Last – 20.e1

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“I hoped, going in, that I would be able to see your face.”

They hung upside-down, in a hell of metal and broken glass.  The soft things around him were the most dangerous, because crumpled metal hung below his head, littered with tiny glass shards, and the soft portions of his immediate environment offered no traction, nothing to hold onto.

His brother was beside him, but the boy’s features were a cipher.  Look at the eye, and the other eye, the nose, the mouth, the hair, and even the shape of the head changed.  Look to the hair, and everything else shifted imperceptibly.

There was no memory or detail to be uncovered by coming here and seeing this.  Reliving it.  He knew agents stored details, but what they chose to store didn’t always make sense.  He could reason some of it out, suggest that one person he passed on the street might have had a latent power waiting to be awoken by one bad day.  His brother, for whatever reason, hadn’t been a consideration.

So terribly important to him, and a mere prop to his power.

He gripped his seatbelt, one hand at the edge of the window, struggling to hold onto the one rigid, grippable thing there.  His arm was tired.

“I’ve been working hard.  Trying to stop the kinds of people who got you.”

He reached for his brother and couldn’t manage it.

“Every day, I see people with powers.  Every time I see them, I see the agents and their work.  Maybe that gives me an edge here.  It keeps me awake, because I’m supposed to be unconscious when they take you.”

His arm trembled with the exertion of supporting the weight of his body, his fingers pressing into the ragged edge of the window.

He told himself that yes, he had been unconscious when the event had actually happened, but he was different now.  He’d spent decades fighting.  Decades giving his all.

So much of that was mental, and the key difference between the him of the past and the him of this dark dream of glass and broken metal was the mind.  He had his memories, and he had the skills he’d learned.

He held out.

“The-” he grunted, his breath a little short from the exertion.  “They asked me if I’d put my life on the line, and trust the people we’ve been protecting to wake us up.  I realized, all at once, that I’d made a mistake.  Ever since the world ended, I’ve been telling myself, we need to slay these demons, face down these monsters, stave off this war for another few months.”

His arm almost gave out.  He gripped the seatbelt with his other arm and pulled to alleviate the weight, reasserting his grip.

“If everything turned out alright in the end, then they’d forgive us for being elsewhere for the first few years.”

He could hear the commotion outside.  People sliding down the hillside by the road, which was mostly gravel and sand.

“It didn’t turn out alright.  I’m not sure they’ll forgive us.  I’ve been too focused on the monsters, on the horizons.”

The door was opened, and Zach was seized.  A knife cut the seatbelt, freeing him, and hands caught him as he dropped.

“If I’d been paying more attention to the unpowered, the victims, would I be able to see your face?  Say a proper goodbye?  Would it be better codified?  Or can I not see you because I moved on?”

He reached for Zach, and failed to reach past the crumpled, obstructing armrest to his brother’s hand.

“I’m sorry, Zach.”

A hand grabbed his wrist, and the calm, detached perspective fell away.  For a moment, he was a child again, in a scary, unfamiliar situation.

He twisted around, looking, and saw another snatcher, holding his wrist, pulling on wrist and door simultaneously.

I forgot this happened.

The shock kept him from piecing together any coherent thoughts, and he fought as best as he could in the situation, upside down, no leverage, still trying to keep himself from slumping the wrong way in his seat-

Panic welled as he slid across the seat, the two things in the car that were meant to reduce harm his biggest enemies in the moment.  A seatbelt dragging against his neck, pressing hard and strangling breath and blood flow, and the cushions he couldn’t get traction on.  Desperately, he grabbed for broken metal, for the window with glass.

Looked to the front seat at his parents- they had faces, but the faces were two-dimensional.

Learned and stored from photographs.

They were still.  Dead.

And he was being grabbed, pulled- they were trying to get him through the window.

He felt the darkness creeping in, his hands scrabbling, where every scrabble both hurt and was necessary-

And he came free.  No car, no metal, no cushion, no glass, no hand at his wrist.

His fall was from an immense distance, beyond the ability of his human mind to register.  It began at a planet that rotated around a star that was simultaneously binary and solitary because of a tear in space that cut through it, transforming it into a double image.  The planet traveled a path that, twice per revolution, intersected a hole in space.  When that planet intersected the hole, the writhing species that lived on it could move between.  Those that could travel could access other layers of that same world.  Other possibilities.  Food was abundant, and so was breeding.  Those that could see and interact with the tears when they passed by had the advantage.

After a thousand thousand such revolutions, a thousand contests, some began to be able to create and work with their own tears, keeping the subatomic particles with them.

The fall began there and it took him through worlds he couldn’t count.  Every revolution of his awareness was a cycle, a species wiped out, spaced out by study, by experimentation, by evolution, by statements.  Until he stopped on Earth with a suddenness that almost shattered his mind.

He was both participant and observer when the landing happened.  When the alien matter came to rest, then settled to watch and study humanity.  It began to pull together a golden-skinned body.

