Epilogue: Identity

I rolled over as my alarm went off and fervently slammed the snooze button to shut it up for a moment.  I took stock of my surroundings as the adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream; it was just an alarm clock, not a bomb going off.    

“Damn it,” I groaned as I flopped back down, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep.  Sliding on some slippers, I shuffled out into the living room and saw Alexis at the table, already thoroughly invested in something.  “Morning.”

“Hey,” she replied, half-hearted.  

“You eaten?” 

“Not yet.”

I yawned and went to the kitchen, throwing a few pieces of bread into a toaster.  “No Murphy?” 

“He didn’t come home last night.  Said he’d be out with Johnny.”

I had to think for a second to remember Ragdoll’s actual name.  “At least he’s safe,” I said to myself.  

“Hey, Nick, do we have anything today?” Alexis asked as I passed her a few pieces of toast.  

“We’re meeting with Charlotte and a few others for a drink later.  At like one or so.”

“Nudge me around noon then,” she requested.  “I want to see what I can get done on this joint before then.” 

“You got it.” 

No sooner had the words left my mouth that she turned and focused on her work, still trying to craft a proper disk to insert where hers had been crushed.  She tried once to explain to me all of the medical complications that came with making a completely functional vertebrae that wouldn’t degrade; I had kind of tuned her out because it was over my head.  

It had been three months since our battle at Selir.  Three months since we’d fought our last battle against the Trillodan and managed to de-throne the Immortal Matron.  Three months since Alexis had been paralyzed and I had lost my connection to Eldritch.  

When we got home, I was blasted with the quick reminder that no one knew about our achievements or our struggles against the Trillodan.  Even as word started to spread, it was met with resistance and speculation.  What people did remember was the pain and suffering that I had brought on Feast Day.  People remembered Ciel being visited by the Trillodan army.  People remembered the fear and pain; for most, those memories were still open wounds.  

The first order of business for me had been to change my appearance when I got home.  I wore glasses now and had dyed my hair blonde.  I hadn’t gone back to school; there would probably be someone who could recognize me.  Since I had flattened my house, I had been sleeping at Murphy’s place.  Per his prediction, his parents were still AWOL.  He had no idea if they were dead in a ditch somewhere, and he didn’t really care.  It was more space for us.  Alexis had debated going home, but she didn’t have it in her to face her parents, not while she was still confined to a wheelchair.  

Even though we lived with him, we almost never saw him since Murphy was working with the Flag Bearers.  Ragdoll and the Flag Bearers had moved to Ciel since there were plenty of patrons here.  More often than not, it also meant Murphy opted to stay the night in John’s loft.

What was I going to do, blame him?

I admittedly felt a pang of jealousy that he managed to gain an intimate relationship when mine had died.  One ill-advised day I had tried to go out and find Xana; I found her on someone else’s arm and cried a fair amount of that afternoon.  I was angry because I couldn’t fault her for letting me go.  It wasn’t unfair to presume me dead.  Besides that, why would she want to be associated with the most notorious terrorist in Ciel’s history?  

Feast Day had resulted in the deaths of nearly two-thousand people and untold property damage.  Even though all the Adapted knew I hadn’t meant to lose control, ordinary people weren’t going to forget the monstrosity who had ripped apart buildings to find more flesh to consume.  

What was frustrating was I had unintentionally deepened the rift between Humans and Zari; the stress it had put on society had led to a rise in Adaptation rates.  Even though most of us had left, plenty more had appeared in our absence.  There were plenty of Scoundrels for the Flag Bearers to battle with.  Alexis had pointed out that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.  I hated admitting she was right.  

I sighed as I took a seat at my little nook in the corner of the living room and stared at my notepad.  Every day it had been my little ritual to write a letter to someone I was never going to see again.  I’d written several to Xana, dozens to my parents, several to Mutant, a couple to Geyser, even one to Beleth.  Today, I steeled myself and tried to listen for Eldritch.  

There was nothing.  No additional sentience, no additional prompt.  No animalistic mind helping guide me through dangerous situations.  

With a renewed wave of grief, I put the pencil to the paper.  

Eldritch,

I miss you buddy.     

