The Pain of Glory

Western

A brown feather fell from Luke’s cheek. Not that he couldn’t spare the one. His entire body was covered in a mismatch of gray, white, brown, and striped chicken feathers that were plastered to his skin with hot tar.

He shook as he lifted one blistered hand to sip from the stout mug the bartender had generously placed before him. Luke’s body protested the pain. Protested movement. Protested living in this God-forsaken town of bigots and busybodies.

“What’d you do, this time?” the bartender asked, wiping up the few small feathers that detached themselves from Luke’s aching body to litter the bar.

“Nothing, as far as I can tell,” Luke said. He sipped from his mug again. “Except maybe live.”

The bartender snorted. “And exactly how were you livin’ so as to end up in such a state, Mr. Lucas-the-Snark.”

Luke shrugged, and immediately regretted the movement. “I may have fallen in love.”

“Love, is it?” the bartender asked. “I don’t know many loves that would leave a man in such a state.”

“Well, then you haven’t lived,” Luke said. He tried on a smile. It hurt just as much as anything else.

“Far be it from me to live so gloriously.” The bartender refilled Luke’s drink, for which he was immensely grateful.

Luke sipped slowly and sighed as the alcohol numbed some of the searing, burning pain in his body. “Some people are worth the pain of glory. Edgar Graves is doubly so.” He smiled into the mug at the memory of Edgar’s body pressed against his. The fingers gripping his hair. The sweet smell of tobacco and lemon candies, which were Edgar’s favorite indulgences.

Then there was the sound of Mrs. Grave’s high-pitched wail. The crash of glass against his back as she broke her precious antique vase against him. She’d wailed so loud that the whole town emerged from their late-night domiciles to witness Luke, half-dressed and bleeding from scratches down his back–some of which were from the vase and some of which were most definitely not–struggling to pull up his britches as he ran.

Bigots and busybodies don’t much appreciate a man who appreciates a man.

The bartender snatched the mug away from Luke with a deep scowl. “I think you’d best git,” the man growled.

Luke chuckled. “Yeah. You might be right.” He stood stiffly, picked up his leather stetson to place it on his head just so, and walked out of the saloon with not much of his dignity intact.

Still. It was a glorious night.

The Dreamer

Writing Exercise

Mary once dreamed of becoming an interior designer. She dreamed of marrying her first love, who had also become her first heartache. She dreamed of raising children in the home she grew up in. Instead, Mary sat by her bed with an open suitcase in front of her. It was empty. She shifted, looking around the room with an appraising eye, but not seeing much of anything at all.

She only had fifteen more minutes to pack her things, but she was at a loss as to what she should bring. Clothes, probably. Maybe the stuffed toy her best friend gave her in the second grade. The letters from her ex-boyfriend that she kept in the drawer of her nightstand.

She couldn’t take the doorframe with all the notches cut out, showing how much she’d grown since her family moved to the house. A few of the precious trinkets scattered around the room could go with her, but not many. Mary would never be able to fit the octopus bookends that one of her teachers gave her for her birthday. Nor could she take the three shelves of books that she’d collected over a lifetime.

What would happen to them, when she was gone?

Five minutes left. The suitcase was still empty. She wrung her hands.

Mary couldn’t pack her entire life into one small suitcase, no matter how much she wanted to take everything with her. There were so many things she had to leave behind. So many memories she’d made. So many dreams that would come to nothing.

The immigration agent poked his head in through the door. “Mary? We have to get going soon. Are you ready?”

He was a nice enough man. She didn’t hate him for doing this. Even though it hurt.

Mary stood and went to her dresser. She pulled out wads of clothes and shoved them unceremoniously into her suitcase. Everything else would have to be left behind. It was too difficult to look at them and remember the life that she was losing.

The agent sighed and walked into the room. He helped her fold the clothes, working silently at her side without complaint.

“Everything’s going to be fine. Think of it like you’re going home.”

An errant tear heedlessly slipped down her cheek and she wiped it away roughly. “This is the only home I’ve ever known. I don’t even speak Spanish.” She wiped at another rogue tear. “I don’t know anything about Honduras. How am I supposed to survive?” A chill of fear ran down her spine.

