Prelude: Falling Skies

Mitchell Pratt

My name's Mitchell. Mitchell Pratt. I'm 14 years old, half black and half Korean, and I am currently stuck in a lumpy bed when I should be enjoying my vacation Down Under. To uderstand exactly why, I'm gonna have to go back.

Like, two days back.

See, my parents had taken me to a fancy restaurant that I really didn't feel like going to. I mean, why would I want to go to a restaurant where I couldn't pronounce half the stuff on the menu. Seriously, why couldn't we go to a steakhouse. We were already in the Outback.

Anyway, my mother, a tiny Korean woman, was on my back about my weight...again. My dad, as usual, didn't have much to say on the topic. See, the thing is I know I'm fat. Everyone knows I'm fat. It's pretty obvious to tell when you're fourteen years old, pretty short and two hundred and twenty pounds. I just wish she wouldn't bring it up all the time.

In her motherly wisdom, she decided that I couldn't order a steak or burger. Instead, she ordered me a Grilled Triggerfish, whatever that is.

Anyway, the good thing was that the fish came with a side of potato salad and, all in all, tasted pretty good.

The bad thing was...well...food poisoning.

As I lay in bed, staring at how the patterns on the ceiling spun through my delirious eyes, I noticed a loud crashing and a scream that sounded oddly like my mother's. When the scream stopped, I heard my parents yelling at each other. Despite my best efforts, I really couldn't make out what they were saying so I made an effort to go back to sleep.

To my surprise, my father burst through my door a few minutes later, a duffel bag in one hand. "Mitch, get up! We have to go now!"

"Mmmwaah?" was my reply. Eh, you try to be eloquent when half-asleep and sick.

My father was not a very physical man. Standing at 5'10, he weighed a little over two hundred pounds. He didn't lift weights. He didn't play basketball. He didn't even jog.

The man was an actuary, a profession I could seriously say was one of the most boring in the world. The only sort of physical exercise he did was play golf every Sunday, if you could call golf exercise. Due to his lack of physical conditioning, I was surprised when he lifted me out of bed, threw me over his shoulder and ran through the house with an unnatural vigor.

Despite my delirium, I noticed a very, very loud sound that seemed oddly familiar. A whining noise, like you might hear from a particularly large baby preparing to scream. The nasal 'waaaaa' sound stretched out, so loud it was painful to listen to. Despite how familiar it was, I just couldn't remember where I knew it from. My father kicked open the door of the vacation home and ran out towards the van he had also rented.

He jumped in and tossed me in the backseat with a mumbled "Sorry, son", all the while screaming at my mother to drive. My mother pulled out of our rented beach house so quickly that I was beginning to wonder if I had suddenly been transplanted into an action movie. I blinked and stared back at the house we had spent the last week in, the front door still wide open

"Dad?" I groaned out.

I looked up at my father and flinched as I saw the expression on his face. He was breathing heavily as sweatdrops ran in rivulets down his face, his head constantly jerking around. It was as if he wanted to look out every window at once.

He turned around and looked down at where I lay on the backseat. I flinched again as I looked directly at him. Like seriously, I was sick and I was pretty sure I looked better than he did right now. His eyes were bloodshot and it looked like he was tearing up a little.

No...no way, that's probably my imagination. Dad's not emotional like that.

"Son...," he looked at me, waiting for me to begin.

I coughed once or twice, in an attempt to clear my throat. "Dad, what..." I paused as I heard what was undoubtedly my mother crying, "Where are we going? What's happening? Why's mom crying?"

My father's face twisted up. "We're heading to the Endbringer Shelter, Mitch. Canberra's being hit."

I froze. That whining sound. Air raid sirens.

How didn't I notice it before? The Endbringer alarm.

This was bad. This was worse than bad.

Wait a minute...

"Which is it? Which one?" I asked as I forced myself to sit up, stomach turning from the small movement.

My father shook his head nervously but tried to flash me a smile. It was not reassuring. "We don't know. The news just told us what to do and where the shelter was. It didn't tell us which one was attacking."

I opened my mouth to ask another question when the minivan suddenly jerked and we skidded to a stop.

"Owww."

"Holy..."

I quieted my complaints as I heard my mom's voice.

My dad leaned forward from the middle seats until his head was right next to my mother's.

I heard him gasp as well.

"What? What is it?"

They didn't answer me.

