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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