The agent looked down at his own hands. They were shaking. “A place will be found for you, once you get there,” he said. “You won’t be left on your own.”

“But I am on my own.” She shut the suitcase and rubbed harshly at her face. Her eyes were puffy; her nose and cheeks were bright red.

“I’m just doing my job.”

Mary picked up her suitcase. “When you decide to follow evil laws, it doesn’t free you of guilt just because you weren’t the one who came up with the law in the first place. May God judge between you and me.” She walked out of the room without looking back.

The agent clenched his shaking fist, steeling himself against her accusations. “It’s just my job,” he said again to the empty room. He’d once dreamed of joining the CIA. Traveling the world. Going anywhere and doing anything he wanted. Anything but this.

New Horizons

New Year’s Special

Jim clung to the side of the mountain. The next handhold was too high to reach comfortably. Sweat poured down his face.

He threw himself forward with all of his strength. Gravity caught up just as the tips of his fingers hooked over the ledge. Grunting with effort, Jim secured his feet against the rocky cliff face and leveraged himself over the edge.

It wasn’t the highest mountain or even the most difficult to climb. But it was a sacred place. At least, for Jim it was sacred.

He pulled two camping mugs from his knapsack and filled them from a stout thermos. Next to one mug, he set a framed photo of Hector, his best friend. Jim lightly tapped one mug against the other.

He sipped bitter coffee as he watched the horizon change colors before his eyes. “I’m just in time,” he commented.

For ten years, Jim and Hector climbed this mountain to watch the sunset on Hector’s birthday. This was the last year Jim would ever make the trip.

“It’s as beautiful as it always was,” Jim said. He rubbed his eyes roughly. “Good luck searching out those new horizons, man. I’m going to miss you.”

Maggots in the Meat

Writing Exercise

There were maggots in the meat. Professor Helena Slogar was no imbecile. She recognized a nefarious plot when she saw one. She’d been a participant in more than a few of her own.

Of course, from the outset, Helena didn’t trust the invitation from the Duchess of Swayzee. Not only was the woman a foul harpy, but she was also the ex-lover of the Prince of Boone. The same Prince of Boone whom Helena had married not three months past.

The prince loved Helena, and Helena adored…well. She adored his money. His glorious money, which provided all the funding she needed to continue her experiments. How could she possibly refuse him, knowing that all of her financial woes would become a thing of the past?

Duchess Swayzee was not as practical as Professor Helena Slogar. Swayzee cried. She begged. She threatened. But in the end, the Prince of Boone made his choice. A fine choice, indeed, as far as Helena was concerned.

But now, this. Maggots in the meat at the outdoor tea party the Duchess insisted Helena attend. Helena hiked all the way up the cursed mountain trail, only to find a fancy table with no other person in sight and platters brimming with maggot-infested meat. A fine joke, indeed.

To make matters worse, it started raining the moment Helena arrived. Hilarity upon hilarity. Her stomach rumbled. Long hikes always made her hungry, and now she wouldn’t get a single bite of food until she made her way all the way back down the treacherous trail and back into the safety of her home.

The sky thundered and rain poured down harder. With long suffering, Helena raced to the cover of trees nearby. She would catch her death of cold, at this rate.

Huddled, shivering under the tree, Helena did not see the dark figure that slunk through the shadows behind her. She did, however, hear the rustle of cloth as he prepared to strike. She turned just in time to see the man’s grizzled face and the sharp, poison-laced porcupine quill in his fist.

The man struck, bearing his weight down on Helena as she screamed. He stabbed her with the quill over and over until her screams became shallow gasps for breath. His task complete, the man dragged her to the sloped edge of the hiking trail and shoved her off.

Helena rolled down the side of the mountain, striking trees and rocks, scraping her exposed arms and legs as she went. After what felt like ages she splashed into the river below, and there she floated, perfectly still and barely alive.

Barely alive was all Helena required. She was a woman of science, not to be underestimated or trifled with. Poison? Ha! The moss of the snakeberry tree would draw out any poison from her blood. She clawed her way up the bank of the river and to the first such tree she found. Applying moss to her wounds, she hunted for local herbs to create tinctures that would keep her alive long enough to get home. Once the prince heard of the Duchess of Swayzee’s actions, he would be furious.