"Fine, I'll look myself." I adjusted the seat in front of me until it was low enough for me to crawl over, my impatience and curiousity allowing me to power through the nausea.

I finally reached the front and stuck my head through the two front seats.

My jaw dropped to match my parents.

In front of us were thousands of cars, all stuck in what looked like the mother of all traffic jams.

"Crap. This thing's gotta stretch for miles. How are we gonna get past this?" Other people seemed to be having the same thoughts I did as I saw people pouring out of their cars and running in the direction we had just come from.

My dad wasted no time. "Okay...we have to go. They wouldn't be running this way if there wasn't a reason for it. We get out and we run. Ran, hold Mitch's hand and I'll grab yours. We can't afford to lose each other in this...insanity outside."

He paused, took a deep breath and continued. "I'll grab the bags."

My mom nodded and turned to me. "Mitchie, honey, are you good to run or do you need help?" The concern and caring in her voice was evident in every word she said. I normally found it embarrassing but in this situation, it gave me an odd feeling of strength and comfort.

I nodded. "I'm fine on my own. I'm definitely good."

My dad glanced at me sharply. "Are you sure? I can carry you if you need it."

Carry me? Please, I'm not a baby, was what I wanted to say. Instead, I grimaced and shook my head.

My dad nodded and jumped out of the van, my mom and I right behind him. We began to run as soon as our feet touched the ground. The crowd jostled us and knocked us around, definitely not helping my nausea. My mom's hand grabbed mine in a vice grip as I stumbled and she gave me a reassuring smile.

Looking at the mayhem around me, I felt myself getting sicker and my headache getting worse. People were being trampled underfoot due to not being quick enough, a few others had turned their cars around and were simply mowing down those too slow to get out of the way. Children were crying...no, not just children. Women, hell, grown men were openly crying. They just didn't want to die.

Too bad the monsters, Endbringers, didn't give a shit what they wanted. They had decided that today was our day and whether it was by water, heat, or mind control, a lot of people would die.

I noticed my mother glance at me out of the corner of my eye.

This has to be hitting her hard, I thought to myself. This vacation was her idea. Hell, I know for a fact that she already feels bad that I'm sick because of what she ordered for me.

I had to make her feel better...somehow.

I gave her hand a quick squeeze and she turned to me. "Sweetheart?"

I gave her a smile that I hope seemed comforting. "Don't worry, Mom. We'll be fine, I'm sure."

"Mitch is right, honey," intoned my dad in his deep voice. "Everything will be alright."

She smiled at both of us and I mentally added. At least I hope so. I'm almost out of breath and dad doesn't look much better.

The screams behind us suddenly increased in volume and intensity and, stupidly, I turned my head to see what was going on.

I froze as I saw the most terrifying thing I had ever seen in my life.

She was almost half a mile away but I could see her as if she was right in front of me. She was at least three times as tall as any normal human with ivory skin, long white hair and so many, many wings and all asymmetrical. Despite the fact that she was completely naked, she had wings that covered all her "private parts", as if she actually had any. Chunks of skyscrapers, pavement, cars and roadwork followed her, occasionally flying through the air to hit a target I couldn't see.

My observations led me to one conclusion.

"Oh fuck...the Simurgh," I rasped, my throat suddenly drying up in fear.

I'm gonna die. I had known that it was likely in an Endbringer attack but it didn't seem...real before.

I glanced back up at the angel monster and shuddered. Yeah, that's definitely real.

The twin gasps of shock from behind me led me to the belief that my parents had come to the same conclusion I had.

"Yes!"

I was wrong.

My parents, the crowd, they had all noticed something I missed. While I was focused on the Simurgh, they had noticed something that I had just caught.

The heroes...

The cheering was like a blast of sound hitting me from all directions.

For a moment, my fear dulled slightly as I saw what appeared to be a cloud of hundreds of flying parahumans attacking the monster. The crowd's cheering actually made me hope.

Maybe they can chase her off, maybe we'll get lucky, maybe...

My attempts at self delusion were cut off as She began her scream.

I ripped my hand from my mom's grip and clasped them over my ears in an attempt to block the noise.

It didn't help at all.

It was just so loud, so fucking loud. It came from everywhere at once. Even though I ran with my hands covering my ears, the unnatural sound persisted.

A sound like a million tortured people screaming for the sweet release of death all in unison. Nails on a chalkboard was nothing.

