Last – 20.b

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It looked like the Aurora Borealis, which Presley had seen while staying at her uncle’s cabin once, but it rested close to the ground, not in the sky, and it was red.  It swelled, faded, formed bands, and dissipated into wisps, radiating up from the deep cracks that had spread across the city.  It gave the snow fall and the snow on the ground a rosy tint, and because it illuminated, while she and the others stood in the dark, it made the distant sections of city seem more real than the rooftop they were gathered on.

That wasn’t new, though.  It was her first good view of it, and it kept getting more intense, but what had drawn their attention and brought everyone to the rooftop was the cloud of rainbow shimmers that hung over one part of the city.  She’d heard about what it was, she’d seen pictures.  When everyone at the Zayin settlements had still been getting set up, that same cloud had swept over them.  Nobody had been able to get a message to them to warn them.  They’d fled, but communication had been all over the place, a few people had been left behind, most of the others hadn’t fled far enough.  The storm had swelled in size, and it had encapsulated every settlement in Zayin.  It hadn’t been a large area, but it had still been mostly everyone, and it had included the portal the rest needed to get back.

Bye bye Zayin.  Entirely at Sleeper’s mercy, now.

Presley really wanted to say something about how the situation there seemed an awful lot like the situation here, but people were talking, she wasn’t sure she could get a word in edgewise, and she was even less sure that it would help anything.  It would just make people more scared.

Unnerved, her stomach twisting with anxiety, Presley looked away from the lights, and looked at the faces of the people around her, all gathered on the rooftop, watching the distance.

It was like a fireworks show, the way it was so dark but the distant lights shone on their faces.  There was emotion, except the emotion wasn’t amazement or awe.

A woman she didn’t know began to cry.  Children as young as five turned their heads, watching, as the cries became loud sobs and inarticulate words.  Other adults stepped in, distracting children, or intervening, putting themselves between the younger faces in the crowd and the woman.

Some other adults.  There were still others who looked like they were on the verge of crying themselves, and were only barely keeping from going over the edge.  Like when a kid in a school play hurled and set off a chain of puking kids.

Except, like, not funny at all.

“Come on, guys.  Let’s get inside where it’s safe,” announced a heavyset man in overalls who looked like Santa, if Santa was a trucker.

The younger kids obeyed, with kids as old as ten seeming to take some assurance in that.  Parents jumped at the chance to herd their kids away from the sight.  Presley hung back, glancing at some of the other older kids and teenagers.

Inside wouldn’t be any safer.  This was big, and the closest thing they had to reassurance was that they didn’t know exactly what was happening.

Presley’s dad was one of the people who’d drawn closer to the woman, who was having a full-on freakout now, her kid standing by awkwardly, wide-eyed.

Presley’s mom gave Presley a sharp look, then indicated the kid, who looked big enough to be a year older than Presley, even though he looked young for other reasons.  Awkwardly, Presley gave the guy the lightest of punches on the arm to get his attention, then motioned toward the door.  The punch was because it was the bare minimum, least committed of all ways she could get his attention, and she doubted he would hear her if she spoke.

She didn’t really feel like talking anyway.  A lump in her throat, her stomach a heavy kind of ticklish with anxiety, she stole a glance at the red glow that was overtaking the city, then pushed the door open.

The building was some survey site, three stories tall, boxlike, made of the same prefab segments as a lot of other buildings, and covered in brick-colored spackle to hide the seams.  Inside, it was exceptionally boring: every single room was like the back room in the library, which had the bare minimum of furniture, where people could have meetings, or they were like the dismal little office that the vice principal had but never used.

Now it was surrounded by tents.  Furniture had been moved and stacked, and three families were crammed into rooms that should have housed one family at most.

That was just for those who had their own places to go.  Presley walked fast, trusting the child of the freakout woman to follow her.  Past a conference room with the table pushed into a corner, sleeping bags and blankets forming a grid on the floor.  The people in that room were gathered at the window, watching the city.

The kid caught up to her, his footsteps heavy.  She glanced at him.

“I’m Presley,” she said.


“You’re… thirteen?” she guessed.

“Yeah.  You?”


He didn’t look thirteen.  Even if he was older, he had that vibe, a kind of softness around the edges, that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.  Like maybe his mom had chosen his haircut, not him.  There wasn’t any product in his hair, and it was cut to a length where parts of it stuck up and parts lay flat.  Or maybe he was still shopping at places kids bought clothes, not teens: sweatpants, monochrome running shoes, and a monochrome top without any branding or anything.  Or maybe it was in the expression on his face, how little he seemed to connect to this situation, or how willing he’d been to go with her.

Any one of those things could have had excuses, the world was ending, it was hard to find time to get hair gel on or find a store that sold good clothes, if you even cared about that stuff.  Still… blah.  He gave her a sidelong glance he seemed to think she wouldn’t notice, then fixed the fringe of hair at the edge of his forehead with a brush of his fingers.

In her classes, she’d started to notice the divide between the kids who hadn’t moved on from grade school and the ones who had.  Boys were especially prone to it.  She really hated to admit that the more boy crazy girls were right about anything, but when they directed ninety percent of their interest at older boys… she could sympathize.

Getting stuck with an immature kid was the worst… and now Presley was walking into the big room where there was barely any room to walk for all the piles of luggage and makeshift beds, and the dopey kid was following her.

“How are you doing?” she asked.  “It’s kind of scary.”

He shrugged, his expression giving away nothing.

“Do you know where your spot is?  I’ve been here for a few hours, so if you need directions…?”

Maybe he’d take the hint and go away.

“Our stuff’s in the lobby,” he said.  “I guess I’ll get it later.”

“Oh,” she said.

He kept following her.

“Why’d you tell me to come with?” he asked.

“My mom and dad were giving me the evil eye and pointing at you.  I think your mom needs a moment,” she said.  She gave him an apologetic look, both because she was preemptively shooting down any interest he might have, and because it had to be awkward.

“She’s such a loser,” he replied.

Presley wasn’t sure how to answer that.

“She hasn’t had a job since Gold Morning.  She freaks out a lot.  It sucks, having to be the one with his shit together.”

Mom isn’t going to give me any credit for having to put up with this guy.

Presley wanted to tell him to go on, or find an excuse, but she’d already reached the spots her family had reserved and laid claim to.  She unconsciously put a hand on the back of a chair she’d used to set up the border of the space, and Caden immediately sat himself down in another chair, belonging to another family that wasn’t present.

Was it better to ignore him?  She turned to her setup.  Her bed was layered, with a towel on the floor, clothes laid out as evenly as she’d been able to manage as a middle layer, another towel, and then a sheet on top.  Her pillow, she was lucky, was an actual pillow.  She’d carried it under her arm the entire way here.  Her parents had clothes stuffed into pillowcases.

Before they’d gone to the windows to look, then gone upstairs for a better view, Presley had been trying to set up her area.  She’d dragged two chairs to either end of her sleeping area, and strung one line of twine between the backrests of the chairs.  The twine was threaded through the sleeves of two dresses she never wore, and the dresses hung down to provide a limited curtain.  She started adjusting the length of the twine, winding it around the metal bit of the chair that held the cheap plastic cushion up.

“Why are you doing that?” Caden asked.


“Does it really matter?” he asked.  “Your chairs are taking up space.  Just saying.”

She picked up her backpack, which was stuffed to bursting, and plunked it down on the seat.  She scooted it closer to her, so the chair stood over where her feet would go, and put one foot beneath the chair, before giving Caden a pointed look.

“You’re going to hate that you did that when you kick your legs while sleeping.”

“I don’t think I’m going to sleep a wink tonight.  I don’t think anyone is.”

“Then why do you have a bed?” he asked.

“Because if I didn’t I’d have no place to sit and have a moment of peace,” she told him, stressing the last part.

She stood up on her knees and unzipped her bag.  Mostly it was essentials like toiletries and a spare change of clothes, and an extra layer, but there was other stuff she just wanted to keep with her, like her old phone, which she planned to charge up when she charged her current phone, so she could game if she needed distractions.

Then there was the stuff she’d pulled off her wall, slotted into the front flap.  She winced as she saw how it had been bent into a curve by the bulge from the main compartment of the bag.  She smoothed out the photograph she’d had printed.

Victoria, Swansong, and Capricorn on the train.  Swansong and Capricorn were doing the selfless shot thing, teasing the camera with hints about their identities.  She’d seen their faces though.

Seeing the photo and remembering the sun shining through the little windows in the train car was reassuring, as much as seeing Swansong was sad.  By looking at the picture, she could imagine being there, back then, when things had been okay and cool, even promising.  Compared to then, the only light that came from outside was ominous, alien, and she had no idea what it meant.