That’s right, he thought, because he couldn’t speak aloud.

I triggered then.  I saw things.  And because every bit of power we use comes from them, some of us, like me, come from places closer to where they hold and store events like this.

I don’t supposed I could ask a question?

He pushed the idea out there, knowing he might be the only one able to ask at this vantage point.


There was nobody and nothing to answer.

A shame.  A worry.  If somehow humanity decided to forgive parahumans their distance, then he would wake up and he would need to address the last remaining problems.

What had the Titan Fortuna been drilling for?  Had she been cutting away?  Sabotaging?  What did a force that wanted to continue this cycle and preserve all data get out of cutting away portions of that data?

[Question], he insisted, straining with his all, pulling on every instinct and nuance he had picked up from seeing thousands of expressions of agents over the years.

No answer.  There was nobody and nothing left to answer.

“Damn it!  Damn you!”

The ‘trigger event’ ended, and he fell backwards, his breath stolen away by pain.

His fingers found the grip of a baseball bat, and he realized where he was.

The boy named Relentless stood, using the weapon to help rise to his feet.  Where the top end of the baseball bat pressed against floorboards, those floorboards creaked, cracked, and gave way, the bat dropping a few inches until it hit the concrete foundation of the building.

The gangster said something in Spanish, then pointed the gun at him.

Pulled the trigger again.

This shot hit the edge of the cardboard facemask, and bounced off, making the mask rotate a bit.  He’d blended it with a welding mask and a one-and-a-half inch steel plate.  He’d done much the same with the rest of his armor, including the chestplate he wore.

Fixing the mask, he ran forward.

His shoes were cleats, blended with boots he’d cast out of concrete.  His footsteps were heavy, loud, and damaged the floor.

The gangster decided to run.  He chased, and the spikes of his shoes dug into the dusty floor, giving him traction the gangster lacked.  The shoes the gangster wore were for style, for getting girls.  For looking nice.  Not for traction.

The gangster turned, ready to fire back behind himself, and there was opportunity in that moment.

Relentless swung his bat, one handed, almost lazy.  Smashing the gun, tearing up the gangster’s fingers.  The gun came apart in fragments.

The bat was a metal baseball bat, hollow.  The other thing he’d blended in had been hollow too- a reinforced concrete tube waiting to be laid in the ground for a drainage ditch.  Eight feet in diameter, thirty feet long.  To him, the weight and shape of it were that of the metal bat.  To things it hit, however…

The man fell, and he stopped, the spikes of his cleats dragging into the wood.  Before the man could rise, he brought the boot down on one knee.  The man screamed.

“Do you speak English?”

The gangster didn’t seem able to respond.

“Remember this!” he raised his voice.  Flecks of spittle hit the clear cardboard mask, from the volume and intensity of his words.  “Tell them!  Remember the words!  Remember the sounds if you don’t know the words!  This is for my brother!  This is for Zach!”

He brought his boot down again, on the other knee, then ground it side to side, to make sure the damage was done.

Objectively, he knew this was the dream.  Objectively, he had moved on from this moment, this feeling.

The rage.  The desperation.

He heard running footsteps, and he began running himself.

Another man, wearing clothes even more ostentatious than the last guy.  A suit as blue as the ocean, a black satin shirt, a tie.

The man ran, and he was going to get away.

The shoes didn’t matter here.  The fact was he’d been going at it too long.  His legs were shorter, because he was still only fifteen.  He’d chased down too many people, starting from one chance lead, and then following it, because that was the way this worked.  Each lead was standalone.  Each chance he got might be the last chance.  So he had to follow it, catch the person who affiliated with the Snatchers, use that person to find more, to get locations of buildings, or get keys and ID from that person, to break into their homes, scare their families and dog, get their computers or notes, and bring those things back to the captive.

If he slept, if he slipped, the trail went cold, and he had to hope, pressing forward and picking off targets at random until he got a name, until people started hating the Snatchers because some kid in cardboard armor and rugby padding kept taking their gangsters apart and asking about the group.

Now he was here, this person looked important, and he was too tired to give chase.

The problem with a baseball bat was that it couldn’t reach any further than the tip of the bat itself.

So he threw it, with every intention of hitting the man.

The bat went through the wall, and it took out something vital.  The wall folded outward, and then began to collapse.

He had to stop, watching, seeing the gangster scramble to get back and away from the falling section of wall and the bits of roof.  Dust followed, flooding into the space.

And so did something else.  Someone else.

Her skin was light brown, her hair long and straight, and she wore a helmet that covered her entire face.  She was one of the few to wear a cape, and her cape was heavy, chainmail or something, rising up from the shoulders, then sweeping down to trace the ground.

She flew at the man in the blue suit, and grabbed him.

Then she looked at Relentless.

From the shock of my trigger event, to the anger.

From anger to the bargain.  Would I join her?  Would I fight for her cause?