This was utter hell.

All I wanted to do was bash my head in so I could be free from the horrible noise that She was torturing us with.

As the Simurgh continued to scream, my headache and nausea only increased as the crowd went mad around me. Half of them slowed down and fights began to break out.

It was madness.

What are you doing?, I felt like screaming. She wants us to die and you're just doing her job for her.

I felt a sudden sharp pain to the back of my head and I fell, my hands too slow to break my fall.

My face hit the ground full-on and a white-hot pain erupted across my face/

My nose!

I raised one hand to my gushing nose and another to the back of my head only to feel a hot, damp mess that I could only assume was my blood and hair.

Insticts kicking in, I rolled over in an attempt to see my attacker.

"...The hell?", was all I could vocalize due to my sheer surprise. "Mr. Wilden?" The man was a senior who lived in a beach house not too far from us. Seventy-four years old and retired, the only thing he had strength for was fishing...and apparently, bashing kids in the head with his cane.

I scrambled backwards as he kept swinging with a manic look in his eye, trying to brain me with his blood-stained cane.

His mouth moved, saying things that I couldn't hear due to the loudness of the crowd around us.

I stumbled backwards, crying out as my hand sunk into the chest of an overweight man lying still on the floor.

I scrambled back even faster. God, I must have looked pathetic. Bloodshot eyes, bleeding nose, wearing nothing but Eidolon pajamas, and Armsmaster slippers, trying desperately to crawl away from a homicidal old man.

People were losing their heads, killing each other and dying while the biggest threat to my life was a retiree. What's wrong with me?

I gritted my teeth, mind made up. "Sorry about this, old man."

With a sharp kick, my foot slammed into his knee. I was ashamed to realize that a small part of me enjoyed the look of pain on his face and the loud cracking noise that his knee made. I scrambled to my feet, purposely ignoring the screaming that came from the old man.

It was him or me, right? I thought to myself, desperately trying to justify my actions. He tried to kill me. I didn't even do that much.

I ignored the whisper in my mind telling me that he was going to still die because of what I did. I didn't have time for it.

I prepared to run again and I felt a wave of nausea hit me as I realized that I couldn't see my parents. Until Mr. Wilden had attempted to kill me, I had kept my eyes firmly locked on my mother's back, as my father was just slightly ahead, fighting his way through the crowd for us

The Simurgh's scream suddenly increased in volume and intensity. The million voices became ten million and I fell to my knees. The burning sensation of bile filled my throat as my eyes began to water.

Seconds later, the contents of my stomach flew out of my mouth, finding a new home on the pavement.

Through watery eyes, I looked up at the Simurgh and watched in horror as some of the Capes fighting her began to explode. It made for a sort of gory fireworks and I began to giggle to myself.

"We're all going to die", I whispered to no one as I continued to laugh. I ignored the people who ran past me, seemingly unaffected by the Simurgh's unholy noise, just trying to get to safety. I ignored the mothers gruesomely killing their children in whatever way they could. I ignored the cannibalism, I ignored the murder, I ignored the suicide. I ignored all the death. "This is it."

I looked up towards the cause of everything that was happening. I wasn't scared anymore. I had accepted it. This was the end. I took in the Simurgh's appearance one more time. I don't know what I was thinking before. She wasn't monstrous, she wasn't sadistic. People died all the time. She wasn't doing anything bad.

No, it was perfectly natural. She was getting closer with every passing second and I watched her, without moving from my place. I saw her beautiful snowy hair blowing in the wind, her expression peaceful, serene even. I imagined myself running my hands through those beautiful ivory wings, caressing her pale alabaster skin and placing a kiss on her beautiful, thin li-

"What...WHAT THE FUCK?!", I screamed out loud. My chest heaved as I tried to come to terms with what I was just thinking of. I began to dry heave and it was all I could do to prevent myself from throwing up once more.

However, my freak out ended abruptly as the Simurgh stopped screaming. She had frozen. Her wings stopped moving and all the massive detritus and debris held by telekinesis fell to the ground. All the Capes fighting her immediately dived for cover. No one attacked. Everyone was either hiding or attempting to get out of range. The civilians had stopped their mindless mayhem and simply stared at Her. Everything and everyone was deathly silent.

The Simurgh tilted her head upwards. Seconds passed and nothing happened.

Then, the sky broke apart and everything went insane.