She studied the picture, immersing herself in it.  The quirk of an eyebrow on Swansong’s part, the way her shoulder hunched forward, a little defensive.  Capricorn was pretty, as boys went.

She used the stick-tack still on the back of the photo and pressed it to one button on the dress-curtain.  One step toward making this crowded, noisy, bright, unhappy place a little more like home.

Caden’s seat creaked as he leaned closer, looking.  She almost took the picture down in response.

“Holy shitballs.  I recognize two of those people.  So you’re a fangirl.  I was wondering what was with the hair.”

“I’m not a fangirl,” she told Caden, bristling.  “I met them.  I email them and talk to them sometimes.  I knew them before they were a team.  I keep track of them.”

“You realize you just described a fangirl?  ‘I knew them before they were big’ is hyper-fangirl.”

Presley turned and stared at the guy, not sure of how to reply.  She was secretly glad she had already come to the conclusion that he was just a kid, even if he was older than her, or else she might have picked up one of the chairs and tried to clobber him.

Probably not.  The risk she wouldn’t be strong or fast enough was too big, and it was tied with twine.

Even if she wanted to say something, there was a commotion halfway down the room.  She looked, making sure it wasn’t an emergency.  The Sleeper’s storm coming closer, or something with the red lights.  It looked more likely it was an argument or a fight.  People had gathered in the stairwell and the crowd at the foot of the stairs was thick enough they couldn’t get all the way down.

“Excuse me!” she heard the voice.  “Excuse me!”

The noise of the sheer number of people drowned out the other words.  Way more than one person for every sleeping spot.  She sat up at attention, then stood, propping one foot up on the chair and trying to get to a position to see above the crowd.

The person at the other end of the hall beat her to it, getting help to climb up onto a tall stack of food supplies, all in waterproof plastic containers.  “Excuse me!  Hello!  This is important!  Thank you!”

The noise died down to a low murmur.

He was tan like he’d used a tanning bed, and his hair was blonde.  She thought he might be a superhero, looking at him.  He wore a shirt fancier than most businessmen would wear, still in the button-up style, and a tie he’d loosened.  His sleeves were rolled up.

He spoke, his voice raised to carry across the room, “I know phones and internet aren’t working consistently and the people you’d call if you could obviously aren’t in their offices.  I’ve just made the drive, as many others are doing, to let you all know what’s happened.”

Happened, not happening.

The low murmurs died out.

“My name is Eric Kingston, I’m an employee with the Wardens, and I worked directly under and with Cinereal.  I need to go over some of the recent events, let you know what’s happened with the cracking, and equip you with the knowledge for what comes next.  I need all of you to let me go over this before any outcry, upset, or questions.  No interruptions, please keep the noise down.”

Presley looked for her mom and dad.  She saw a face that might have been her mom’s in the stairwell.

“First of all, the Sleeper is retreating.  He is not an immediate danger, and we will let you know as soon as we can, if that changes.”

His request for silence after his statements might have been futile.  Murmurs rose to a volume, people talking over other people, to the point he didn’t seem like he could talk.

“That’s good news,” Caden said, his voice joining the babble.  Presley pressed a finger to her lips.

At the other end of the room, someone rapped something hard against the cases.  Mr. Kingston looked a little alarmed at first, but the effect did bring some silence.

“The Sleeper was lured to the city specifically to slow down the Titans and was used to trap the Simurgh.  Some of our best minds and strategists are confident the Simurgh is dealt with.”

The noise was much louder this time, but the rapping against the plastic cases immediately cut it off.

“That’s the good news.  The bad news is the red glow you’ve no doubt noticed.  We’ve settled on a plan for dealing with it.  Earlier tonight the Wardens put out a blanket request for aid in descending into those cracks and doing strategic damage to what lies beneath, the core of powers-”

Voices were raised, this time they were questions.

She had questions too.  He’d jumped straight to saying there were answers without explaining what the glow was.

The rapping grew louder and drawn out, while Mr. Kingston stood atop the stack of plastic crates, mouth shut, waiting.

Eventually people shut up.

“The powers are rooted in another, malign force-”

“Scion!” someone exclaimed, loud.

“-We thought we dealt with it when we dealt with Scion, but the boulder he set in motion is still rolling downhill and has been for the last two years.  What you’re seeing is the end effect.  We do have a plan to deal with it, but this is serious.  That red glow… left unchecked, this Earth and every other Earth, including the ones we know about and the ones we don’t, will be wiped out.”

The noise this time was inevitable.  Shouts, exclamations, cries of fear.

Presley looked down at the photo.

“We do have a plan!” Mr. Kingston called out.  “We do have a plan!  Please!  Listen!  The hill-”

He seemed to give up at that.  Waiting, hanging his head.

Some people left the room.  Others made the effort to squeeze themselves in.  Presley was glad she had the chairs bordering her space, or people might have edged in or started walking on her sleeping spot.

“Thank you,” Mr. Kingston said, after the volume had dropped.  “The hill that this boulder is rolling down is powers, to put it in the simplest terms I can.  The damage we did last night was intended as an attack on that.  We’ve executed a different plan in the last hour, and capes across Gimel and the associated territories have been drugged, with sixty percent compliance.  We’re hoping that rises to seventy-three percent in the next few hours.”

This time, there were no real interruptions.  Maybe a babble of questions.

“There are others we can’t reach because we don’t have access to those Earths, but an imprisoned villain named Teacher is providing some assistance in giving us access to those worlds and helping us find capes who are harder to reach.  That may bring the number higher.  While drugged, they will dream.  The dreams will be unpleasant, but… the main purpose is to pollute the source of powers and then disconnect them.”

There were several questions.  One voice was stronger and more confident than others, and he might have been one of the leaders in the building, because people quieted down on hearing him speak.  “You’re taking away their powers?”

“No,” Eric said.  “That’s not truly possible, not on the scale we needed.  The drug, left in their system, will kill them.”

This time, Presley’s exclamation joined the voices across the room.  Surprise, shock.  In her own case, dismay.

No.  It couldn’t be.

She reached for her bag, fumbling, digging for her phone.

“No,” Eric answered a question she hadn’t heard.  “Listen.  This-”

Presley hit the button to make the call before turning to look, phone to her ear.  She heard the ring.

“-is a datafob, it contains what you need to reverse the effects.  It’s not easy, and they made it difficult on purpose- excuse me!”

Again, stupid people talked over him.

The phone rang.  No answer.

“They made it difficult and they spread themselves out across multiple settlements and places to further obfuscate the answer.  The Titans want that ball to finish rolling downhill.”

The phone kept ringing.

“They want the Earth annihilated, it’s part of how they breed.  Like viruses.  We are holding what they want, the powers, the data, hostage.  We knew if it was just the capes, that wouldn’t be enough.  You, humanity, civilians, are the bigger, broader safety net… or the ones to carry on.  It’s up to you in the end, to choose.  Wardens felt it was important to give you that choice, or else this would be tyranny.”

“Choose what?” someone asked.

“You can save them or you can let them die.”

“It’s manipulation!” someone else called out.  “They’re holding themselves hostage with us, too!

“I can promise you,” Eric said, and he looked upset and angry in a way he hadn’t when people had been shouting you.  “There are capes who are prepared to die.  There are capes who trust each and every one of you enough that they’re willing to put their lives in your hands, as they’ve done for you on multiple occasions, not just in the here and now.  The decision wasn’t easy for any of them.”

“What if we just brought back the good ones?” asked the deeper voice from before.  The leader.

“You can, but you run a risk.  The queen Titan… let’s just say she has similar powers to the Simurgh.  The smaller you keep the core group of capes, the easier it is for her to make a move that outplays us all.  To counter this, with as many capes and civilians as we’re talking about, she’d need to make billions of moves, and that takes time, and it takes energy.  We think that’s enough to trump her.”

“You’re not sure?”

“Some of our best masterminds and heroes thought this was the best course of action,” Mr. Kingston said.  “For obvious reasons, they didn’t take this lightly.  Listen.  We’ve done a lot of tonight’s preparation by keeping our big thinkers and most capable people behind precogs, to confound her and slow her down.  Right now she’s diminished, trying to bring that rock downhill and to the finish line.  She’s preoccupied with the dreaming and the pollution, we hope.  The most dangerous capes are in secure custody and they’ll be in secure custody when they wake up.  If you wake them up.  It’s up to you, we can’t make you and we wouldn’t make you.”

“Will the Titans go away?”