“I thought I’d capture this man, and use that as clout to negotiate with you,” Alexandria spoke.

“Is it you?” he asked.  “I know there are ghosts in this alien machine.”

“Yes.  Alexandria,” she said.

It was an answer she’d given him a long, long time ago.  Out of order of the replies she’d given back then.  Was that because this was a dream?

“What was Fortuna drilling for?” he asked.

“Communication,” Alexandria said.  Another fragment.

He shook his head.

“Sending a message-” she said.  Stopped prematurely.  That sentence had been about unity, about the Wards and the idea that he could stop more evil if he were part of an organized group than he could alone, swinging his bat at one particular gang of child-snatchers.

“What was the message?” he asked.

“Answers,” she said.

That particular line, he remembered very well.  He had harbored some quiet resentment, that Alexandria had promised him that she and the newly formed Protectorate would offer their full support in finding Zach.

As it happened, those three answers she had just provided had all proven to be lies.  Communication?  No.  She had hidden what she was and where her true allegiances were.  Cauldron.  She herself had stolen children, he would later discover.

Sending a message?  No.  It had been about controlling the message, and the PRT had lost control of that when Alexandria had died.  The Wardens would fail to send that message at all.

He felt anger, still, but it wasn’t the dream handing him that same anger he had felt as a teenager, fighting this gang.  It was anger at himself.

Relentless approached Alexandria as a boy wearing cardboard.  He met her eyes in passing, his gaze hard.

Her eyes were pink, and caught his full attention.

No longer her.  Should I interpret that to mean I can’t expect any more answers?

Chevalier looked away from her, past the rubble of the damaged wall, and into New Delhi.

At Behemoth.

In the moment he found himself despairing.  Realizing that after a fight like this, they wouldn’t have what it took to fight for another twenty years, maybe not even ten, or five.  The first fight against an Endbringer where his plan wasn’t to fight his best and wait for the Triumvirate to handle it.  Because the Triumvirate had been broken.  It was false.

And he was the one in charge.  Chevalier.


“Are the thinkers ready?” he asked, louder than necessary, grabbing people’s attention away from the distant Endbringer.

“Downstairs, right below us.”

All he could do was to keep fighting.

All he’d been doing, ever since that moment, was fight.  That was part of the problem.

Downstairs, past capes, past staff.

To face down the villains they’d brought with them.

Lab Rat.  String Theory.  Black Kaze.  Teacher.  Glaistig Uaine.

He stood on a mountaintop.

The test.  The point where we pushed through it all.  Every decision we’d made came home when Scion attacked.  We had to find solutions, wherever they came from.

Make our peace with that.

They’d warned the dreams would be bad.  On a level, they had been. Seeing Zach.  The shock of triggering again.  The anger.  The betrayal.  The despair.  The compromise.

He felt as though he could handle it.  That it wasn’t the nightmare he’d anticipated.  This was…

…It was only part of the story.

Scion’s light lit up the sky.

Chevalier stood on a rooftop, his eyes adjusting as that light dimmed.  When it faded, he looked out over the city, and feeling shock, once again.  Shock at the responsibility.  The scale.  The sheer force of the threats arrayed against him.

This was the nightmare.  This was what would crush him, he realized.

That it was a cycle.

That he could wake up, find everything back at square one, and be trapped in the loop.  Shock, struggling to find his footing, angry, bargaining, despairing, compromising, and finally finding fleeting peace.

Or that he wouldn’t wake up.  That he would be left to make his peace with the decisions he’d made.  So many good, well-intentioned, or simply necessary in the moment.  None what he now realized he needed.

No.  There had been no response, right?

He’d touched so very close to their central processing, the core of them, their experiences.  He’d reached out there, spoken in their language.

And there had been no response.

Because Fortuna was gone.  Defeated.

“He’s awake.”


He eased his eyes open, then winced.  He had a headache.

He sat up, grunting as he felt the injuries from recent battle.

“Everything okay?” one of the women by the bedside asked.

“It depends on so much,” he said.  He motioned for the tablet.

They handed it over.

The entries were coordinates.  A long, long list of names in rectangular bubbles with red backgrounds.  Twelve names with beige backgrounds and green checkmarks.

“Who have you woken up?”

“We don’t know.  When they gave us the data, they didn’t attach names to it.  We can infer, from costumes, some of the people are in jail cells, but…”

He looked around.

He looked down at Hannah, who slept beside him, her expression troubled.  This was her room.  Her request, that he join her.  Unlike him, she had no armor stand, no weapons, no resources.  Neither he nor she had posters or memorabilia across their rooms.  He moved hair from her forehead before resting his hand there.  Feeling the temperature, watching her breathe.

Beside the bed, he could see phantom images.  A trace of Hannah as a child, in school, a gun in her lap, covered with her hand.

She twitched.

He stroked her head.

The image dropped away.  Another replaced it.  She was shooting a gun, and he was beside her.