That thought alone set a grin on her lips and kept her moving, mile after mile, toward the Prince’s palisade. She limped, battered beyond recognition, through the city gates and onto the grounds of her husband’s home. Her heart leaped for joy. She was nearly there!

A solid hell planted itself firmly on her shoulder.

“I’ve been looking for you.” Her assassin guffawed heartily. “Can’t have you showing up back here. Not now that the mistress is consoling your hubby over the death of his love.”

“I’m not dead,” Helena said stubbornly.

“Trust me, love. You are.” The man took out his knife with a wide grin. A cold chill streaked down Helena’s spine. She tried to scream, but the sound never managed to escape her mouth. The assassin scooped Helena into his arms, covered her face with his cloak, and carried her off of the Prince’s property. It was straight to the butcher, for this one. His mistress had plans for the remains of Professor Helena Slogar and the bastard Prince who broke her heart.

One week later, the Duchess of Swayzee stopped by for dinner. The Prince, who’d been little more than a walking corpse since the disappearance of his beloved Helena, thanked her yet again for her support of him.

“Oh, dearest,” Swayzee said. “Of course. I would do anything for you.”

The head maid set up a seat at the Prince’s right hand. “You should be thankful, your highness. Her ladyship brought more of her delicious meat pies to sustain you.” She smiled graciously at the Duchess. “It’s the only thing he’ll eat, of late. Were not for you, I’m certain he’d have starved by now.”

“It’s the least I could do,” Swayzee informed the maid, trying to suppress her malicious grin. “After all the Prince has done, he deserves nothing less.”

The Last Fare

Writing Exercise

“Why am I here?”

The woman wore pajamas, her feet adorned with unicorn slippers. A taxi rumbled quietly in front of her. The window rolled down and the driver tipped his hat. “Ma’am? I can take you where you need to go.”

She pressed her lips together and nodded at the man’s kindness. “I want to go home.”

The taxi doors opened and warmth poured out. She hadn’t realized how cold she was. With a relieved sigh, she settled into the back seat.

“It’s been a difficult night,” the driver commented. “But you’re safe, now.”

“I must have been sleepwalking,” the woman whispered. She sat up straight, suddenly worried. “My wallet! It’s not with me. I can’t pay you for the ride!”

The driver laughed, a comforting sound that cut through her panic. “It’s fine, my dear. If you dig around in the seat, I’m sure you’ll find something to give me.”

She ran her fingers along the seams of the seats. The two copper pennies jammed in the cushions were shiny and new.

“It’s not much,” the woman admitted. She handed the pennies to the driver, who examined them with a sad smile.

“Don’t worry, dear. It’s enough.”

The Lovers’ Constellation

Folk Tale/Legend

There was once a woman who fell in love with a man of very little means. Though they had little, the two were happy together. They shared everything they had and delighted in spending all their time together.

The couple lived peacefully until one day, as the woman was coming home from the market, she was assaulted by a band of robbers. They beat the woman and tried to take the little bit of money she’d made by selling vegetables from her garden and the little trinkets she made by hand. Bleeding and broken, the woman did not give in. She grabbed a branch from the forest and used it to fend off her attackers. No matter their threats or how badly she was hurt, the woman wouldn’t give up.

The god of war saw the woman’s fight and immediately fell in love. Though the woman wasn’t beautiful, she had a fire to her spirit that he wished to possess. The god descended to earth and killed the woman’s attackers. The woman cried at his feet and thanked the god for his help, but he made it clear that he was after her love. The god asked her to become his lover, but the woman refused to leave her husband.

Angered by her refusal, the god left the woman alone on the road. She gathered her money and unsold items into her basket and returned happily to her home, where her husband cared for her wounds and held her in his arms.

But the god was not done with her yet. He sparked a war in her country that spread across the entire continent. Soon enough, her husband was drafted into the military to protect the kingdom. On their last night together, the woman wept and prayed for her husband’s safety.