“I don’t know,” Eric said.  “We don’t know.  But that’s part of this plan.  Part of why it matters if you keep the capes around or if you don’t.  If you do… this will always be a card we can play in response, if there’s enough capes and enough of you willing to cooperate.  Obviously a few key parahumans would hold the ‘drug’.  If you don’t… the way forward will be hard.  We have stockpiles of tinker equipment made for people to use… no promises on some of it, we have reams of data, everything you could hope for to track down and counter the parahumans who remained.  A man named Saint has taken countermeasures against the Machine Army and is hopeful they could be an asset, but no promises.  In any event, he’s not a parahuman, he has resources.  But it will be hard.  Whatever happens, you’ll be going through this winter with less than you had in prior winters.”

The notion of winter gave Presley a chill.  The phone had gone to voice message, except the response was a crackly, “The voice message service cannot be reached.  You may wish to try again, or contact your provider about changing to a different audio channel…”

She hung up.  Her hands shook.

Eric went on, “Whether they were okay with this course of action hinged largely on whether they trusted you, collectively.  This is about you and them.”

He paused, giving that last segment some weight.

“Others with similar datafobs are visiting the other refugee settlements.  If and when you come to a decision, or if you don’t come to a decision and want to give me your input, I’ll take that back to the others.  We’ll leave the data with you.  Locations of capes, the means of waking them up.  It’ll be up to you to carry it out.  I can answer any questions now.  I can give you clarifications.  ”

She could hear people talking now.

Frozen, tense, she listened, and she heard the people nearest her talking about relief, hope.  Concerns about the winter.  Concerns that the red light was still there, even with this supposed plan.

She heard one person say something about saving lives, doing for the heroes what the heroes had done for them.

Then more people jumped in with their own answers.  Rebuttals.  Arguments.  Anti-parahuman sentiment.

The first person didn’t speak up again, staying quiet.

She tried another number on her phone.  Immediately, it blinked, telling her there was no service.

Presley stood up, picked up her bag from the chair, and nearly flung the contents out of it while slinging it over her shoulder.  She zipped it and fled the room.  Toward the stairs, which had cleared some.  Up toward the roof.

A part of her wanted to find her parents.  To act like a little kid, to plead with them to fix it.

Another part of her just wanted to make a call, to get through to these heroes who had been so good to her.  Who might have been part of the sixty or seventy percent who had agreed to this insanity.

They didn’t realize what the people were like.  How many people were awful, or untrustworthy, or stupid and shortsighted.

She tried again, as she made her way up the stairs.  Then she tried again, at the top of the stairs.  A hand brushed her shoulder and it might have been her mom or her dad.  She wasn’t sure.

She reached the rooftop, and she stepped outside.  Cold, but she still wore her jacket from earlier.  Her ears were partially protected by the hair she’d bleached white, which now had brown roots because she hadn’t had the chance to bleach it again.

“Please, pick up Victoria.  Please.”

She hit the button for the fourth time, the wind blowing around her.

The ringing started.

One and a half rings, and the person on the other end picked up.

“Hey, Presley,” the voice came through.  Young.


“Yeah.  Sorry.  I saw the call go through, but Victoria can’t answer.”

“She’s… she took the drug?”

The voice on the other end made an amused sound.  “Not a drug, but yeah.  I see on my computer here that Eric made it to where you are.  He just filled you in, I guess.”

“Why?” Presley asked.  “There had to be other ways.”

“We tried most of them.  Think of it like a sickness.  We realized we couldn’t do it on our own, like someone with cancer who needs chemo, so we reached out for help.  We’re trusting you.  Some really didn’t and we had to deal with that, and some didn’t but came around, or saw this as a heroic sacrifice.  But others, like me, I trust you guys.”

“I don’t know if we deserve that trust,” Presley told Lookout.  She thought of the voices.  The sentiment.

“You guys trusted us a lot, letting us do our thing even when we messed up.  I definitely made some embarrassing mess-ups, believe me, haha!   You gave us second chances.  But listen… Presley, we love you, I love you, it’s fun getting the messages and fanart, but I’ve got like an hour of work to do and only twenty minutes to do it, maybe, so-”

“You took it?”

“Haha, yeah.  I did say I trust you.  I truly, one hundred percent believe people are good, Presley.  I love people.  I know this will be okay… and I’m not sure we have enough.  The red light’s still shining and the cracks and crystallization is spreading, so I’m going to contribute my point-one percent.”


“Already done, prez.  And we are going to hang out again.  I’d stake my life on it.”

Presley’s mouth opened, but words didn’t come out.

“That was a joke.  Imp’s rubbing off on me.  Um!  But okay, I’m going to patch you through, but I really, really, really have to get work done.  See you later!  Don’t tell Natalie what I did!”


The phone had already crackled.  Now it rang.

Presley blinked several times.

On the fourth ring, this time, there was an answer.

“Natalie Matteson here.  Who’s calling?”

“Presley,” Presley said, her voice tight with emotion.

“Oh, honey.”  Presley could hear the noise of a car in the background.

“I shouldn’t call you if you’re driving.  I didn’t want her to bother you.”

“It’s okay,” Natalie said.  “I’m on my way to a settlement.  My car is… turns out it’s terrible for driving on roads like these.  I’m getting a ride.  Where are you?  Who gave the presentation?”

“E- I forget his first name.  Kingston.”



“How did he do?”

“He… I don’t think people want to bring the capes back.”

“That’s just one place.  Let’s hope.  I’m supposed to present this to a group of two hundred people and I swear, if it wasn’t this important, I’d chicken out.  I’m so worried I’ll stammer, with the stakes so high.”

“Didn’t you want to be a lawyer?” Presley asked, leaning onto the snow-dusted railing.  In the distance, Sleeper’s cloud was receding.

“I don’t think I could speak in front of a judge and jury.  Probably.”

Presley didn’t have a ready response, except, “Good luck.”

“Thank you.  I hope I don’t need it.”

Presley thought about asking questions, stopped herself, then thought about it again, and in the re-thinking, she found herself blurting it out.  “Did they all take the drug?”

“Breakthrough?  Yeah.”


“Different reasons, hon.  I talked to Victoria in advance, then talked to her when she handed me the data.  I think she’s spooked.  She hopes for the best, but she plans for the worst.  She puts a lot on herself, so she took it in the grimmest possible terms.  A lot of this was her idea.”

“No,” Presley said, shaking her head.

“As for Precipice, Capricorn Blue, and Tress, I think they trust people.  They didn’t see it as dying or putting their lives on the line.  Or if they did, they didn’t let it show.  Neither did Lookout, but she was too young, we didn’t let her.”

Presley swallowed.  She almost told Natalie, but Lookout could be listening, and Natalie didn’t need distractions.

“And Capricorn Red?” Presley asked.  “He didn’t get pulled along into what his brother wanted?”

“…He sided with his brother.  I think it was important for him that he do that for his brother.”

“And Cryptid?  What about Swansong’s sister?”

“I don’t know about Cryptid.  He eluded capture.  Swansong’s sister is in custody.  She tried to attack Lookout, hit a projection instead.  When and if she wakes up, she’ll be imprisoned.  She wasn’t doing very well, toward the end.”

Presley could hear the distant rumble of Natalie’s ride working its way through snow and ice.

“What happens next?” Presley asked.  She looked out at the red light, the glowing city.

“I don’t know, Presley,” Natalie said.  “But I can tell you-”

The call crackled.

“Service is-”

“Can’t hear you,” Natalie said.  “The- -bye.”

“Bye,” Presley said.

She hung up, her fingers numb, and jammed hand and phone into her coat pocket, her bag heavy on shoulders sore from carrying that bag for hours, earlier.

The red glow pulsed, danced across the sky, formed patterns.  When it reached certain points, she imagined she could see the distant Titans.

She’d been right.  They hadn’t run far enough away, just like Sleeper and Zayin.  The world was going to blow up, or the capes were going to die.

“I guess you’re going to need another team to root for,” Caden said.

Presley turned around.  Caden was there.  There were some other people at other points along the roof, trying to make calls.  Adults, not paying much attention to her.

“Maybe basketball?  Baseball?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she told him.

“I know you’re going to get over this in a few years.  And by the time you’re out of high school, you’re going to be embarrassed you got teary eyed over some dorks in costume.”

She wiped at her eye, and found the moisture there.  “No.  That’s not it.”

“They did what they were supposed to.  This is what capes are for.  It’s why we kept them around.”

Don’t use past tense,” she spoke the words through gritted teeth.  “That decision hasn’t been made yet.”

“It kind of already has.  It was made years ago, around Gold Morning, but we didn’t get the chance to do anything about it.”

She strode across the roof, and gave him a shove.  “They’re people!  People with stories, and the rest of their lives to live!”

“You’re way overinvested,” Caden said, glancing at a bearded man in trucker wear who had turned around to intervene, his phone still at his ear.

She twisted around, pulling off her bag, and bent down to unzip it.

