The moment Blueshift had set foot outside Paradigm Tower, he had taken to the air with a boom that set glass ringing and, quite literally, left Sabra in his dust. A smattering of PCPD officers and civilians murmured away, unsure of what was happening. Sabra just swore. She hadn’t counted on Blueshift to explain what was happening but, for some reason that lingered on the edge of her awareness, she knew she had to follow him.
His path was as straight as an arrow. Even though he was headed towards a maze of skyscrapers, Sabra didn’t feel her optimism wane. That still gave her a direction to follow, a bearing to run. Even when Blueshift vanished into the mass of buildings that made up the glittering metropolitan skyline, Sabra didn’t let that deter her.
It just became more of a challenge.
When she found herself pushing against people, all headed in any direction except the one she was, she knew she was on the right track. All she had to do, really, was push into the tide – and let her strange intuitive sense guide her toward its center.
As Sabra ran, her mind whirled along a path she didn’t normally ever think about. Sabra Kasembe did not believe in the mythology of the Transcended.
It was impossible not to believe in the individuals themselves. They existed. But, of all the stories she had heard of the Golden Age and the Collapse that ended it, the ones she had always found the least believable were the tales of The Seven.
Facts became accounts became mythology. It was a process as old as humanity itself, like how the Egyptians thought Khepri, in all his scarab-headed glory, moved the sun across the sky. But it was just a story. It wasn’t true. Even Sekhmet – that fearsome-yet-beloved tale – was nothing but just that: a tale.
Sabra had seen that process herself when she had beaten down Bushranger and taken an arm from Wedgetail and then, when facts became accounts, it had become Fulcrum dismantling Star Patrol singlehandedly. In the space of a few short hours, she had her own mythology.
And the Seven had existed for decades. The facts were that they emerged, seemingly fully-formed and unknowable, from the ashes of The Collapse (or perhaps during it). The accounts were of world-shaking figures with inscrutable motives and phenomenal powers that defied even the basic-yet-shaky laws of the empowered, seven men and women who rendered the empowered to them what the empowered were to normal people. The mythology was that they killed capes by the hundred, that they broke armies, destroyed cities, and sundered nations.
And that mythology had one hell of a head-start in the form of a multi-decade long feedback loop.
Even her father, a man as rational as they came, saw them as harbingers of some final, apocalyptic end.
But that just never made sense to Sabra. They had existed for however long, and the world still persisted. Something didn’t add up.
As Sabra chased down Blueshift, she resolved to know the truth. Not just of the Seven, but of everything. To try and take stock of the situation before signing anything, metaphorical or otherwise. To think things through. To figure out the difference between fact and mythology.
And besides, it could be fun.
There, ten stories up, overlooking an intersection. Blueshift.
He might’ve been able to fly up there, but Sabra had to use the fire escape. She leaped for the ladder, hauled herself up.
She climbed up the stairs two at a time. How was that for Fulcrum’s mythology?
“Fulcrum,” Blueshift said, his eyes locked down somewhere on the street below. “You’re as unerringly persistent as ever.”
Sabra stepped off the fire escape, made her way across the roof. “As if I’m going to miss out on this.” The wind slipped across her short hair and tugged at Blueshift’s own and Sabra had no idea how he knew she was coming.
“Careful,” he said. “Those words may come back to haunt you.”
The grim tone of Blueshift’s words brought Sabra up short. “Is it going to be that bad?”
“Perhaps.” Darkness crept across the roof then, and the cold came with it. Cloud cover was moving across the sun, stripping away the morning.
“It was blue skies just a few minutes ago,” Sabra said.
Blueshift didn’t look up. “Since when does someone have a fight like this in the sunshine?”
“It’s going to be a fight?”
“I’m praying that it doesn’t. Unfortunately, I don’t speak in faith. Luckily, you speak in one for the each of us.” Then, not speaking to Sabra, Blueshift said, “It’s him.”
Sabra stood at Blueshift’s shoulder, followed the line of his gaze to an intersection. Midday, downtown Paradigm should have been seething with people, packed with cars going to and fro. But this one was abandoned, except for one figure standing in the exact center of the asphalt crossroads.