Her husband was called out to battle after battle and returned victorious from each one. Soon enough, he became rich with the spoils of war and was known far and wide as the greatest warrior of the land. But no matter how much he gained or how well-known he became, the man always said he wanted nothing more than to return to his beloved wife.

Frustrated that the war had not destroyed the man, the god of war descended to earth again in the midst of a great battle. The clouds turned dark and lightning flashed in terrible arcs across the sky. The men on both sides of the battle fled the sight of this great and powerful god that stood before them. With a stroke of his sword, the god cut the man down.

When the woman heard of her husband’s death, she mourned for days until the god of war visited her. Yet again, he asked her to become his lover and the woman refused. She vowed to spend the rest of her life alone. Infuriated by her refusal, the god tried to cut the woman down as well, but she escaped him by throwing powdered herbs into his face and fleeing to a sacred grove in the forest near her home. The god could not harm her there, but he swore to kill her if she ever left.

The goddess of love came to the girl in the sacred grove. The goddess, who was a lover of the god of war, was infuriated by the god’s treatment of the woman and her lover. She offered the woman a chance to retrieve her husband from the underworld. The god of death agreed that if the woman would descend into the underworld and retrieve her husband’s soul by her own hand, that she could have him back.

The woman agreed, so the goddess showed her the gateway to the underworld that resided in the sacred grove. The goddess gave her a satchel with dried meat and provisions for her journey because the woman had fled her home with nothing.

Deep inside the ancient cave, the woman came to the edge of a murky river that was so wide she could barely see the other shore. A ferryman waited there, but when she called out to him he didn’t answer. Remembering tales of the ferryman, the woman produced two copper coins from the goddess’s bag and handed them to the man. He nodded gravely and allowed her into the boat before casting off for the far side of the river.

Once she crossed the river, she came to a gate that was guarded by a large, three-headed dog. As long as she did not stray too close to the gate, the dog left her alone. But anytime she came near, it growled a vicious warning. The woman had dried meat wrapped in an oiled cloth in her bag. Sitting near enough to the gate that the dog would see her, but not so close that it became wary, the woman set the meat out in front of her. The three-headed dog slunk near and gobbled up the meat before hastily returning to the gate.

For three days, the woman sat in the same spot and offered her rations to the dog throughout the day until it finally came to trust her. On the third day, she was able to approach while the three-headed dog, wagging his tail happily, watched on. She passed through the gate unharmed.

Once she reached the underworld, she searched with determination, desperate to catch even a single glimpse of her beloved husband, but he was nowhere to be found. For weeks, without food or water to sustain her, the woman persisted. She wandered the underworld, scared and alone, until she came to a place of peace where the souls of the dead rested happily. Among the people there, she finally found her husband. The woman rushed to him, calling his name and crying.

Just as she was about to lay her hand on her beloved husband, the god of war descended. He stole away her husband’s soul and tore it to pieces. Once again, the god demanded that the woman become his lover, but the woman was so overwrought with grief that she didn’t hear him. She fell to the ground and wept. After weeks of searching the underworld with no provisions, and the sudden devastation of losing her husband again, the woman’s broken heart gave out and she perished.

The goddess of love took pity on the woman and her ill-fated lover. Reaching down into the underworld, she took the lost soul of the grieving woman and the leftover pieces of her husband’s soul and hung them in the sky, where the two lovers could finally rest peacefully together till the end of time.

The Good and the Bad

Poetry

Pleasant moments are treasures in the darkness;
hidden away and uncovered by adventurers and kings;
shared among those who keep secrets
and whisper them as jokes between friends.
They are illusive as fairies living on windowsills,
frollicking in garden pastures and forest groves
until someone steals a glance; then they disappear
or hide in the corner of the eye, giggling
because happiness is the only way to pass the time.

Melancholy is the way of the world
when the sun awakes, but covers are drawn
over the head and people die inside thinking of existing.
It is silence in the evening; deep yawns and aching bones
that say, “you’re alive and times are bad,”
though friends and strangers insist it will get better.
All the moments of loneliness rear their head
and bite at heels, driving onward to the comfort of oblivion
as the world looks on in shame at flights of angst.
Because sadness is a sin only the weak dare commit.