“No weapons,” the bearded man said, before turning his head, “I’ll call you back.”

She pulled her hand free of her bag, her fist gripping clumps of images she’d printed out.

“This is Antares, and she went to hospitals to give sick kids a try at flying!” she said, marching forward, until the bearded man put himself between her and the stupid kid Caden.  “Look at this- look-”

She fumbled through the pictures with numb fingers, trying desperately to keep from dropping them.  If the wind took them, she might lose them forever.

“What am I supposed to look at?” Caden asked, almost taunting.

“Just… a second.”

She found it.  A recent-ish picture of Victoria.  No costume, no hood, and her top was short-sleeved.

“Look at the scars.  Look at that.  I can tell you what some of those were.  She mentioned in passing she’d been shot, stopping Fallen.  She’s been burned.  She’s been cut.”

“Heroes get hurt, it’s what they’re supposed to do.”

“She got hurt because she fought the monsters who would gave gone after people like you and me, if they hadn’t been stopped!  She- no, it’s not what they’re supposed to do!”

She dug through the photos again, and wished desperately she were more articulate.  As if she could argue against this stupid kid with anti-parahuman sentiment, and represent her side better.  How many other people were having this debate?  Discussing this very thing?

How many of them had the close relationship with a team, or the information that she had?  She’d followed Breakthrough from the beginning.  They’d started small and they’d risen to the point that they were helping make plans this big work.  Stupid, desperate plans, but…

…If she couldn’t convince this moron, how could anyone convince the others?

She pulled out more.  One with Precipice in an old costume.  “Precipice went to jail, because he was raised by monsters.  He has worked hard to be a hero, since.  He’s fought to be better.”

“He went to jail.”

She pulled out one of Victoria, her arm around Swansong’s shoulders.  She had to take a step to the left because the bearded dude was keeping her from lunging at Caden and mashing the pictures into his face.  “Swansong.  Ex-villain, and she got better.  She gave her life stopping the Fallen, I think it was.  It was a lot.  Teacher and the Fallen and others, and those guys would have won if not for people like Swansong.  And it was sad and it was tragic, and Lookout, their kid tinker, she said she hurts every day because of Swansong dying.”

“A lot of sob stories.”

“No, and fuck youThis is what they’re supposed to do because it’s what I’m supposed to do.  It’s what you’re supposed to do.  We get better.  We push forward, we give our all, even if it means reaching out to shit-breathers like you to help and back them up.  They struggle constantly.  Tress and Capricorn had to deal with messed up stuff, but they were good in the end.  And that’s just one team-”

Presley’s dad appeared in the doorway.

“-and that’s important,” she finished, lamely, limply.  She’d crumpled some of the images in her hand in her anger.  Now she pressed them to her side.

“Sorry, John, was there a problem?” Her dad asked.

“No,” the bearded man said.  “A fight.  Passionate words.”

“You know him?” she asked her dad.

“My boss, or- my boss’s boss, I should say,” her dad said.

Presley shrank down, mollified, aware she might have badly embarrassed her dad.

Her dad asked her, “What were you fighting about?”

“Fangirl rage,” Caden chimed in.

Presley almost crumpled up the images again, and if her dad hadn’t been here, and if she hadn’t had her dad here, if she hadn’t embarrassed her dad just now, she would have shouted at the kid, threatened to push him down those stairs behind him.

“Your mom’s downstairs, Caden.  She’s looking for you,” her dad said.

She was glad when Caden retreated, ducking back inside.

“Sorry for the trouble,” her dad said to the bearded man.

“No trouble.  Strong feelings are very understandable, given what’s on the line.  I’ll leave you with your daughter.  I owe someone a phone call.”

“Actually, I came looking for you.  I didn’t see her slip upstairs.  They want you downstairs.”


“To keep order, they want a couple of people to speak, share thoughts.  Names the community respects.  You were at the top of the list.”

“Ah.  I suppose I should organize those thoughts of mine.  My colleague can wait for his call.”

“Do you know where you stand?” her dad asked.

“I have to admit, I was on the fence,” John said.  “I was.”

Was.  Past tense.

The man put a heavy hand on Presley’s shoulder as he departed.

“Your boss’s boss?”

“John Druck.  He runs my company, he headed the unions, negotiated for the construction groups with the mayor, and was briefly a candidate for mayor.  He might wear overalls and a jacket with oil stains on it, but he’s respected.”

“Oh,” she said.

She got her stuff sorted, and she let her father lead her back downstairs, helping her navigate the crowd of way too many people in way too small a space, gathered to listen.

She found her spot, and settled in between her mom and the photo she’d stuck to the dress.  Mr. Druck wasn’t speaking yet, but she didn’t hate the woman minister who was talking about the decisions being made.

It would be a long night.  Sleepless.  That was much as she’d expected, but in a very different way.

The people who hadn’t fallen asleep stood at the windows.  They watched.

The red was fading, growing lighter.  It was hard to tell with the way the sky was changing colors, but it was overcast… she could look at the snow and see the pinkness of the light shining on it diminishing.

She held her fathers hand, firm.  She wasn’t the only person who was holding someone’s hand.  Everyone watched, tense, as danger faded.

“We’re getting word,” someone said.  One of Eric’s colleagues that had come in with him.  The voice was too loud, considering that maybe one in five people in the room were still sleeping.  Others were at other windows, or were up at the roof.  “The Queen Titan crumbled.  Two others followed shortly after.”

“What does that mean?” John Druck asked, and he was considerate with his volume.

“It means she decided on her path,” Eric said.  “She wanted the cycle to continue… and rather than fight us, us, every step of the way, the easiest way to do that is to let us carry on.”

“It’s over?”

“It should be.  We should wake up our capes.”

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66 thoughts on “Last – 20.b”

  1. -Presley is only 12 years old? I thought she was 16-17 years old teenager. Pretty mature for her age.

    -I like how Eric handled the situation. Very direct and honest when he adressed the people about what they should expect at. I like him in this Interlude.

    -So, some parahumans will survive. This is… good. Really good. My best hopes are that my fav capes will be the survivors but who knows..

    -And now for the big question. How they managed to convince someone like Teacher to help them? Promising him that they will not infect him if he helps? Cause I can’t see other methods.

    -FUCK this brat Caden. He reminds me of Sierra’s brother. What an annoying little shit.

    -So, this is over? They won? Fortuna gave up? Nonparahumans agreed to wake up all the capes?

    1. >How they managed to convince someone like Teacher to help them?

      I’m guessing that once he understood the situation, he came on-board himself. Dude might have tried to take over the Shard Network and become Scion 2.0, but he didn’t want to destroy the Earth, I think, at least not without humanity being able to survive it.

    2. Re: Teacher, Victoria’s intervention in shardspace probably gave him some renewed perspective on the situation – she stopped his shard from pushing him in that direction.

      1. Either his personality changed drastically or he knew that he will die too if Fortuna will blow up the Earths and he decided to help because he…wanted to survive? Naturally.

  2. Typo Thread:

    Some other adults. (should this be deleted?)
    excuses, the (should be colon or semicolon)
    emergency. The (maybe “emergency, like the”)
    tense,” she > tense.” She
    problem?” Her > problem?” her
    fathers hand > father’s hand

  3. “No, and fuck you. This is what they’re supposed to do because it’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s what you’re supposed to do. We get better. We push forward, we give our all, even if it means reaching out to shit-breathers like you to help and back them up. They struggle constantly. Tress and Capricorn had to deal with messed up stuff, but they were good in the end. And that’s just one team-”

    I loved this entire speech by Presley. Maybe my favourite example of how this series handles the relationship between powered and non-powered people.

    So… does that mean they’ve won? Fortuna’s plans have at least been halted for now it seems, locked in a total stalemate (As much as a powerful precog can be). What happens next if/when the heroes are woken up.

  4. The Monsters kill people or let them die. They sacrifice others
    The Heroes save people from monsters or themselves. They sacrifice for others

    Non-Parahumans had to choose to be Monsters or Heroes

  5. Something hit me before I read this chapter. Sleep is sometimes referred to as “little slices of death” (ex. a heavy sleeper being described as “dead to the world”) while death has sometimes been called “the big sleep.” It makes perfect sense that Victoria’s dream-sleep would potentially be reversible.

  6. This chapter really encapsulates one of the main problems with Ward since the Goddess arc that has continued to various degrees with every following arc and villain – Wilbow’s continuing escalation of things beyond the protagonists’ realistic ability to deal with only to be saved by cop-outs and hand-waves that continue to strain credulity.

    And this last one was no different.