That would have to do.

The relationship had never worked out, for dating, for holidays, for living together.  Their lives each had a trajectory that carried them in different directions.  But they would always be close.

Close but so far apart, always.

He also remembered that this tender moment was being watched, and straightened, sitting up.  He wore no shirt, but he did have pajama bottoms on.  His scars were on display, and the two women seemed intimidated.

He stroked his beard, which had grown quite long over multiple deployments to warzones, other worlds.  “Can you wake her up?”

“Not yet.  We don’t have the right data, and it has to be done in a specific way.”

“Of course,” he said.  He held up the tablet.  “Can I keep this?”

One of the women nodded.  “We have another.”

“Good,” he said.  He stood.

They might have figured out who he was, because they didn’t tell him to slow down or to stop and rest.

Still, he moved very slowly, tablet in one hand, while he picked up a t-shirt from the floor.  He verified it was a men’s, one of his, then pulled it on.

The two women moved on.

He paused to pen a note, then left it on the pillow.

“First time I’ve ever seen you sleep, Hannah,” he said.

He put on the flip-flops he wore for the shower, and he made his way upstairs.

But for what seemed like an endless procession of janitorial crews, the place was quiet.  There were no capes, no battles.

He kept expecting someone to run by, fly by, hurrying to the next incident.  That expectation came from years of that very thing being his reality.  Years of a crisis every moment, every day.

The next crisis was imminent.  The state of the city.  The city’s enemies, poised.  The last word they had was that Saint was still working on the Machine Army.  Cheit had its armies poised, and those armies weren’t dependent on powers.  It was possible they had already started invading.

He was still weak, his chest heavy.  He made liberal use of the handrail by the stairs as he ascended.

He had been here before, they all had.  They would be here again.

Upstairs was the command center.  But before then… coffee.

It was eerie to see the cafeteria as empty as it was.  Damaged tables had been moved out of the way and set aside.  Only a handful of the building’s staff and residents were sitting… most of the unpowered would be at the canteens downstairs.

Two young women were sitting.  He recognized one on sight as Victoria, another from a file he’d seen circulated, years ago, at a meeting where they had been discussing what to do about New Brockton.

He could see their shadows.  Victoria’s was in alignment with her.  Overlapping her, like an outline tracing her body, only millimeters off target.  Tattletale’s power was there too, spidery, reaching out to observe, pick up images from the environment around her.  To touch a salt shaker and pick up the image of that shaker.  Exploring other data, other research.

They paid him little mind.

“-without powers?” Victoria asked.  He hadn’t heard the first part.

“Are we schoolchildren, Victoria?” Tattletale asked, in a derisive tone of voice that would have let Chevalier identify her even if he’d never seen a photo.  Hell, if he’d never even met her, and knew her by reputation and association with Victoria Dallon alone, he might have connected the dots.  “Are we blabbing away on the playground about what-ifs?”

“Come on.”

Tattletale, leaning over her oversized cup of coffee, put her hands on her cheeks, and spoke in a childish voice, “What if you had to fight Legend, Victoria?  What would you do?”

“Seriously.  Don’t make me fight you every step of the way to keep this conversation going.  Lawyer?”


Chevalier couldn’t help but overhear as he found a coffee cup and began filling it up.

“Social worker?”

“Good god, Antares, you don’t know me at all.”

“I can’t help but notice you have these graduated stages for what you refer to me as.  I thought maybe social worker because you seem to care about those kids.  Maybe you’d want to look after others.”

“I’m utter shit at caring about others.  I care about my kids.”


Tattletale leaned forward.  “Talk like that is what gets you labeled as Glory Hole from now to forever, and if you want to push it, I’ll contrive to have it etched on your gravestone.”

Chevalier mixed some cream into his coffee, stirred it, and capped it.

“Come on,” Victoria said.  “Engage with me here.  If you don’t, I’ll come up with worse and worse answers.  Cop.”

“I don’t know.  Waitress.  Happy?”

Really.  What’s the logic there?”

“What am I good for, without powers?  You know where I come from.  My family went to shit.  I was going to run away no matter what happened.  And when you’re down on your luck, it’s hard to get back on your feet.  Case in point, this whole damn city.  So I would’ve gone to some town that wasn’t Brockton Bay, because my entire reason for going was that it was cape friendly and I was a rookie cape.  And I would have found a shit job, found shit boyfriends, and if my parents happened to die, I might get a wad of cash, which I’d promptly blow.”

“That’s morbid,” Victoria said, her chin resting on the heel of her hand, elbow on the table.

Chevalier found his seat, a blueberry muffin in hand, two tables down from the girls.  He wasn’t sure how hungry he was, and he did want to ask questions, when there was a break in the conversation.  He would eat, see if he wanted more, ask Tattletale the critical questions, then move on.

He wasn’t rushing.  He had the tablet.  He began scanning the names, logged in to check his messages, and found his inbox nearly empty for the first time he could remember.