Pretty Face

Poetry

Is he good enough to grab your heart
or will he just grab your 
aspirations mean nothing to them
You’ve got a pretty face
You’re a pretty face
The times when it matters
you don’t
Time won’t be good to you, anyway
who cares who you are
who cares what you love
who cares that you care about anything

Those lovely eyes are a window
to an empty house
waiting to be filled by him
loved within
Smile for me, babe
Don’t let them see you waste away
Paint on the surface
girl, you deserve this
Doesn’t it feel so good

Yeah maybe he touched you
but you liked it like that
Cause you look like you do
and you dress a certain way
You asked for it
begged him to
Let’s let him get away
He promises to be so good
would you rob him of everything
Don’t cry
Don’t feel
Don’t show us that you are real

Is he good enough to grab your heart
or will he just grab your
aspirations mean nothing
Nothing is meant to be
If it’s meant to be
then it can’t be changed
it can’t be changed
it can’t be

Agoraphobia

Short Story (Horror)

Brunhilde rested her head against the door. She breathed heavily, listening to the sound of rain outside.

“Just out to the garden,” she promised herself. “It’s raining. No one will see me.” She placed her hand on the door knob, then let go. “Damn it, Brunhilde, you can do this!”

They were empty words. Of course she couldn’t do this. She hadn’t left her home in three months. The thought of stepping outside of her home, even onto her porch, sent chills down her spine. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t face the world.

“The food is almost gone. You have to do this,” she told herself. “It’s just the garden. Not even outside of the yard. You’ll be fine.”

Brunhilde reached for the doorknob again, her hand shaking. She fell backward with a shout of grief, unable to make herself do what needed to be done, even if she might starve.

“Brunhilde?” A voice drifted through the door like a sweet melody. Brunhilde froze. She knew that voice. It was her grandmother. “Sweetie, please come out. It’s been so long, you can’t stay in there any longer.”

Brunhilde scrambled back and away from the door. Her breath came in heavy gasps. “No,” she whispered. “No, no, please don’t.”

The doorknob rattled. “Please come out, Sweetie. I just want to see you.” The door shook a little harder and Brunhilde whimpered.

Another voice drifted in, joining her grandmother’s. “Hilde, it’s me,” Gidget–her best friend–said, voice thick with sorrow. “We just want to see you. We love you.” Brunhilde sobbed quietly from where she was curled into a ball on the floor, but she didn’t answer. She couldn’t.

“Beloved.”

“No,” Brunhilde whimpered. “No, please don’t. I can’t,”

“I am here, my love,” Edmund whispered. Wonderful Edmund. Her heart ached.

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Her voice rose into a mournful wail. The knocking on her door subsided until only the sound of her beloved Edmund was left.

“Why not, my love?” he asked.

“Because you’re dead. All of you are dead.”

Edmund paused. The door shook again. “Dead, Beloved?”

“Last year. When the sulfur fields opened and the demon swarm came. You all died.” She hadn’t left her home since then. She’d barricaded herself inside, hiding from the monsters and the poisonous gas that filled the streets of her little home town.

The door rattled harder. Edmund, or whatever it was that used her beloved’s voice, laughed. “Come back to us, my love. You can’t hide in there forever.”

Brunhilde pressed her face into the ground, crying harder. “Go away! Please, go away!”

All the voices returned, calling Brunhilde insistently. “Come back to us! Come outside, Brunhilde! We just want to see you!”

“Come join me, my love.”

Alpha II

Character Study

“You’ve hurt a lot of people already, Alpha. It’s time to stop!” Psych clutched her useless arm close to her chest and spent a few precious seconds creating a relative location freeze to lock it in place. It sent electric shocks of agony through her collarbone, which was probably broken. None of it mattered. She had to stop him. No one else could.

“You’re a fool if you think any of that matters. There’s always going to be collateral damage when crushing a rebellion.” He punched the side of a bus as the people inside shouted in alarm and scrambled away from the twisting, screaming metal. He smiled at a woman inside the bus, curled up in the seat opposite from him as she clutched a bleeding man against her chest. A light of hope entered her expression as she met his eyes.

