who tried to get close, but more of the whips warded them off or pulled them in.

“Nobody can get close. It needs to be contained so that we can get something heavy on it.” Allspades clenched his firsts and allowed the glow to wrap around him.

Hawthorne’s suit rustled as the vines writhed into a new shape as she backed up to the center of the roof. “I need you to throw me over it. The higher the better.”

She didn’t wait for him to respond before she charged at him full speed. Allspades cupped his hands and the moment her foot hit he heaved her will all his might into the sky.

Broad multicolored leaves sprouted from Hawthorne’s back, catching the air and letting her soar over the mass. She spread her arms wide and miniscule seeds fell on and around it. It ignored the assault and continued to march towards the city enter.

Hawthorne landed on the ground in front of the mass. It slurped towards her, and she could feel it picking up more of her seeds as it rolled along. She just needed it to get a little closer.

It didn’t have the eyes to see her, but she could feel it stretching towards her, to strike her or maybe to pull her in.

Hawthorne slammed both palms into the ground and called out to every seed she could reach. Vines and trees grew up and around the mass, but its rolling weight ripped them from their purchases as it plowed forward. Hawthorne dipped deeper into her power and her plants began to grow faster and thicker.

Something in between a scream and an earthquake erupted from the mass. The seeds on the blob had started to dig into its core. Blood began to ooze, but it was mixed with so much pus and oil that it was clear and barely dark enough to be called pink.

The mass started to wriggle, tearing more of the roots from the ground but also ripping open its flesh as the plants buried inside of it were forcibly torn or broken.

Attacks rained down from the roos above the mass. A lance of plasma pierced through its core, crossing paths with ice spears from across the street. A mecher flew overhead, dropping grenades as he went; no two exploded in quite the same way. A wind manipulator stood on the edge of his roof, gathering more and more wind into the palm of his hands until he held a hurricane above his head. He threw it at the blob; at first, its skin just dented under the ripping winds, but as they pierced through, the mass gave another cry and fell silent.

Hawthorne stared at the husk and called to the plants that weren’t buried too deep inside. The plants around the corpse shriveled until they were small enough to slither on the ground and back into her vest.

Her legs were already feeling weak, and she could feel the reserves of her power getting low already. But the day had barely begun. With the blob’s screams gone, she could hear the sounds of fighting from other parts of the city, and most of them weren’t going as well as hers.

Hawthorne Move!”

She jumped up and onto the roof, just in time to avoid another pillar of light. She wasn’t the only one that had heard Unimportant, and this pillar didn’t hit anyone.

Don’t stop!

The pillar started to grow wider. Hawthorne raced to the other end of the roof. A figure faded into existence in front of her and she grabbed Unimportant’s hand and whipped him onto her back before she kicked up the roof and over the center of the block. Another push sent the two of them over the street and halfway through the next block.

It stopped.”

Hawthorne planted both feet in front of her to keep from pitching over and turned around. The pillar had grown just large enough to absorb the blob, but it hadn’t managed to get any of the heroes.

“What’s it doing?”

it feels different; i think its pulling them apart.

The light vanished, and the corpses of 8 heroes had replaced the blob. The trees still grew straight through them, even piercing the armor of the mecher she had seen devoured, leaving them suspended in the air.

Hawthorne risked a glimpse at the figure in the sky. He was surrounded by every flying hero who could get close enough to launch their attacks. A blue streak darted around him; a lance of fire stretched from Burnout’s hands to Eclipse, but she could clearly see the shadow man through his and every other attac; as if they were being absorbed into him.

“How do you fight something like that?”

Eclipse waved a lazy hand and white and black rifts opened in the sky around him.

i don’t know

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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.”

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

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.”

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

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

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