He thought back, and remembered he had still been a Ward when he’d been able to finish clearing his inbox.  Now it was all filters, sorted by priority and keywords.

Titans gone.  An entire box he could archive, along with all contents.

“…you couldn’t even get into University,” Tattletale said.  “And there’s no university left.”

“There’s time.  We’ll adapt,” Victoria said.

Her tone was so calm, it was jarring him from his thoughts.  He wanted to say something, interrupt, give her an order.

The only thing that held him back was that he himself hadn’t figured out where he was going or what he was doing.  He didn’t know enough to point her in the right direction or make the right requests.

Twenty-two capes were awake.

He looked over the list, judged the numbers, and was satisfied that his instincts were right.

Virtually everyone was slated to be woken up.  There were a few question marks, all the way at the bottom.  Two possible K.I.A.s, three other questionable circumstances.  Someone who had gone to a place the relief teams couldn’t reach, another who had powers that interfered, and a third that hadn’t left a means of tracing them.

He fired off messages to the situation room, requesting records and names.

“You’re so happy it’s annoying.”

“Not happy.  But I’m relieved.  I think there’s a road forward.”

He put the tablet down, turning to stare.  Tattletale gave him a sidelong look, then looked back to Victoria.  “We’re not talking about that stuff.”

“Okay,” Victoria said, shrugging.  “What are we talking about?  You’re pulling an Etna on me.”

“An Etna.”

“She’s a great girl, working hard as a heroine, last I heard.  But she can’t hold a conversation.  I thought my teammates would bite their tongues off, putting up with it.”

“I thought you weren’t going back to Breakthrough.”

“I’m not.  But I’ll think of them as teammates forever.  I will go to the ends of the known Earths to help them if they need it, and I hope that I’ll have a bit more time to do that.”

Chevalier was interrupted from listening when he noticed more people come in.  Some were staff, but one wasn’t.  Tall, with silver hair in a messy bun, she wore a jacket for warmth over a light purple shirt with a unicorn on it.

She found his table and sat, without question or invitation.  Not that he minded.

“Catch me up,” she said.

“They’re waking everyone up.”

“I know that part,” she said.

He scrolled through messages.  He’d gotten distracted.  That conversation had sounded like it had been from Earth Aleph, while he was still in Gimel.  The ruins of Gimel.

He tried to focus.  There was the data on the missing and the killed.  Nobody notable killed.

He addressed Narwhal.  “Saint is in a holding pattern.  He’s disrupted their signals, which is paralyzing key groups and it means the entire Machine Army isn’t moving as a coordinated unit with perfect information sharing.  It’s not the takeover or complete shutdown we wanted but it’s a start.”

“Good,” Narwhal said.

“A mobilized attack may give us some ground.  It’ll be hard, with capes recovering from the death sleep.  There are already soldiers working on it.  Bombing crews.”

“Shin had military.”

“Shin might be touchy,” he said.  “Which is a whole other thing-”

“The Titans?” Narwhal interrupted.

“Ah.  I meant to say,” he said.  “The Titans have crumbled.  All of them went still simultaneously, then crumbled.  No signals passing to or from the network hubs we identified.  They’re debating bombing those sites.”

“My cue to leave.”

He turned his head to look.  Tattletale was getting to her feet.

“Leave?” he asked.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean to disturb you.  I can move elsewhere.”

“No, it’s too late, you’ve got my brain going again.  I should go look after my team.”

“Are they confirmed gone?” Victoria asked.  “Is there anything?  I wanted to reach out to Fume Hood and Dauntless.  They made multiple sacrifices.”

“I’m sure we can investigate,” he said.

“Yeah.  There’s time,” Victoria said.

“I-” he started, stopped.

“There is,” Victoria said.  Her hands were wrapped around her mug, and the trace of her agent had its hands around those hands.  She turned her head as more capes came in.  Many of them were uncostumed.  Keith was among them, wearing a blue jacket over a black v-neck shirt, jeans, and boots.

“Why are they all coming here?” Tattletale asked, clearly annoyed.

“I asked, the staff said Chevalier was here,” Narwhal said.

“Same here,” Keith said.  He’d rinsed off, and his hair was wet, and the ends of his hair had a blue-white halo.  He’d flown hard in the cold with that wet hair.  “I flew out, checked.  The Titans are gone.”

“I know.  We’re getting word,” Chevalier said.  “Victoria, while I’ve got your attention, I have a report about your ex-teammate.”

He held up the tablet.

“Which one?”

“Chris Elman.  He attacked capes, apparently trying to get something from them.  He backed off immediately when he realized they were already dosed.”

“He didn’t think people would agree to the plan like they did,” Tattletale said.

“He was affected?” Victoria asked.  “Do we have his location?”

“No.  I intend to ask Riley Davis, but it’s my understanding he initially planned to help make the device for the death sleep?”

“He did.  She walked him through all the steps.”