The figure was tall, maybe eight or nine feet. Hooded and cloaked in resplendent, crystalline black – not fabric, Sabra could tell, the light caught it all wrong – he held the intersection like it was his fortress. The Engineer, the infamous legend himself. But beyond the height, Sabra didn’t see the reason for the concern.
A flash of green. Then there were six more figures around The Engineer, like the points of a hexagon. Sleek statues of obsidian, vaguely humanoid but too skeletal and angular to be mistaken for human. Each of them held a staff, and each of them had their head bowed.
Subordinates? Followers? Maybe. Possibly even thinking machines. If anyone could flaunt the IPSA ban on such things, it’d surely be one of The Seven.
But why? Why did that make him so terrifying? Even Blueshift had shrugged off Anima clawing at her own eyes, and he loved her. Whatever The Engineer’s reputation had been built on, that horrific display wasn’t the reason.
Blueshift frowned. “Captain, be advised, The Engineer has sortied six of his Heralds. They are armed.”
The Engineer raised his left arm and, in another flash, suddenly had something in his grip. A long staff, similar to the weapons of his heralds, but more ornate – and it terminated in a long, angular blade. Green energy crackled and popped along the edge, all the more obvious as the atmosphere darkened still.
Cold winds howled around Sabra. Her father had always said he could smell an incoming stormfront. For the first time, Sabra knew what that meant.
“Haven’t seen that fractal glaive in a very long time,” Blueshift murmured.
“What do we do?”
“Nothing?” Sabra spat the word. “We should attack. He’s all flatfooted.”
Blueshift laughed. It was harsh and mocking. “With what, exactly? You might as well take a swing at a hurricane for all the good it will do you, Fulcrum.”
“What the fuck do we do then? Wait?”
“Precisely. We wait. And we hope like hell that this particular hurricane decides he has other places to be.”
They waited, but not for long. The Engineer took a step, then another, and his Heralds moved with him, holding their eerie formation.
“Movement,” Blueshift stated, not to her. To Aegis and the others. “The Engineer is moving. North-western bearing. Straight path. Slow and steady.”
Sabra watched, caught somewhere between awe and dread. The Engineer moved in perfect time with his followers. They moved as one, and the Engineer waved an arm from beneath his robes at a section of the wall of a nearby building.
Something came loose, then exploded into its constituent parts, hanging in the air like a clinical detonation. Her father’s voice in her mind: exploded-view diagram. Her mind – that part of her she couldn’t entirely control – was already putting the pieces back together, poking the pattern into place.
That was an ATM.
Why the fuck had The Engineer come all the way to Paradigm City to dismantle an ATM?
The Engineer tilted his head left, then right, as if considering the diagram. Then he waved his arm, and the pieces exploded outward, burying themselves in the road, in buildings, through windows. Car alarms sounded, cutting over the winds.
“He seems mad about something,” Sabra said, but Blueshift didn’t respond.
The Engineer continued along his path. Blueshift was talking to Aegis, his voice insistent in a way that Sabra had never heard before. Something about problems in the atmosphere, something about drawing in power, words like paracausal, words she hadn’t heard before. And it was dark now, and when Sabra looked up the clouds were like boiling charcoal, seething with an intensity she’d never seen before.
Thunder rumbled, and it began to rain. Gusts of wind pulled at her hoodie, the strings fluttering in front of her. The rain skipped any pretense of politeness and skipped straight to flurrying sleet, like a final curtain call.
The icy cold stung her nose and cheeks and eyes. Sabra raised her hand against the downpour, for all the good it did her – it soaked through her clothes in a moment. “Blueshift, what do we do?” She had to shout to have any chance of being heard, and even then he gave no indication that he had.
And then it was calm. The rain, the wind, the storm. It all ended at the edge of a strange shimmering bubble all around her and Blueshift. His hand was raised before him, and then slowly higher, until it was above his head. A subtle corona seethed around his fingers. His eyes were dark, glittering with a deadly sense of satisfaction.
“We fight,” he said. And then, as if an afterthought, “Get down.”
His hand swept downward, and the world exploded around her, the rain turning to hail, and Sabra wasn’t fast enough to escape his furious storm.