Month: December 2015

Chapter 79: Return

The world was falling apart around him.

The pain of being torn apart had vanished.

The tear in the sky had collapsed, falling into itself at the same time as it was shredded and blown in every direction.

He watched the edges of the gate slowly recede back into their centers. Piece by piece, he felt himself return to this world. A hundred thousand pins were digging into every inch of him. The pain was loud and grating and it filled him with more joy than he had ever experienced before.

He was whole again.

Unimportant found his feet and slowly raised himself up from the ground. The stabbing pins grew worse, but the pain wasn’t anything like what he’d experienced when nearing the gateway.

There were voices around him, but they were muddled, unintelligible. There were people running, but none of them were coming close to him.

So, I guess I’m not back then.

His voice echoed through the emptiness.

The light of the gateway returned but it didn’t’ call for him. He watched a dozen costumed figures fall through their portals, collapsing into a heap of bodies that writhed until they could pull themselves from its grasp.

They were shouting, but he couldn’t hear their words. One by one, new heroes landed or ran onto the scene. There was more shouting and more muffled voices. Slipstream was one of the loudest; he was pointing away from the group, gesturing at the sounds of alarms echoing across the city.

One of the other group finally managed to get to her feet. Janus.

She didn’t join the fray as quickly as the others had. She was scanning the ground, looking for something.

Her eyes locked onto him.

Oh.

She could see him, or at least sense him. And the way she was moving did not suggest a happy visit.

There was a muffled shout from behind him, but he couldn’t turn his head to find it. Janus was the only one who paid attention to it.

She hesitated in her march towards him. He couldn’t see her face through the solid blue faceplate, but he couldn’t feel her eyes on him anymore. The shouting continued behind him. It was still muffled, but he knew the voice.

Red?

What would he even be doing here? This wasn’t the kind of thing they called novices out on. He’d seen the kid a few days ago, running through the roads like the devil was after him. He shouldn’t be here.

Janus looked back at the group arguing behind her, and he took that as the only chance he’d ever get.

Unimportant didn’t run so much as stumble into a back alley. He didn’t understand why the sliders had been pulling him towards that gate; he didn’t know why they were trying to pull him apart, or even if that’s what they were really doing; all he knew is that he didn’t want to be anywhere near them if they decided to try again.

He heard Red Racer’s voice echoing behind him, calling for someone, but he ignored it. There were half a dozen other heroes who could actually help him. As far as he could tell, he was the only one who that portal was targeting; the kid would be safe.

Janus started calling out too. He glanced back and saw her standing where he’d been earlier; her entire head was darting in every direction; her eyes drifted over him, but they didn’t stop.

Unimportant started running again. This time he didn’t stop. The alleys in this district weren’t a path so much as a maze. If he’d been more together, he would have been able to find his way out easily, but as he was now, he was lost in minutes.

And still he kept moving.

He moved until his battered legs couldn’t support him anymore and he finally collapsed against the brick wall. The air clawed at his throat as he forced it down into his lungs and he could feel a tear sliding its way down from his eye into his mouth. It tasted like rusted metal.

He searched for the wound, but the blood had come straight from his eye. And not just there; he felt the warm fluid running down his chest and arms and legs. He really hoped it was all blood.

Blackness creeped at the edge of his vision.

Can’t sleep. Need to get…away,” he tried to encourage himself. It couldn’t be too long until they managed to set the gateway back up again. He was still much closer than he’d been that morning, and he didn’t know if he could have resisted it then.

He pulled his feet beneath him again and pushed off from the wall.

The alley was narrow, if he’d thought about it, he would have been able to catch himself on the far wall before his head slammed into it.

The red bricks filled his vision and then it went black.

He opened his eyes seconds later and it was night time.

Unimportant clawed at the wall and dragged himself onto his feet.

The alley was blackened; any light they put up would have been broken in days. He wasn’t sure how to get out of here; he wasn’t even sure where he had come from, but he didn’t have much of a choice any more.

Unimportant stumbled his way through the alley.

Time seemed to vanish with each painful step. The pins and needles that had bothered him before had turned into knives, stabbing into every pore deeper and deeper with every movement. But he kept going, he couldn’t stop.

“You seem to be in quite a conundrum, my boy.”

He hadn’t sensed him. How could he have not sensed him until now? The mousy haired man was clearly visible even in the darkness of the alley. He glowed with the golden light of a gateway, and the edges of his form slide away from Unimportant’s gaze like oil sliding over water. Almost instantly, Unimportant felt a pain start to grow behind his eyes.

“Did you really think I walked around all day leaking power like that? My boy, if I want to be able to have a night on the town I can’t afford such luxuries as allowing my power to run rampant in such a way.”

Unimportant didn’t speak. Between the fear and the pain, he wasn’t sure if he could.