“Could he create a counteragent?”

“I don’t know,” Victoria said.  “I think it might depend on whether he was actually listening to her and entertaining the plan.  Can you send out people to find him?”

“We’ll try.  We’ll want to secure everyone, cover every base.  A dangerous tinker of unknown status is a concern.”

“He’d like to think he’s very good at hiding,” Victoria said.  “He’s paranoid.  But he overestimates his ability.  I hope he’s found, and he realizes what it means, when he is.”

“We’ll need to get organized,” Chevalier said.  He was feeling more like himself, with the coffee in him.  “There are refugees to manage, there’s other bases to cover.  We’ll need a perimeter, we’ll need to reform and consolidate teams…”

There were a lot of people looking, nodding.

He was so proud of them.  Like he had before, they recognized the fight they were in, the need to push forward, no matter what.

There was a deep, heavy sadness that came with it.

That this fight went on.

“Any help is appreciated,” he said, to Tattletale and Victoria.  To the heroes who had woken up and found their ways here.

“I’m out,” Victoria said.

“Out?” Keith asked.

“I’m thankful you trusted me when it counted.  That we got here.  But last night, the dream, the people I talked to… I owe them.  I have people I need to look after, and one of those people is me.”

He looked at her, and he looked at the group.  At Keith, at Narwhal.  At Golem, who sat a few tables down.  Other capes who had stayed here or decided to come here, because they didn’t have much else.

Others were still making their way in.  He smiled at Hannah, Miss Milita.  His heart rested easier, seeing her awake, though she looked fatigued.

He thought back to his own dream, and the sadness, the latent frustration.

“Unfortunately,” Narwhal said, “If everyone made that decision, we’d be lost.”

“There’s a middle ground.”

The voice that had stated that was Chevalier’s.  He fixed his eyes on the ground.

“Civilians have the key stuff under control,” Victoria said, as if to help him complete the thought.  “I think they know they have a power they didn’t.”

“And we know we need to make changes,” he said.  “Break the cycles.  I have to admit, I’ve been driving us all forward for so long I don’t know how.”

“Not retirement,” Narwhal said.

“No,” Chevalier said.  “But they have the key stuff handled.  There are no outstanding emergencies.  There will be, we’ll need to prepare for that.  But for now…”

He was aware of the eyes on him.  That, a handful of exceptions like Legend and Narwhal aside, he was the person they were looking to for guidance.

“…I’m going to borrow the kitchen, and I’m going to cook some breakfast.  Then, after a lot of thinking and as much relaxation as we can all manage, given circumstances, I want to talk, to stop and think about our next moves, what to bring up when we talk to the citizens of Gimel.”

There was, collectively, an easing of tension.  People relaxed, and he realized that they had been holding onto their own lessons, their own fears and realizations from the past evening.  They were loyal enough to follow him if he asked, but they hadn’t wanted it.

“Do you want help?” Hannah asked.

“I would love the help and the company,” he told her.

Maybe this could be a change, too.  If they weren’t moving in opposite directions, each handling their own things…

That was a silly, almost teenager-ish thought, when he had many, many other things to dwell on.

“I’ll check on the kids,” Tattletale told Victoria.  “The first should be waking up.”

“Tattletale,” Chevalier asked.  “I feel like I might not get the chance if I don’t ask now.”

“Uh huh?”

“The drilling.  Titan Fortuna was working on something.  Is it an emergency?  A concern?”

“I don’t know enough to tell you,” she said.  “I need information to work with.  But it wasn’t drilling.  It was etching.”

“Etching?  In the dream, I asked Alexandria.  She said it was an answer, communication, sending a message.  Answers.”

“Ah,” Tattletale said.

“What does it mean?”

“It means she found something she thought was important enough to tell all the rest of her kind about.  It makes a bit more of her actions make sense.  Probably not the whole answer, but… ”

“Is that a concern?  A tool we can use?”

“It’s a question for another day.  For now, we breathe.”

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29 thoughts on “Last – 20.e1”

  1. -e reminds me of E from Epilogue in Worm. So, we are so close to the end?

    -Chevalier dream/Interlude/backstory. Soooo good.

    -Lisa and Victoria talk like some old married couple. Hilarious.

    -Chris became public enemy number 1. Hope they will carch him before he will do something stupid.

    -Victoria is no longer a hero and…

    -Either Titan Fortuna was planning something or she was afraid of something. Something WORSE than her.

  2. AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH why did i come back before ward finished im getting anixous wating for new chapters id carve my flesh for more chapters sooner.

  3. >”It means she found something she thought was important enough to tell all the rest of her kind about. It makes a bit more of her actions make sense. Probably not the whole answer, but… ”

    You know what?
    I’m beginning to wonder whether or not Victoria’s plan worked. whether it did anything at all.
    I’m beginning to wonder if Fortuna was ALREADY planning to etch some stuff in the wall and then shut down, *regardless* of Vicky’s dreaming death plan.