    Probably one of the biggest signs of how much of a flop Ward has ultimately become is how much effort these last few chapters Wilbow has been trying to use characters as personal mouth-pieces to address the massive out-of-story negative reactions. Rule of hat in story-telling is that if you’re spending half your time justifying things as you are telling the story, you done goofed somewhere.

    Problem also is none of the attempts to justify this ‘mass-suicide as a solution’ Wilbow has made either in or out of story really changes any of the criticisms justifiably leveled. No matter how one argues on the circumstances in-story, or frames it as a heroic sacrifice, the whole thing STILL ultimately amounts to being reminiscent of the suicidal tendencies of thinking – ‘The world would be better if I was dead.’ That this latest chapter amended it to – The world would be better if I was dead, unless someone takes an interest to save/help me – doesn’t really mitigate that.

    And in story, that the fail safe to save the parahumans is being left to faith in regular human’s goodwill and ability to do the right thing runs massively counter to the entire story’s presentation of both human-parahuman relations, as well as humanity even being deserving of survival to begin with.

    Wilbow basically shot himself in the foot with Ward’s climax, if not the entire story, with the very first sentence:

    “It was a second chance for humanity as a whole, and they’d gone and screwed it up from the start…”

    Given that, it really beggars the question why it deserves a third chance, or why it won’t screw that up as well?

    Probably Wilbow’s ultimate mistake isn’t in how this climax played out in a way that is both MASSIVELY inappropriate by both Real Life events, and on it’s own merit, or how it ultimately runs counter on multiple levels to the entire story, but rather at the start of Ward itself.

    The decision to make Ward more focused on character interactions (which has admittedly been great) at the cost of the wider world and events, while coupled with Wilbow’s style of starting things off grimdirp and escalating escalating escalating (which may be fine for original stories, but don’t translate well for sequels) to where ever since Goddess the results seem to be well passed the point whatever the characters do should make a difference or really matter; making Ward a generally inferior work to Worm.

    Sequels are hard.

  7. I’m feeling same-ish. Threats escalated to such degree, that solutions to them either became too contrived or done by forces outside of character agency. I was hoping heroes would beat Simurgh, but I knew she was too powerful to be beaten by them. I liked many character interactions, but the world where these characters live became too thin, a prop for character motivation. I hate to write it, because wildbow brought us really great stories and Ward has it’s moments. I loved Worm and Pact, but Ward is flawed.

  8. What I want to know is if Contessa is dead now, or if she’s just returned to her original human form. Given how Breaker powers work, it seems entirely possible for a Titan to return to human form, if the Shard decides to give the control back over to the human again.

  9. Probably should have introduced the whole “actually, non-para humans are gonna reverse the effect on any parahumans they deem worth the effort” before giving the “traumatized people commit suicide to save everyone” concept time to coagulate in people’s minds.

  10. Whatever you might think about how the author handles powers, threats, and all that jazz….

    You can’t deny he’s great at writing PEOPLE. All these characters behave in very believable and life-like way.

    Like this little shit named Caden. I’ve met far too many people like him…. People with extremely crippled senses of empathy and compassion towards anyone that isn’t part of “their” group. Not to the level of being a monster… but enough so to be terrible terrible human beings.

    God this arc is depressing. Complete monsters and villains aren’t as *real*. Most people don’t meet them. So they can be shrugged off.

    But little bastards like this are way too familiar and leave a sour taste in your mouth.

  11. @GreatWyrm

    Problem is Wilbow studiously avoided revealing the full concept of how Vicky’s plan worked out to readers out of story in order to create a “twist,” while simultaneously signaling both in and out of story one was coming, while worse the full concept had to be known to basically everyone in-story in order to get them on board.

    It’s deception generated solely at the readers. So for all the attempts to present Vicky’s plan as a game of chicken to Fortuna (whose power by it’s nature has to mean she knows what’s going on, it was really a game of chicken between Wilbow and the readers.

    Which makes all of his grumbling about lack of benefit of the doubt rather hollow.

  12. To Sol, because the reply button isn’t working.

    I disagree with most of your post, but with one of your arguments in particular:

    “Wilbow basically shot himself in the foot with Ward’s climax, if not the entire story, with the very first sentence


    Given that, it really beggars the question why it deserves a third chance, or why it won’t screw that up as well?”

    The first line isn’t an objective line. It’s just Victoria’s point of view at the start of the story, when she’s stuck in place and isn’t able to really have an impact on the world and having a hard time seeing the positive. Or do you seriously believe that humanity screwed up their second chance because they choose the wrong color?

    It’s just her opinion. And just like her it’s evolved over the course of the story. And as some people have pointed out, her plan is in line with the rest of the story when you consider that it’s another instance of reaching out for help, this time the parahumans reaching for the humans.

  13. So… gotta be honest, the concept… works? Kinda….

    But while all the cloak and dagger about us readers knowing.
    We could totally have KNOWN about the back up plan, and STILL had tension. That would have been fine!
    There’s been a enough humans/parahuman conflict that such uncertainty would have stood on its own, without any keeping secrets from the reader. Secrets that kinda don’t make sense, cause we are in Victoria’s head.
    ….Also like… don’t totally feel that this feels right thematically as a way of defeating Fortuna titan. Not that its bad, but just… PtV is repeatedly and clearly shown to be total hax. This doesn’t *feel* hax enough to beat it. … but then again nothing really does. That’s the problem. PtV is a story breaker level of power, and the fact that WB handled it so well in ALL previous encounters is pretty cool… but I just don’t see how this, (or any other solution) would have felt right here.

    I may be biased by Contessa being one of my fav characters.
    Actually wait… I know what feels off:
    You have a power that gets whatever it wants; how do you beat it?
    Same way Teacher planned to, you find a way to make their victory condition be their victory condition. You prove that their world is better with you in it. Not by threatening to burn the books, but by showing that you are a good writer.
    …. ahhh, but whatever. WB has crafted a good story, and a beautiful chapter, and me hypothesizing about how it could be different is just that; talking shit from the audience, about how gladiator should go about their fight.

    Damn fine chapter. Presley is fabulous.
    Now I want to see where Gary Nieves is at.

  14. I have some thinking I need to do about some aspects of the framing, but this is some great writing.

    Feels sudden though. Are we there already?

  15. I think this is a twist that would have been more impactful had we known it was coming.

    Imagine if you will a group of people sitting around a table and after ten minutes the table explodes and everyone dies. Shocking at first, but mostly just confusing and comes out of nowhere so your audience will generally be unhappy.
    Now take that same scene, but at the start you make the audience aware of the bomb. Now you have 10 minutes of the tension rising as the audience hopes that the people at the table will somehow find the bomb and either disarm it or run away before it blows.

    Had we known that the only way for Breakthrough and the other capes to survive this was for humanity to decide to bring them out of the deep sleep then all the anti-parahuman sentiment throughout the series would have sprung right to the readers mind and we would have had the rather intense experience of wondering if our heroes did enough to sway peoples minds or if Humanities fear of capes would get the better of them. It would have made each decision to use or run away from the Swan Song feel more impactful and a lot less like committing suicide with the vague hope it’ll drive the titans away.

    All that being said I have enjoyed Ward, I just feel like this one specific instance was a misstep that’s going to read like a cop out going foreward. In any case Presley was adorable.

  16. Im not gonna lie, I’ve been okay with the suicide pact ending for a bit now, and was looking forwards to interludes showing how everyone else deals with the death of supers and the possible death of the power system, but instead we just sorta got a slapped on cop out of “oh actually it wasn’t serious at all they can reverse it” and I can’t tell if I’m supposed to believe the twist that they can reverse it or if I should be expecting the double twist: that *nothing* can reverse it and the point of telling them they *can* is so anyone with potential powers gets the disease and dies as soon as they manifest, essentially getting people to communally mecca trek to the source of the sleeping beauty death and kill powers off entirely.

    Seeing each character die would have been nice, or even just seeing their perspective fade into weird nightmares, idk. I feel like somewhere in the middle of simurgh we lost the ability to sense reality, so I have no idea if anything is real at this point. Wobble birb could say “it was all a dream!” And be as believable as anything that happens next.

    I just don’t see what the win condition is here. Maybe Taylor gets an interlude and we see the aftermath of a world without supers as she learns to walk again?

    If victory shard decided they wanted the cycle to continue, and that means stop fighting humans, that means eventually things will ramp back up into powers again even with all the supers dead, cuz without more supers how will the cycle continue?

    And, you know, we never got an answer to withdrawals power, it was supposed to break the cycle, and we saw him become immune to simurgh, I fully believe there was an alternate ending to this where they actually discover the real victory and utilize it to beat the worm.

    Previous commenter said don’t burn the books, convince them you belong in the story, and to be fair that’s what they’re doing, they’re saying you can’t have the story without us, so by default you have to include us, or else the story goes away, I just think the analogy isn’t perfect.