“But of course, you wouldn’t know. They told you I’m a monster, did they not?” He paused for Unimportant’s answer, but didn’t wait for long. “Of course they did. Such a pity. If only people knew the truth, then they might seize this opportunity as I have.”

Unimportant wanted to run again, but his legs wouldn’t let him. If Eclipse noticed his panic, then he didn’t pay any heed. He finally had Unimportant where he couldn’t run away.

“It pains me, you see. I must watch my creations, my children, wander through life, squandering their gifts on meaningless trifles, when true power lies just beyond their reach. They are all three steps two far away to really see what they can do.”

He grabbed Unimportant’s head with one hand and forced their eyes to lock.

“But you, you are one step closer than any of them, and you don’t even know it. You don’t even realize how grand your power is, how close it has brought you to standing among the gods!” His eyes glowed golden and red and the lights of madness danced behind them. “And you push. It. Away. You don’t even try to use it to its potential! Do you have any idea how disappointing you are?!” He tossed Unimportant down the alley away from him, and slowly stalked towards his prone form.

“You made me so angry, just by watching you. I wanted nothing more than to squash your head into pulp and hope the next one works better.” His shadow loomed over Unimportant’s broken form.

He turned away and began gliding back and forth through the alley.

“But then I thought about it. You’re young, you have no training. You haven’t even had a real chance to try your powers. The next one might not even have half of your potential. I have forgiven my children for slights much worse than ignorance; perhaps showing mercy will give you a chance to become something wonderful.”

He spun around like a record on a turntable and the world around him seemed to fight against the motion with sparks and scratches drifting through the air.

“But lately, you have been able to do much of anything have you? Here you are, stuck in between. It’s rather uncomfortable, isn’t it? You may be more used to it than I was, but I’m sure you’ve been having the same problems. Sleeping on benches in the cold night, stealing food, walking miles a day just because you weren’t able to sneak aboard a bus or a taxi. It’s rather close to hell isn’t it?”

The world around Eclipse had begun altering with his words. The air around him seemed to freeze and burn and vanish and harden all at the same time. The pain in Unimportant’s eyes grew even larger, as if they were trying to force their way out of his hear.

“It took me two years to discover an exit from this place. It was a good learning experience, but you would appear to be in a fair bit more danger than I was at the time. I suppose I can show you the exit.”

Eclipse appeared inches away from Unimportant. The injured hero didn’t have time to flea before the villain shoved his hand through Unimportant’s head.

He should have been dead, but there was too much pain for him to be dead.

It took him over a minute to figure out that the screaming he heard was coming from him.

“What I’m doing now is giving you access to a universe where you already figured out how to get out of this particular trick. It is an… unfortunate experience, but you’ll get used to it by the time you figure out how to do it on your own.”

And then he was gone.

Unimportant was still screaming; Eclipse was gone but he could still feel his brain churning inside his skull, rearranging itself to force knowledge into his head that he’d never learned or earned.

And then it stopped.

Unimportant stayed perfectly still. If he moved, then the pain might start again. The new knowledge burned into his head felt wrong, like he’d been walking with only one of his feet on carpeting. But the knowledge was there, and he knew without even thinking about it that it would work.

Over an hour later, Unimportant stumbled into the street along with the sunrise.

Somebody was running to him, shouting his name.

And then he blacked out.

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Chapter 78: Dusk

Will watched them split up and head for their targets. They couldn’t fight the sliders; even if they wanted to, none of them were in this world anymore. They were standing on the other end of the tear, each in their own world, pulling at it and cascading their own powers to forge Unimportant’s frequency. Once he was through, the frequency would be canceled out in this world and he wouldn’t have a target to lock onto and let him return.

If they wanted to stop it, they needed to overload it. Each slider had a limit on just how much they could take with them through a portal. They were sharing the burden, but if one of them failed the frequency would break and Unimportant would be able to get away.

The other heroes wouldn’t let them do that. They couldn’t risk it. If they were lucky, they might be able to get the portal halfway to overloading before they were stopped. They couldn’t win if they fought, and they and they couldn’t keep being heroes if they were seen. They needed a distraction and a miracle; Will could only give them one of those.

Of course, he couldn’t afford to be seen either. They knew his face, his name, where he lived, and, most importantly his power. If he tries to do anything big, any member of the council could pick up the signs of his power from half a city away. He had to find someone else, or he had to be clever.

There wasn’t anyone he could trust for this job and he didn’t have the time to be clever.

Will sat on the roof and closed his eyes. Hopefully, the kids would listen and not start until after he did, but they were on a time limit.

Will took a deep breath, and for the first time in years, allowed the world inside.