Then he threw the bus. It hurled through the air so fast that the air roared behind it. Psych screamed, reaching out an arm that shimmered. Just before the bus collided with the side of a building, the wall of the skyscraper crumpled. The shimmering air from Psych’s arm raced out and surrounded the bus, shielding the people inside from harm as it smashed through the glass and steel walls.

Alpha shot forward, punching Psych in the sternum as hard as he could before she had a chance to call back her quantum shield. Her chest caved in under the hit before she was launched straight into the air, blood trailing after her in a sickening arc. He pursued her through the air, not giving the girl a chance to breathe or think as he kicked her in the side. She spun through the air sideways until he drove both fists hard into the back of her head. She crashed down onto a car that crumpled under the force of the hit. Pushing his advantage, Alpha raced for her again, intent on crushing her head completely with a final kick.

His foot broke as it met her quantum shield. He cursed, hopping back and away from the girl as she warily pulled herself out of the wreckage of metal that had once been someone’s only means of transportation.

It was remarkable that the girl could even move at all. Alpha suspected that Psych was relying on her powers to keep her body moving at this point. Her neck was discolored with bruising. She gasped desperately for air as blood trickled from her lips. But her eyes remained defiant. Rather than walk, Psych glided through the air towards him. The space between them shimmered with heat. If Psych managed to get in range of him, he was finished. She would lock his space time and end things in the blink of an eye. He wouldn’t even know he’d lost.

But there was a trick to dealing with people like her. He needed another distraction and a way to get her to send her shield away from her body long enough for him to land the finishing blow.

Alpha retreated. He led the girl back toward the Heroes Association building. And the trap. Because a man like Alpha didn’t make it to the top just from being stronger than everyone else. He made it there by being smarter. By being more ruthless. He was the ultimate hero because he was the best. It was time for Psych to realize the true difference between their abilities.

Psych pursued him relentlessly. She would get close, only to stop in her tracks as he overturned a train or punched a crater into a highway. She wasted precious seconds protecting bystanders. Time that he was able to use to get away.

The HA building came into view at last as he blasted his way through a manufacturing building full of employees, destroying the building’s supports right as Psych was about to come within time stopping distance of him.

She cursed, racing around the supports to reassemble the pieces and lock them into place, giving Alpha the time he needed to enter the building. He burst in through his office window and slammed a fist down on a button.

The building crumbled around him. He laughed cheerfully as Psych flew into view, her face contorted in rage.

“It’s over, Alpha. I’m stopping you here.” Her words were little more than a whisper, hard to understand through the persistent wheeze that issued from her damaged chest. The look she gave him could have caused blisters.

Alpha laughed. “You’re right. It is over. But not for me. Maybe not even for you. But certainly for them.” He gestured toward the ground. The rubble of the building he’d demolished parted as a set of metal doors pushed up and over, revealing the sub basement of the Heroes Association building.

Strapped to a series of tables, battered and bruised beyond recognition, the rest of the members of the Association lay helpless. Psych froze, staring down at them with an inscrutable expression.

“Do you think this will make me hurt you any less?” she asked in a deadly quiet voice.

“I think you don’t have time for that,” Alpha replied. He pulled a switch from a gloved hand and activated it. Light poured out from the walls surrounding the battered heroes, and a low hum issued from the tables where they lay. The Technopath, who lay closest to the walls, began to scream.

Psych cursed. She shifted her quantum shield onto her lover, but the moment it left her body, Alpha rushed her. Before he could land a hit, she pulled the shield back onto herself, but then the Technopath started screaming from the pain of the devices in the wall. The longer the light touched the heroes, the more pain it caused. After a few seconds, all of the heroes were screaming in agony.

“You can’t wait too long, my dear,” Alpha taunted. “Before long, they’ll die. I’ll make sure of it. Unless.”

“Unless what?” Psych snarled.

“If you die, they live.”

It was as simple as that. She was the one who stood in his way. She was the one who made it possible for the Mentalist to take over the Association. The one who stole his position as the ultimate hero. Psych was the one who’d caused the world to lose respect for him. Without her, he could get it all back. No one could stand against him.

