Part Twenty Seven: Metamorphosis
It begins with a tremor, then a sound.
The tremor is brief, noticed only by the very few people on the grounds within the police perimeter and those still in the building itself. It’s strong enough to shake the ground and rattle windows, but it doesn’t carry beyond the police barricades and goes mostly unnoticed. The sound, on the other hand, is hard to overlook: low and rumbling, like the very beginnings of a fog horn just before it opens up, then rising slightly as the sound expands into a baritone thummm that feels like it fills every bit of empty space. Shortly after the sound, the tremors return.
A wind rises, racing through the corridors of downtown New York, strong enough to blow hats off heads, and cause the ends of jackets and scarves to flap. As the wind rises, so does the sound, the thummm growing louder, and behind it a second sound. An echo of a sound, really, the kind of thing a person thinks they hear until they focus on it, and then it disappears. The second sound, the sound that is only barely there, is the sound of inhuman voices chanting.
And then the wind dies off. The tremors stop. The sound stops, abruptly, and for a moment the city is unnaturally silent.
Silence, interrupted by bursts of static and garbled messages sent over police radios. Sirens in the distance, sounding in short, urgent bursts. Car horns honking, even further off.
And again, it begins with a sound: the echo of metal tearing away from metal.
The massive shell surrounding the Haruspex Analytics building—the armored covering that had only recently appeared—starts to peel away from the building like flakes of dried skin. It starts at the very top of the building, thirteen plates from thirteen sides all toppling back and away from the building. As the topmost pieces of the shell break free, the next pieces begin to tear away in turn, and so it goes as each floor sheds the armor surrounding it.
The building is fifty stories tall. The last pieces to fall away—the ones attached to the first ten stories of the building—all land within the area the police have cordoned off. That leaves 520 pieces of ultra-dense metal, deadly petals falling from a steel and concrete flower, that catch the air and fall beyond the emptied area and into the rest of the city.
The oversized shrapnel sails through the air, almost graceful as they slice into buildings or rain down on the streets. The effect they have on buildings varies, depending on the angle of impact: some hit lengthwise, doing little more than shaking the building and shattering its windows, but the ones that strike the buildings edge first have enough force to pierce the walls. Some stop, wedged in the building, slowly wobbling in place until it works itself out, often taking a piece of the building with it as it finally falls away. Others pierce the building completely, tumbling and crashing into other buildings or into the street below. One building a block and a half away from the perimeter has an entire corner sheared off, clipped by a passing flake. The corner falls fifteen stories into the street below, sounding like a bomb as it hits.
The ones that don’t hit the buildings straight on are potentially worse. They glance off the buildings, ricocheting from one to another until finally they hit the street. They tumble, the edges tearing up asphalt, ripping into cars and trucks, cutting through traffic lights, cutting through power lines… cutting through people.
This assault doesn’t go uncontested: Flashes of yellow, red, orange, and green light up the sky; sounds of crackling energy and the booom of hypersonic flight cut through the air, and some of the flakes swerve, slow, miss their targets. One wobbles to a halt just before it pierces through a skyrise apartment building, gently lowering to the ground encased in a shimmering multicolored field, settling to rest at the feet of a masked woman in a red-and-gold uniform. A few flakes are knocked out of the sky by flying figures that smash them to the ground. More costumed figures work the streets, keeping men and women out of the way of the flakes as they fall, pulling people from cars, evacuating them from buildings. New York City is not without its heroes. But for each flake of metal they manage to keep under control, there are at least three beyond their reach.
When the last of the armored shell flakes away, even as those pieces carve paths of destruction through the city, the sound starts up again. The thummm, the chanting—clearer now, a discernible subtext within the sound—and with it come more, stronger tremors, strong enough to make windows rattle.
Thunder crashes. A dark line shoots out of one of the mid-level floors, streaking across the sky, burrowing into the ground with such force that showers of dirt erupt from the impact. It is a series of cables, braided together into a cord thicker than a man’s shoulders, running from the ground to the building, drawing itself taut. Another crash of thunder, and a second cord shoots out of the building, end burying itself into the beside the first. Again and again, thirteen times in all—one for each side—and by the end of it thirteen cables run from the ground to the building, all drawn taut, making the building look like a deranged maypole in the pre-dawn light.
The baritone thummm grows louder, the vibrations in the ground grow stronger, and the building… shifts, leaning to one side as if buffeted by wind. The cables on the far side strain, but hold, and the ground shudders.
The building begins to tilt in the other direction. It cracks and groans, swaying left and right, until finally the first twenty floors of the building split into two columns. Streams of broken concrete, steel and glass fall to the ground as the fissure in the building widens, and then one half shifts forward, as if it were an unwieldy leg. The cables all tighten, pulling the building forward, and then the other half shifts forward. The last bits of loose concrete and steel fall away, and suddenly the lower half of the building can move freely. What were legs in appearance are now legs for all practical purposes.
The cables release from the ground and whip into the air, flailing wildly. Some of them swing out in a wide arc, smashing into nearby buildings and nearly cutting one in half. Others hang in the air, more like tentacles than cables, moving of their own accord, coiling and uncoiling as needed. The building moves, stepping out over the green park that surrounded it and stepping squarely into the now-abandoned street.
Light flickers along its sides, an ugly purple light that gathers and resolves into strange symbols.
One symbol per floor. One symbol per side. 650 runes, all identical to the ones embedded in a certain golem CB and his companion had fought earlier that evening.
The Haruspex Golem towers over the rest of the city, and the rain of destruction begins in earnest.