Rumor’s Block

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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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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