    I think that all this is the result of Rain’s plan, not Vicky’s…. and if it is… that would be really cute.

  4. Oh, damn, we’re getting epilogues. Chevalier has always been my favorite Wormverse character, and it’s nice to see him take a breather. I want nice things for him. I’m also glad he didn’t die in the intended mass suicide.

    As to what Fortuna etched…either she’s warning the species not to try this with humanity again OR explicitly asking for Abbadon to make his way back. Either way, a concern for another day.

  5. “This ain’t it chief, don’t bother with this world” – Fortuna, probably

    God these cool down/de-stress chapters have been so wonderful and relaxing. It’s just great to see the characters finally get a bit of a break, even if there is still much to be done.

  6. Oh, I see that subtext. This was a book about learning to break unhealthy cycles that keep us struggling to cope with our original traumas long after circumstances have changed.

    And between Breakthrough and Contessa, humanity has now communicated this insight to the Entity expansion wave.

    I see.

  7. I wonder if Chevalier can see his own shard? Maybe if he looks in a mirror? I think the dream was slipping back and forth between Chevalier’s emotional memories, and his Shard’s closest equivalent memory for a bit there. I imagine after all the time the two have spent together, they’re fairly in sync with each other.

    Awesome chapter. They didn’t just delay the cycle by taking all the capes hostage. They taught Fortuna’s shard something important enough about the answer to their search that it wants to reach out to the rest of the species. Best guess is that it’s not a solution to the entropy problem, or a way to infinitely expand forever. Possibly it’s that there are way better and more interesting ways things that they can be trying to experiment with; working with the hosts directly or cooperatively and in new and unusual combinations?

    Thematically, this chapter also really emphasized the human aspects of the characters – everyone’s out of costume, addressed by name, not Cape Name, even Chevalier relaxes a bit. They clearly still have powers, but they all seem to be thinking about life beyond them.

  8. You know, I just had a thought a minute ago, what with all this talk of cycles.

    Remember withdrawals power, that nearly “broke” the cycle once before? What if “break” in this answer isn’t the failure of their efforts but completion/success/ending/*breakthrough*?

    We saw withdrawal beat ziz, and he mentioned briefly something about entropy once, what if his power is the key to avoiding or reversing entropy, and

    And what if Contessa was going after Taylor shard, well i mean hers was queen administrator but it was a communication shard iirc, so

    What if fortuna was going for the communication shard to tell the bosses that they’ve broken the cycle, that they’ve found their answer?

    Either that or that they found a species more powerful than them?

    I think admiral matt may be on point though about breaking cycles of struggle, so the break could be an objective success, a failure state, a psychological breakthrough, or an important update to the entire goal.

    I hope someone finally figures it out. Maybe one of the people trapped in the dream/shard/space can query the answer? Chevalier almost did.

    Love his power btw, relentless, I love it.

    His power makes me want to attach 2 ton tungsten rods to depleted uranium railgun bullets and fire them at relativistic speeds at, well, probably something far away, and watch the nuclear explosions for new particle accelerator readings.

    Oh heck, attach a million pounds of tungsten or lead or gold to a single proton and see what quantum problems you could solve, bet you could make a big bang.

  9. @wearegrid and @pizza? I think, the fine gentlemen who pointed out that the airgun was solved in the same chapter it was introduced, thank you for reminding me about that.

    Ultimately my question wasn’t well phrased but, what I really meant was what about airgun like events in these and other universe/world’s?

    They seemed to imply it was Eden shard going nuts doing end of the world scenarios, or powers run amok, so my question is, are there more happening? Are there more going to happen?

    Was it all just a lead-up to the Titans? I mean I’m okay if it is, but the Titans feel like power rangers to me, enemies of unbeatable size and scale, with ultimate versions of their powers, all united by their unkillableness and also humanoid-ness.

    Whereas the airgun felt unique, instead of an airgun*Titan* what we got was just a doomsday machine. And I know the machine army is a loosed doomsday machine, but I just feel like that thread wasnt resolved adequately enough, it feels like there should be more unique threats somehow, people’s powers overpowering them instead of people’s powers turning them into mile tall avatars of death that essentially all become the same.

    I mean, I know some of my impressions are flawed, because so much was going on that my memories of the Titan fights blend together, they just feel like endbringers*1000, I liked the endbringer fights because they were finite, unique, small in size, perfectly deadly but still operated according to some law or rule, I mean they almost beat Leviathan, so it’s possible.

    The Titans just feel like mass produced endbringers with godmode enabled and all cheats on. The… Giants? What were they called? The ones chris/Amy made, they seemed like endbringer sized clones of specific people, and as such were still very unique because they were only 5, and we rarely saw them.


    But, anyway, yes, the reason I have more question about the airgun is because I’m a scifi nerd, if my previous comment isn’t an indication, I enjoy power interactions and nth degree scaling potentialities, and I want an answer to the entropy because it would be an end to the purpose of the worm, and show that humanity is superior in some small way.