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

Hawthorne had to stop herself from turning around when she heard the first set of alarms. It sounded like every fire, car, or burglar alarm to the north was being set off simultaneously. She didn’t know how it was being done, but if this was Will’s distraction then it was working.

She was almost at the portal, and more than close enough to do her part. Hawthorne began scattering seeds into the wind. Each one was a time bomb of power that would quickly grow into as big a tree as it could before vanishing into the void.

She had barely started, and she was already feeling the strain. She didn’t know where her powers came from, most walkers didn’t, but she had her limits. If she’d kept in contact with the seeds, she could have grown a city block’s worth of redwood forest before she tired, but when she let them loose like this, she could never tell just how much it would take.

If she felt this drained normally, she would just stop, or at least rest for a few minutes, but for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was wearing herself down further than she had since the first few years she had powers for someone she couldn’t remember. Every time she wondered if it would be enough, every time she thought she didn’t have anything left to give, she found herself reaching down and grabbing a bit more power, another scrap of energy she didn’t know she had.

The idea of stopping pained her, and she didn’t know why. It felt like every second she wasted meant she’d be losing something important, but there were no memories to link to the emotions. It was like finding out that her father threw out a stuffed animal from when she was a baby; it shouldn’t hurt, but it did anyway.

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

Burnout felt the flames wrapping around him. Compared to the others, his ability to throw anything into the hole was severely limited. There just wasn’t enough benefit to make throwing fireballs into the portal worth the effort.

If he needed too, Burnout could start tearing cars apart and tossing them in, but there was only so much damage he could do before he became more menace then hero. Luckily, Mach had had a better idea.

Burnout flew up, and then dove straight to the ground. The flmaes surrounding him grew hotter and glowed brighter and brighter blue until they were almost white. When he hit the street, it had already melted, leaving a hole nearly two dozen meters across for him to work with.

The tunnels he emerged in had been sewers once, before they’d started using water free waste disposal. Nowadays they’d been mostly filled in with enough silt and trash from river flooding that they had barely half the space they used to. And twice the odor.

Burnout was caught between complaining to Mach over the comm and remembering just how little he wanted to open his mouth down here.

Burnout closed his eyes and began focusing on his flames. He held out his hands and a lance of fire shot out, cutting the once sewer line straight through.

He wished he could do more, but he couldn’t move the kind of mass needed to shut the portal. His part of this job would be over when he made the second cut.

After that, he was a lookout. It was an easy task, one his old self would have loved. But now, he wanted nothing more than to do something, anything that could actually help.

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

Allspades grabbed hold of the sewer line and pulled. He did what he could to avoid breaking it. The less pieces it was in, the easier it would be to put it back when he was done.

It felt like his arms were trying to pull themselves out of their sockets and his nearly indestructible skin was stretching uncomfortably on his fingers. His feet began digging into the street, creating furrows as they inevitably dragged back to their starting point each time he tried to take a step.

He hadn’t tried to lift something this big since he’d been in training, and back then he’d nearly crushed himself when he found out he couldn’t’. He knew he was stronger now, but he’d always been afraid of lifting something this heavy; he’d always been afraid of finding out where the line was. Sooner or later he’d lift something, and physics would win out over his powers.

It wasn’t happening today.

A strength he didn’t believe he really had began building up within him. He felt his teeth grinding together and couldn’t control the sounds of exertion forcing themselves from his chest as the massive pipeline began to move. The sounds of it scraping against the edge of the hole in the road as he dragged it through quickly drowned out any other sound.

Allspades lifted the sewer line over his head.And began dragging it to the portal. The pipe would have to stay; the street wouldn’t repair itself if its foundation was gone, but everything inside was fair game.

Each step he took left another crater in the street, and the far end of the pipe dragging along behind hi wiped it straight out.

He set the open end near the entrance the portal and walked around to the other side. If Mach was right then a good whack could send most of its contents straight through, and hopefully onto whoever was trying to kill their friend.

A small smile wormed its way onto his face and Allspades rammed his fist into the capped end of the pipe.

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

Red Racer ran with everything he had. The wind that normally whipped around him was even fiercer and stronger than ever. He didn’t’ run straight to the portal; instead he charged up and down the city streets going faster and faster as he snaked his way across half the city.

It was the fastest he’d ever run. He could feel a strain on his legs unlike anything he’d ever experienced since he’d been struck by the machine. His heart was pounding faster and faster and his lungs burned with a need for air that he didn’t know he could feel anymore.

And he still ran faster.

Behind him, dirt and dust and trach was being sucked into his wake. The long snake-like trail followed him as much out of its own momentum as by his will.

And still he ran faster

It wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be enough until the gateway was already closed and his friend was back where everyone would be able to remember again.

And so he ran faster.

The air he breathed burned coldly in his lungs. His throat, itchy and burning and dry, begged him to slow down.