    What about the giant air gun? What about machine army? Will sleeper ever get an explanation? What if simurgh is only temporarily contained? I mean, there’s a dozen different things that could happen next, and ending doesn’t seem like any of them. As melancholy as watching every character get dreams and die would have been, it would have been an *end* not just to ward but to the entire worm universe. Hell, maybe it would have killed the worms by propagating through their network, as we reverse engineer their power and send off death bullets to every other place in the multiverse to kill worms and allow civilization to grow naturally.

    Wasn’t the worms mission to find a solution to heat death? Shouldn’t the solution be inflation or universe cannons or like, multi spatial compression to feed more matter into a single universe and live life as lower dimensional beings?

    Or idk, string together a few dozen black holes and use their higher dimension superpowers to make an energy recycling machine so they can keep living forever in a small section of the universe.

    We never got answers to the cycle, just a edged ending and spoiled death.

  17. I think I would have preferred either knowing there was a possible out earlier or there not having been a way to save everyone. With all the dream shut going crazy I wonder which version of ashly will come back if woken up, I hope damsel comes back the erosion of her personality was somewhat horrifying to see.

    1. That’s a good point. If we presume all the capes entered the dream state and have been enduring it for sometime. A dream state designed to connect them with their trigger event or agents more closely… Many of them, beyond just Ashley, might come back considerably changed and even with severe adjustments to their powers.

  18. @ AceofSpade

    “Or do you seriously believe that humanity screwed up their second chance because they choose the wrong color?”

    You mean having the whole city painted in a color remind everyone of an experience the entire populace was deeply traumatized over, which was presented as one of the first representations of the state of the world, and this was apparently done without thought, awareness, or care (to say nothing about how self-evidently garish it would be within the first block being built)?


    And that’s before the laundry list of other reasons the story provides the longer it went.

  19. Do you know what would be IRONIC? If Gary freakin’ Nieves himself will be the one who will convince many non-capes to wake the capes up. I think I’ll be ok with this irony, it will be so weird and hilarious :).

    1. Generally I get the feeling Gary was more about stopping Capes from being in charge. Also about bringing to light the terrible things that even some of the heroes were doing and possibly harsher punishments for capes. I’m sure he’d probably advocate the death penalty to be more readily used on villains and far less leniency for heroes who break the law (lets face it, they get a fair amount). But I don’t think he’d advocate for outright eradication and genocide, even in a sense of letting them simply die through inaction.

      To a great extent he wasn’t entirely wrong. non-parahumans were generally at the complete whim of the parahumans, both hero and villain. Natalie possibly made the best case in pointing out that parahumans had a severe problem with not listening to non-parahumans or giving weight to their input.

      The more ironic thing is that it’s parahumans (mostly Victoria) who have done just that. She empowered them to attack the crystal landscape and gave them complete power over keeping or ridding themselves of capes

    Maybe this part will come off as confrontational, but why do you want an answer that solves the heat death of the universe? Even IRL, that’s something that will not be discovered in a long time, and that if it’s even discovered. Besides, all your answers boil down to ‘let’s predate the rest of the universe and live in a small corner, since a loooooooooooooooooooooooong time is basically eternity, right?’. If they use powers and instincts that the worms give them, will they even be able to solve their own problem in the short term?

    “I feel like somewhere in the middle of simurgh we lost the ability to sense reality, so I have no idea if anything is real at this point.”
    Doesn’t it remind you of a large-scale version of the final part of Worm? Though Taylor’s fate was left dicey.

    “Hell, maybe it would have killed the worms by propagating through their network, as we reverse engineer their power and send off death bullets to every other place in the multiverse to kill worms and allow civilization to grow naturally.”
    Don’t think so, even thinkers come from them. Probably if someone was able to independently crack powers without powers, but that hasn’t been shown in-story to be even a possibility.

  21. The “constantly trying to one-up your screwing with readers expectations” thing has seriously screwed over the writing of this whole arc. It’s become a narrative tick that’s grown worse and worse in your work as time goes on-like a tumor metastasizing through previously great writing. All narration is unreliable and characters lie to themselves and the reader even when they don’t have to.

    Also, using suicide imagery for this plan was poorly thought out and disrespectful.

  22. Loved this! presley being so sincere and passionate even in the face of that rude immature boy paying off bc an important person happened to be on the sidelines and listening to both of their perspectives is cool. thats why its important to fight against assholes like that – sure youre not going to sway the asshole, but its about the AUDIENCE. there are ppl there that are on the fence, and they see how rude and dismissive the asshole is, and how compassionate and genuine the other one is. every little interaction can matter. victoria being kind to a girl on a train eventually snowballed into that girl persuading a powerful community member into arguing for the sake of NOT letting all heroes die.

  23. Goshdang, okay. There’s the other shoe. This whole chapter has done wonderful work at bringing the crux of heroism back into the realm of self-sacrifice vs the individual’s right to live and progress and maybe get better. Presley’s bunch seeeem to be waking their capes, opting for the idea of the individual being worth it; let’s see what the other folks of the multiearth do, now that the ball’s in their court.

    1. I have a feeling that Shin people will not be too eager to wake up their capes, unless they need slaves.

  24. You know, I’m generally much more favorably inclined towards anticlimaxes than most people, but this still strikes me as a bit TOO anticlimactic. Other commentators have already touched on why; I just want compare with the ending of the Goddess arc, which I personally thought worked (though many didn’t): Goddess was functionally a child, mentally speaking, who happened to have extremely strong powers that ensured she never had to grow up. Her mystique wore off over the course of the arc, so that when she was suddenly and underwhelmingly defeated, it fit, because she was a surprisingly underwhelming person. Here though, the problems are Fortuna and Simurgh, who are quite broken and actually live up to it, to some extent. They have been consistently overwhelming the entire time, so (while there’s a lot to object to with the mass suicides being portrayed as a good thing) it makes sense that defeating them would require massive losses and sacrifices, but instead it’s just a case of “hey, we’ll die without you guys, but we’re gonna trust you on this.” If anyone dies after this, it won’t feel like a heroic sacrifice to stop the villains, it will just be anti-parahumans being spiteful and petty towards the people who saved their lives.

  25. @Sol

    If I’m remembering correctly every window was a solar panel, which is probably related to why they were golden. “done without thought, awareness, or care”? How do you know that? I doon’t believe anyone has even suggested that it was done withoout thought, awareness, or care. If those windows are solar panels they probably thought about the fact that they were golden but decided that it was more important to generate as much power as possible.

    And yes, some people will have bad associations with the gold color, but not everyone. People react and perceive things differently. Capes were also traumatized by Golden Morning and yet a lot wear the symbol because they associate it with something they want to remember. For most it represent the fact that they persisted, but even there not all, others views it differently. A badge of honor for being in the fight, a reminder of Skitter…

    “It’s garish”. And people said Victoria was judgmental aboout fashion choices. We’ve never seen her argue that someone probably doesn’t deserve a second chance because they have bad taste.

    “The laundry list of other reasons”. I think you would find that even our current society has a lot of the issues presented in the story, just without the complication of capes. You are basically arguing for the death of humanity because humans are not perfect. In a story where striving to get better despite your circumstances is a major theme.

  26. Ward is entirely psychological. From start to finish, the whole book has been about the mental breakdown of capes and the people close to them.

    It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure it out, but just look at the title. It’s not Ward as in Ward of the State, or Ward as in Magical Ward against Danger, or even Ward as in Warden of the Prison.

    It’s Ward as in Psych Ward.

    There’s absolutely nothing shocking about mass suicide being the chosen course for these characters. It’s grim, but it’s the direction the author chose for the story. Every one of the main characters has psychological issues (Victoria is PTSD, Kenzie is some form of Borderline Personality Disorder, Tristan is Narcissism, others I couldn’t quite pin down). They met through group therapy. The name of their *team* is a reference to psychotherapy, and they chose it for that reason.

    If the ending didn’t involve some sort of primarily mental play, it would have felt out of place.

  27. I can’t for the life of me spot any indication in the previous chapter on where Kenzie got dosed.

    I thought I’d see something about Victoria feeling a random brush against her skin or something and we could just put it down to their view of Kenzie at the computer being a projection while she secretly stood behind them the whole time.

    I wonder who she got dosed by… And if nobody knows she’s dosed… Who’s gonna wake her up?

  28. @AceOfSpades

    Most of your argument would have more impact if the story hadn’t already proven otherwise scattered throughout it – almost every incident dealing with the public showing the negativity to be the majority, the construction of the city being uncoordinated, ill-thought out mess riddled with problems (despite the long history of Endbringer attacks giving plenty of experience in construction), but still somehow unified in color scheme, etc. etc.