    It is what it is. I’m liking the fact they get to relax, after so much stress I imagine it’s hard, I just don’t know what happens next. That’s a good thing though right?

  10. Ooooh, so much information, on top of being the start of a great wrap-up, and from a welcome POV.

    So that’s how the entitities got started with the dimensional stuff. Makes sense.

    Anyhow it’s great to see everyone like this. And Chris getting some more comeuppance 😛

    1. Yes, this is a fine setup for the worms’ existence without delving too long/far into it.
      Those tidbits are much appreciated.

  11. Fantastic.
    So good to see everyone getting a chance to relax and breathe.
    Small side note, though, rugby players don’t generally wear pads.

  12. I must confess that seeing others come up with the idea of the answer being to break unhealthy cycles or find acceptance or such… I can’t help but notice that everyone coming out of the death sleep have the same notion.

    Maybe Fortuna communicated it to all of them as well.

  13. I’m now imagining a whole slew of capes using the kitchen all together with multiple interesing uses of powers for cooking.

    Food and utensils whipping through the air, plates spinning, lasers and flames cooking stuff as it flies by, spice clouds everywhere…

  14. This was a good epilogue type chapter but the whole Parahuman/human conflict has seen so little work over the story that it doesn’t really feel earned

    Also, does anyone else remember that Earth Cheit is a thing? because the people in-universe seem to have forgotten

  15. – ‘No horrifying crises, no looming apocalypses, no terrifying enemies to fight? Shit, what do I do?.
    ..I know, I’ll cook breakfast for everyone.’

    Chevalier is a True Fuckin’ Hero, doing what’s needed *whatever* the situation. Proving why he’s such a natural choice for leader for the Wardens.
    Also, him and Miss Militia? There’s a ship I can get behind.

    – I love the ‘tone’ of these last few chapters; tired, relaxed, unforced. A rare thing in the rest of Worm and Ward, where the pace rarely lets up.

    – Also, looks like WeirdBeat is setting up the seeds of a sequel? Good stuff.

  16. Clinging onto every word, such a beautiful chapter about one of the biggest badasses in Worm verse.. The bits of bleed through around those experiences, polluting the information stream.. The subtle hints along the way..

    And feeling the collective breath of the characters being taken there. Lovely.

  17. Also, does anyone else remember that Earth Cheit is a thing? because the people in-universe seem to have forgotten

    Cheit are hard to take seriously as a threat at this point. They just want to change the flags and enforce a few asinine rules, not manipulate humanity into a nightmare torture/breeding program, dismantle everybody for their constituent parts, or destroy every single Earth. Cheit conquering the remnants of Gimel really wouldn’t be a very terrible thing, in the grand scheme of things.

    Besides, with the state Gimel’s in right now it makes no sense for Cheit to go to war with them. Gimel has nothing to lose, and Cheit has a lot to lose if Legend, Riley, Amy, or Dragon were to reach their limit and retaliate. It makes way more sense for Cheit to simply offer aid in exchange for Gimel becoming a vassal. If the Gimellians end up unsatisfied with Cheit’s rule, they could always revolt later on after they’ve had a few years to recover and get their shit together.

  18. “Last” can also mean endure. This Ward could be a long ways from over, and is maybe only concluding a first act…

    I still seem to be missing something vis a vis the other endbringers…

    Has Tattletale found any peace at all from death dream? Did she get anything relating to her brother? She seems to be in a high functioning free fall.

    Narwhal was naked from the waste down, Chev’s “didn’t mind”, everyone is just used to her schtick with the convenient forcefields gown, only she was giving her powers a rest…
    What does he see when he looks at her with his agent sight though?

    Answer to career for Lisa? Talking head, like on Firing Line, or whatever the interview show was called…

    Doesn’t Chris still have that dangerous Ziz-feather bird form? Has anyone been warned of that upgrade to his threat level, not to mention Ziz got to him?

    Amy seems to have slipped Victoria’s mind…

    Fortuna to ‘the rest of her kind’ – “We’re back on the 300 year schedule. Monitor and maintain.”
    Or maybe, “Hey, there’s this thing called SLEEP. We should try to sleep, perchance to dream, and get the solution to the heat-death-of-the-universe problem that way instead.” Or maybe, “Riley Davis”.

    1. Re: Lisa, she didn’t do the dreamdeath thing herself, see 20.11. Her (rather short-lived) peace comes from her power’s database getting mostly reset as a consequence of the pollution.

  19. Anybody else wondering what if something happened to Jack Slash as a result of Fortuna Titan’s “Etching” into the Communication shard?

    Jack Slash was supposed to have Scion’s Communication shard and while there’s also one for Eden in there somewhere, I can’t help but wonder if Jack Slash is still in his Grey Boy time bubble or possibly broken out or more powerful.

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