Tenfold screamed in agony, her body splitting and reforming over and over. High Caliber strained against her restraints, veins bulging in her neck and arms. Her eyes were red from popped blood vessels. The one who suffered the most, however, was the Mentalist. He suffered under his own pain as well as the pain of all the others in the room. An agonized wail tore through him as he suffered for everyone all at the same time.

Psych watched them, tears in her eyes. And Alpha knew he’d won.

“Stop hurting them. I’ll do what you want.”

“You’ll do what I want, and then I’ll stop their pain.”

Psych floated down next to Akash. He and the few people around him stopped screaming, but the room was too large for her to protect everyone at once. She brushed her fingertips across her lover’s cheek.

“It’s always about power, with you. Who has it and who doesn’t. You think my love for these people is a weakness.” She walked across the room to the Mentalist and gently placed a hand on his forehead. The man stopped wailing. His breath came in ragged gasps and he shivered on the table, tears shining on his cheeks. He whimpered.

Alpha landed next to her. Even if she stopped his personal time, she couldn’t stop what was happening to her friends. He’d already won. “And you think it’s not?”

“It’s not. We’re stronger when we have help.” Psych wiped the sweat off of the Mentalist’s forehead and brushed away his tears, her face like stone.

The Mentalist looked up at her, shaking heavily. “Will it hurt?” he asked.

“I’m afraid so.” Her voice was clear, the wheezing completely gone. Even the bruising on her neck was fading.

A cold chill went down Alpha’s spine. Was she healing? But that was impossible. She didn’t have regenerative abilities, the Association’s healer assured him of that fact. However, it wasn’t her apparent recovery that made him sweat. It was the stone cold look in her eyes as she reached out toward him, her palm still pressed to the Mentalist’s forehead as he matched her expression perfectly.

The world froze, everything going perfectly still as Psych made contact with his forehead. Then it exploded, fracturing into a trillion pieces of information that bombarded him from all sides.

“Welcome to the multiverse,” Psych said. He could hear her words all around him, echoing into the shattered world around him. “This is every universe where you exist and have caused pain to other people. I thought you might enjoy a tour.”

“What good will this do you?” Alpha scoffed. “Do you think this will change me? Make me see the error of my ways?” His mind spread throughout all of the various realities that Psych showed him and he felt nothing. He was proud to feel nothing. Proud that her little trick would not affect him.

“My job is to bring you here,” Psych said. “I know I can’t make you feel things. It’s not my job.”

“It’s mine, actually.” The voice of the Mentalist infiltrated Alpha’s mind like an intrusive thought. Through Psych, the empath traveled the connection made between Alpha and the alternate versions of himself. Then his mind traveled beyond. Into the minds of those that Alpha had touched.

All at once, the empath ripped the pain and suffering from trillions of universes and shoved all of that feeling and emotion directly into Alpha’s brain. The empath screamed under the blowback from so much emotion and retreated from the connection, but his work remained.

For the first time in his life, Alpha understood. The torment of so many emotions racked his body and he felt it in the marrow of his bones. Every injury he’d caused. Every bit of damage he’d inflicted. It turned on him a hundred-fold. The empath had even dragged in every hurt feeling that Alpha had ever been responsible for. The backhanded compliments, the insults, times he’d battered people’s self-confidence.

He crumpled under the weight of it. Alpha, the strongest hero the world had ever seen, curled into a ball and cried. He didn’t resist when Psych pulled the glove off of his arm. He didn’t move a muscle as the machines turned off and the heroes were released from the power-stripping tables he’d trapped them on for days.

He sobbed brokenly as the images of thousands of lives full of pain repeated in his head over and over again.

“Make it stop,” he begged. “I don’t want this. Make it stop.”

Psych looked down at the man. Her eyes were downcast, and her lip quivered. “I’m sorry, Alpha. It will stop when you do.”

“What does that mean?” he whimpered.

High Caliber grabbed him underneath the arms and pulled him into a standing position. “Come on, boss man. Time to go to prison.”

“What does it mean!” Alpha shouted as the woman dragged him away.

Psych never answered. She watched sadly as the Hero of Heroes was dragged away to face the consequences of his crimes.