    “I think you would find that even our current society has a lot of the issues presented in the story, just without the complication of capes.”

    Issues, sure. That they’re the same scale Wilbow writes them? No, because most of everything Wilbow does is to justify conflict and why things are so grimdirp (when he’s not taking a situation and making it worse for the heck of it).

    In reality most of the incidents and problems in Ward would never happen in real life, because they wouldn’t revolve around one guy’s personal writing preferences.

    The city’s construction and existence being a prime example. In Ward it was created partially so Wilbow could go back and forth between having post-Apocalypse problems adding to the grim state of the world, and almost forgetting the Apocalypse happened so the characters could have normal modern lives and resources.

    In reality, survival would trump any concern over half-hearted attempts to ‘get things back to normal,’ and if that meant humanity had to go Amish, or regress to 19th or early 20th century living standards to survive it would.

    The massive lack of adaption to surviving the post-Apocalypse is one of the other major reasons humanity as presented by this story, shows it really doesn’t deserve to be saved. Again.

    @ charlesw81

    Actually the reveal of this chapter makes a lot of the interactions with Kenzie in the last one confusing and nonsensical.

    One really has to wonder why Victoria was so solemn when there was indeed an out and fix developed and being distributed, or why the hell they couldn’t even leave it with Kenzie if they were scattering it among the populace to give her role?

    And of course, Kenzie’s speech last chapter kind of marks her as a liar, when she goes on about accepting being left behind, and turns around and tells Pres. she took the suicide KoolAide with everyone else behind their backs.

    But then again, given we know who Kenzie’s comments are really coming from, it’d probably be best to just not hold her personally to them.

  29. Loved this. I do have a complaint though, about the comments section.
    So… A lot of people seem pissed that the safety switch wasn’t revealed.
    Fair enough, they have pretty valid reasons. Thing is, they should probably remember that WildBow is writing the story. We are getting a free story, brilliantly written. WB has no need to write how we would like him to.
    I’m putting it badly, sorry. But I feel that it’s worth mentioning.

    And I’m so glad we get to keep reading for a while longer.

  30. What about the giant air gun?

    What about it? Valkyrie already stopped that threat in the same chapter it was revealed. Non-issue.

    One really has to wonder why Victoria was so solemn when there was indeed an out and fix developed and being distributed

    You mean beside the fact that it’s fucking scary to give yourself an untested tinker treatment that will knock you out and trap you in a tortured dreaming state for an extended period of time, and to trust that the heavily bigoted population you’re asking to revive you will actually pull through and do it, and to trust that the also untested cure will actually work? And the fact that she had no way to know if enough capes would commit to the plan for it to work, and that once the effect knocked her out she and the others would be unable to do anything else to help? Oh, and the worry that Sleeper or the Machine Army might just ruin everything anyway before she and the other capes could be woken up?

    Yeah, I guess aside from those minor qualms there was no reason for her to be somber. Wildbow is just a really terrible author and you are a very smart person. I’d give you a gold star if not for all this quarantine business. You’ll just have to pretend. You seem good at that.

  31. I give 70:30 odds that this ISN’T the “twist.” Wildbow got everyone stuck on the idea of the maybe-suicide pact, and now shit’s about to get real when many readers aren’t expecting it.

  32. Some thoughts on the ending at the top. More positive and personal thoughts on the story as a whole near the bottom.
    This solution is, yes, kind of anticlimactic because we all knew that the heroes wouldn’t die. At least not all of them.

    We all joke about how Wildbow loves to drink from our tears. We _joke_ by saying he likes to hurt us and kill out favourite characters. But, at the end of the day, Wildbow isn’t a cruel author, neither to us nor to his characters. He writes grim stories, with grave consequences, but he doesn’t really hurt his characters for shits and giggles.

    I realised this during March’s arch. Vista’s death was senseless and cruel. It seemed as though the story was just propping up Vista, making her out to be this incredible character, only to snuff her out and make a fool of us for caring about Vista. But Vista didn’t die, and she came out the more amazing for how she survived.

    Regent’s death is probably one of WB’s most unexpected deaths. I forget everything about Worm, but I can only imagine that his death left countless of storylines dangling, without resolution. But, at least in his case, it hadn’t felt like a prank.

    Maybe Wildbow made a mistake by escalating the story to the point that most of us knew what to expect. The story might claim that the stakes are “all the characters die”, but WB just isn’t that kind of author. Given that, I think this resolution works as well as any other. It would have been fun to see Victoria go Khepri. Or for the heroes to have more autonomy in this resolution. But this ending gives an opportunity for the power dynamics between capes and non-powered people to change. It makes an opportunity for society at large to improve. Now the tension lies in who makes it out of this alive. What communities will decide to kill the capes.

    I find the mass suicide thing to be a bigger issue. I don’t think it’s the perfect allusion, but I am happy to defer to the opinions of others on this topic. I think that Victoria’s plan is, simply, the most rational plan available to the characters. But I can see how making the plan where an entire population willingly dies the most rational option is… problematic. Like, thematically, I think it works. But I also fully understand why people are so uncomfortable with it.
    Anyway. I have probably regurgitated what many people have said multiple times. So I want to end on a more positive note.

    Thank you, Wildbow, for making Ward. I’ve been reading your works for almost ten years, I think. Your characters have been with me through lots of changes and difficult times. It’s been particularly nice to see myself reflected in Ward’s characters, and see them overcome their problems, learn to love themselves, to move on, to be better.

    I have thought at times that Sveta should be my favourite character. I mean, she’s best girl (don’t tell crystal Ashley that). I have seen myself reflected in her self-image issues and transgender (sub)text. And gods, you have no idea how many times she has made me cry. When she got her real body my eyes became fountains and my feelings became a mixture of “I’m so happy for her. She deserves this” and “why can’t I fucking have that, it hurts so much”.

    But, and this may just be my protagonist bias here, I really fucking identify with Antares. My traumas pale in comparison to the horrors she has experienced, but as someone who has had to deal with abuse, and has lived her life hiding from the world, seeing Antares fuckity fuck fucking breakthrough is _ecstatic_. I have laughed and clapped and hollered and punched the air to celebrate her. And when I see Antares barely holding it together, scared of her own mind and everything that surrounds her, I feel… less alone. I’m not alone. I have lots of people that love me and understand me. But having such a kickass character to keep me company when my mind goes cloudy is greatly appreciated.

    I could go on about how I’m a bit of a Kenzie, a bit of a Byron, and I feel like I’ve learnt from Tristan, Ashley, Rain. But I should go to bed.

    All in all, self-improvement, self-care, self-actualization are hard for me, and I feel as though I often don’t progress as a person. The characters of this story are great role models, and I really appreciate having them.

  33. Everyone probably needs to remember that there are many groups of civilians who will likely all be making different decisions about rescuing the capes nearest to them.

    Even then, each individual cape could be recognised and some might make a conscious decision NOT to rescue a particular cape.

    Beyond that… It’ll be interesting to see what kind of dreams some of these capes experience, and if they come back “changed” from all of this. Even then, they come back to a world on the brink of destruction. Torn asunder with other worlds/Earths ready to pounce on it rather than assist it.

    1. The problem with this is, there was no reason for giving cape survival decision into the hands of mundane civilians.

      1. Reason, for example – if mundanes decide to save capes it will be harder to blame capes in all sins in the future. Basically, any anti-parahuman will have to argue with done decision to save all capes. “If you wake us, means you forgave us”

  34. Looks like I’m later to the party than usual, huh?
    Well in the interests of trying to say something useful, I kind of agree with Sol that this twist feels contrived. It’s a lot like Wifflebangs pulled a cop-out, similar with Sleeper’s arrival in the last chapter.
    But at the same time, it’s *entirely* in the spirit of the story; the Capes are literally destroying everything, and in the end they have to give themselves over to the mercy of people they’ve had power over for decades. Giving up control, trusting others, not being able to solve the problem yourselves even though you think you can…there’s a lot here.

    To me the problem is the format; Web Serial. The serialised chapters get in the way of the story, by creating a need for cliffhangers, need for more action…
    From characters having their heart-to-heart conversations in the middle of battles to twists that seem to come out of nowhere, this format has real limitations.

    It’s an opinion I’ve had of Worm for a while: Worm the web serial is very, very, good.
    But Worm, the book? With the story all laid out beforehand, with some of the bloat trimmed off, that’s been looked over by a professional editor?
    That would be *fantastic*.
    (And something I’d pay real money for.)
    Same is true of Ward, in my opinion.

    TL;DR: Plz turn Worm into a book, WiggleBeat. And then Ward. Will pay moneys.