The trail had grown thicker and longer.

Red Raver ran straight for the gateway, chased by the snake god of dirt and trash.

Red Racer slide to the gorund and covered his head. The trail in his wake sped abover him charging its own way the last few feet into the gateway.

The glowing tear in space and time shuddered.

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Chapter 77: Pain

He felt the world shattering around him. He was being pulled in a thousand directions at once and at the same time all to the same place. He could feel his mind shattering even as it was focused on a single goal. And he could. Not. Turn. Away.

Unimportant tried to fight the desire to walk ever closer to the tear in the universe.

With every step he felt himself fading. His mind was barely holding itself together and his body wasn’t. He could feel his hands, his feet, his face, but none of them were there. Despite his existence in this world, he also existed in so many others. With every step his feet could be at the bottom of an ocean or burning on a sun. With every minute movement his hands were suddenly brushing against the bristles of a pine tree or soaking in the acid of some creature’s stomach.

John wanted to cry, but even though the tears left his eyes they never reached his cheeks. They were instantly whisked away into the voids between worlds.

Did they know? Did they understand what this was doing to him? Or did they not realize that he could feel every atom of his body being sent somewhere else? Did they understand that every nerve in his body was constantly screaming in agony, even as the wondrous rush of obeying the call of the void filled his veins with warmth and comfort?

He should be unconscious Nobody should be able to withstand this pain and keep walking. But the pain would not let him fade.

He should be screaming. Even the strongest man could not remain stoic under the onslaught of pain and pleasure. But the air would vanish before it could leave his lungs.

He should be dead. Even the most indestructible monster couldn’t survive being ripped apart as he was. But the call of the gateway would not let him go that easily.

John wanted to run away, but his legs were no longer his own. Their will was guided by an empty promise. He could have cut them off and they would still relentlessly march towards their goal. And he would be right beside them, dragging his bleeding stumps as he clawed his way towards the tear until he tore out his own fingernails and further still.

What could he have done? What happened that he was being dragged into the nothingness? Was it revenge? Had Asclepios somehow created this rift just to trap him? Would that make it better, or worse? The idea of pissing off the man who killed his brother that much would have made him laugh just yesterday. Today, he couldn’t laugh even if he wanted to.

Something from somewhere flew into his eye and he tried to rub it out, like he had done so many times before. He felt his hand brushing his eye, but his eye never felt his hand rubbing against it.

He wanted to speak. He wanted nothing more than to get a message to his mother, to tell her that he’d always love her even if she had forgotten him completely. He wanted to tell her that she could empty out his room, that she didn’t have to save it for someone she would never realize she had lost.

He wanted to tell Red Racer that seeing him throw Frankenstein through a building was the coolest experience he’d ever had.

He wanted to tell Mach that even without her legs she was still a better hero than him.

He wanted to tell Hawthorne that she deserved to be a hero, that she shouldn’t have to give up who she wanted to be just because of who she had to be.

He wanted to tell Burnout that he didn’t need the group anymore, that the only thing holding him back from being a true hero was his belief that something was.

He wanted to tell Allspades just how much stronger he had gotten in the weeks since he returned from Confluence.

He wanted to be the one to tell Will that he’d figured out who he was, even if he’d done it by cheating.

He would talk to anyone. He would say anything. He just didn’t want to be alone.

How far away was the gateway now? Did he have an hour or minute? Had he started going faster, or slower? Would he be sucked into it like a tornado, or would he have to walk the entire way? Would reaching the center tear him apart completely, or bring him all together?

Maybe he wanted to run forward. Maybe it would be better if it all just ended. Maybe his resistance was hurting him more than his acceptance ever word. He considered doing just that. He tried to give up, to will his own mind to stop thinking. It wouldn’t let him. Some part of him refused to give up even as he begged himself to.

Maybe he could still escape. Maybe there was a lifeline he hadn’t found yet. Maybe someone really was looking for him and he would be saved at the last minute. Maybe there was hope.

It was thoughts like that that kept him from going away. They kept feeding that last spark of resistance burning in the back of his mind, trying to turn it a roaring flame of resistance when it was constantly be snuffed out by the sands and rain of depression and pain.

Maybe he couldn’t be killed. Maybe there was a fate, and it wouldn’t let him die yet. Maybe he really was important enough for the universe to keep him from disappearing forever.

But he wasn’t. Even if people had cared about him once, he’d thrown it away. First when he’d let his brother’s death become more important to him than the friends and family he still had left. A second time when he decided that he could only heal by getting revenge instead of by letting go. Finally, when he’d run away and refused to stop, even when the danger had passed.

Maybe.

But he didn’t want to die.

And so the unimportant man, the lonely hero, kept walking to his death, even as he declared that he wanted to live.

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