    – PS: OF COURSE Kenzie got herself infected. Silly Victoria – you’ve been underestimating that girl since day one.

  35. The way all the other characters treat Kenzie has always bothered me a little. Sure, you can see her as a pre-teen girl, and react accordingly, the first time you meet her. But once you know who and what she is, and you do it again? And *again*? It’s a bit frustrating.

    Specifically, I mean the way the characters keep trying to hide things from her. Clearly, that doesn’t work. She sees everything, whether you want her to, or not. The only person who managed to hide anything from her was Chris, because he actually treated her like an adult and *asked* her for a little privacy. Everyone else treated her like a child, and only ended up causing pain.

    More than once, I just wanted to reach through the screen and slap a few characters around, and tell them, “Kenzie will FIND OUT. Just tell her. Be honest with her, for once. It will cause a lot less pain in the long run.”

  36. @ greycat:
    Agreed, so much. They’ve been treating her like a child -which she is -but not really taken onboard that she’s also an addict (in a lot of ways) and roughly as powerful as Big Brother.
    (Seriously. The only person who’s successfully stopped her using her tech is Dragon, because Dragon is one of the few Tinkers more powerful when it comes to systems.)

    She is ALWAYS watching. She WILL find out. And when she does, she’s capable of really, really, scary things – even, sadly, when she specifically promises NOT to do them.
    (See ‘addict’, above)
    Time and time again, people around her have just ignored these things, which has made the situation (and her) worse.

    …she’d be SUCH a great protagonist for Parahumans 3, if it ever happens.

  37. I think an awful lot of people need to have a think about the difference between suicide and sacrifice.

    Whilst I’m sure there are some capes who are using the plan as a way to end stories they don’t want to be in any more, a lot more, including all the ones we’ve seen PoV from, are risking (or, prior to this chapter, spending) their lives to save countless others.

    The purpose of suicide is to escape, the purpose of self sacrifice is fight, whatever the cost. The distinction can be seen at the end of Tristan’s story, letting go and turning titan would have been suicide, saving Byron was sacrifice.

    This plan, even without the waking up part revealed in this chapter, was always mass sacrifice, not mass suicide.

  38. @BlueHorus

    “But at the same time, it’s *entirely* in the spirit of the story;”

    Not really.

    The story may portray issues of trust, friendship, battling personal demons, letting go of grudges, etc. But that’s only on the personal level of 6 protagonists.

    In the wider portrayal of everyone else the story shows everyone as some level of asshole, dick, incompetent, ineffective, and/or combination there of. Almost no one but Breakthrough shows much of any ability to get over their shit, even to their benefit, and one member couldn’t do it either.

    Wardens? Despite Worm ending on an optimistic note that the old Protecterate members learned their lessons and will do better, they ultimately ended up being worse. Not only do they stay ineffective, but instead of being shackled by PR, they apparently burned the department to the ground and danced on the ashes so that public opinion would swing negatively towards them.

    Heroes as smaller groups? Despite being specifically told they outnumber villains, villains all but get free reign, because apparent 4/5ths decided to sit on their asses after GM, until the situation escalated to the point the world wouldn’t have a chance without their sudden existence being pulled apparently out of thin air.

    The villains? The apocalypse happened, and obviously the majority went right back to being the petty criminal assholes they were to begin with, some decided to pursue their megalomania into varying degrees from ruling the lands without toilet paper to the entire multiverse, or indulging their destructive psychopathy.

    To be fair, those three categories basically cover the portrayal of villains since the start of Worm. Wilbow’s honestly not that good or imaginative with non-protagonist villains and their motives and depth beyond the one/two dimensional.

    Cheit? Primarily religious, so you know that can’t be allowed to be portrayed as any kind of positive, and sure enough they’re archaic, sexist, terroristic, and happily throw in with Teacher and the Fallen.

    Shin? Just got liberated from parahumans tyranny, and so can’t rise above it, even with the people who played a part in liberating them. Half the government has a hard-on for murdering parahumans, even if they’re brainwashed kids, and more than willing to imprison people they invited to talk and court war just to satisfy their hate-boner.

    Anti-parahumans? Always shown to be in the context of an antagonistic dick. Even when there are legitimate grievances and criticism against the way parahumans behave, it all has to be undermined by personal antagonism against the heroes, so any argument or action never happens in a constructive way.

    And let’s not forget the second apocalypse was triggered by a regular human who happened to be very, very, VERY conveniently equipped, to go out of his way to try to murder a single parahuman that was already previously targeted and shot, just to be a dick.

    And after all that, the story wants to turn around and make the climax about the triumph of trust, decency, and the strength of the human spirit?

    Not only ‘no,’ but HELL NO!

    That’s not even remotely keeping to the “spirit” of Ward. Messages of trust and putting your life in another’s hands are great, but only when the story is properly set up for it. Ward is set up for just the opposite. Because the overarching “spirit” of Ward is the same as Worm. So much so the Title Head should read Ward – Same Rules. Different Players.

    1. It sound’s like you’ve been reading a radically different story than the rest of us.

      Ward is about humans being decent when they can get over themselves.

      I suggest you do the same.

      1. Just because you wish to believe and willingly believe that Wildbow didn’t write stupid plots, doesn’t magically make them go away.

  39. So Wildbow suddenly remembered that he forgot to write about mundane parahuman conflict, and shoved it into story the way a kid shove square block into the circle hole.

    Now Victoria is a mass murderer, as the blood of all the parahumans killed by mundanes is in her hands.

  40. I’ve had some complaints about Ward at times, but I thought this fit pretty well thematically: there’s been a recurring focus on the fraught relationship between capes and the unpowered, and how Vicky does her (flawed) best to improve that relationship (the very first chapter, every time Presley shows up, all the shit with Gary, Teacher’s PR campaign, the Shin trip, Vicky fighting with Eric, sending unpowered into the cracks). I think it’s plausible that Vicky’s past outreach efforts might have nudged public sentiment just enough that the consensus is to save the capes – like how Presley seems to have swayed Mr. Druck, here – so it doesn’t feel like character agency was thrown out the window. Hiding the existence of the antidote from readers until now was a bit clunky, and there might have been more emotional payoff if we’d had a few chapters of capes (and us) explicitly stewing in anxiety over anti-parahuman sentiment and just general human shittiness, but overall I think it works!

    I liked that Eric gets angry when defending capes from hecklers; I’m sure it’s more to do with his relationship with Cinereal and the Wardens, not Vicky, but he’s helping her plan and emphasizing capes’ collective selflessness. It’s small, but it improved my opinion of him.

    I’m a little confused by all the uproar re: “mass suicide”. IMO it’s the classic, uncontroversial heroic sacrifice trope (just scaled up a few notches) but regardless, like… this is a Wildbow story, that barely breaks the top 10 in Ward alone! I’m all for handling heavy, sensitive subjects appropriately (and I think Wildbow has a good track record on this across his works), I’m just genuinely surprised people got through the sister rape and kids getting chopped up but lost their shit at superheroes choosing to die to save the world.

  41. I’m a little confused by all the uproar re: “mass suicide”.

    It seems like it’s coming from two main groups. One is made up of people pretending so hard to be sophisticated literary critics that they can’t see past the imaginary allegorical frameworks they’ve constructed to “explain” Ward and end up forming bogus conclusions or blaming Wildbow when things don’t match up with their bullshit. The other group is readers who can’t quite divorce themselves from their own traumas long enough to stop projecting, resulting in them receiving a distorted version of the story — they’re reading it through depression goggles, so of course they misinterpret sacrifice as suicide.

    but regardless, like… this is a Wildbow story, that barely breaks the top 10 in Ward alone!

    It’s the climax, so it carries more weight. Plus, it’s a long story and some people have been reading it for the whole two and a half years it’s been running. That’s a lot of time and energy invested into it, so it’s not strange for them to get upset if they find the return on that investment unsatisfactory.

    I’m just genuinely surprised people got through the sister rape and kids getting chopped up but lost their shit at superheroes choosing to die to save the world.

    They didn’t, though. Dumbasses have been insulting Wildbow’s handling of Amy since Shin, and the whole Cradle situation was an endless stream of people whining about how dark the story was. Even a few of the more level-headed folks got in on that action before realizing they were being assholes and apologizing.

    1. @Pizzasgood and @grinvader Thank you for your posts. You’ve made the recent comments sections bearable. And @Wildbow, thank you. Your writing has greatly enriched my life and I am so grateful for every chapter I’ve read. Your stories have challenged my perspectives and asked me to evaluate my assumptions and my past experiences in new lights. I am a more empathetic person from knowing your characters and their lives. So thank you. Your art has changed me for the better.

  42. @Sol and Goldarmy:

    Consider going somewhere else and doing something that makes you happier.

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