And, I kind of hate you.  You had to get all fucking noble on me.  You were just supposed to be an animal, a monster who kept me safe.  But then you had to just go and use that fucking power to act like a bomb.  You didn’t leave me any part of your collective consciousness to help me going forward.  You fucking abandoned me! 

I shuddered and took a deep breath, calming down before continuing.  

I know why you did it though.  If you’d left any part of yourself with me, you might have lost control of the greater mass.  It might have rebelled against you and refused to sacrifice itself.  I know that you committed as much as possible to ensure the best odds of blasting through the barrier.  I know that you were only acting because of my own desperation.  I know that I drove you to sacrifice yourself.

And even though I know all of that, I’m so angry.  Every time my power pipes up and tells me how much material I can consume, I forget you’re gone for a split second.  I want to believe that Selir was a nightmare and I still have you with me.  But, every time I try to talk to you, there’s nothing.  No sentience, no intellect, nothing.  Just a voice that tells me how much meat I can devour.    

I wish that I could get into one more argument about why other people have value.  I wish I could get into one more dispute about risk.  I wish I could have one more fight with you there to back me up.  

It hurts like hell to know that I never will.  

I sit in front of a mirror most mornings and hope to hear you talk, hope to hear you demand to be let out; all I hear is my own wishful thinking.  I’ve written a lot of these letters, a lot of things I wish I could tell people.  I’ve been putting yours off because, in some ways, I miss you the most.

And what hurts most is that I know if ‘Eldritch’ ever makes a resurgence, it won’t be the same.  

So…I miss you buddy.  And I think I kind of always will.  

I put down the pencil and closed the notepad before wiping my eyes.  “Fuck me,” I mumbled.  I glanced at Alexis to see if she’d noticed; I probably could have been throwing a party in here and she wouldn’t have noticed.  

With my daily letter done, I proceeded to do what I had been doing for the last three months: kill time.  I avoided going outside as much as possible for fear of being recognized and Alexis didn’t want interruption while working.  So, in the last three months I spent a lot of time reading, playing video games, and exercising.  The trickiest part of being home was learning how to deal with the cabin fever.  Especially after having such a grand purpose, being confined to quarters was painful.  

There were days where I had simply stared at a wall and contemplated my own mortality until Alexis finally nudged me, prompting me to perk the fuck up.  It was a more frequent occurrence than I cared to admit. We didn’t talk about it, but I could see the concern in her eyes most days.  

I turned on the laptop Murphy had gotten me and managed to get invested into a game, only stopping once to get Alexis a drink and remind her that she should hydrate.  She shrugged me off, but finally caved in and took a big gulp of water before going back to her tools.  I grappled with a little bit of envy as I managed to bury myself back into killing pixelated monsters for a little while longer.  

At noon I prompted Alexis that we needed to get ready.  I ran a bath and helped her down, neither of us really caring about the nudity anymore.  The first time it had been supremely awkward, but that faded quickly.  After the fourth time, it was just a practice.  

I got myself dressed while she scrubbed up.  When I heard the bath drain, I stepped back in and helped dry her off, bringing a change of clothes for her.  “Thanks,” she said as I helped her get her feet through the legs of her pants.  “You know, this would have been so awkward before we ever left Tso’got,” she realized with a laugh.  

“Because you had a crush on me?” 

“Well, also yes,” she admitted, “But more that we were kids.  I feel like ever since we left, we had to mature five years to make it back here.  I mean, shit, look at Murphy now.”  

“And you,” I pointed out, “Definitely the most mature out of all of us.  Hell, you used to have chronic anxiety attacks; you stared down Zellig and the Immortal Matron without crumbling.  That’s crazy.”

She smiled, “Thanks, Nick.”  

Once she was dressed, I wheeled her out to the car and put her chair in the trunk once she tossed herself into the passenger seat.  “Wonder who else we’re gonna see,” I mused as I put it into gear and headed downtown.  

“Well, we’re meeting Charlotte.  Everyone makes a point to come see her when she’s not working.”  

“That’s true.”

Infinite was the only one of us who had given up their powers, deliberately denying herself that incredible gift she had that saved us on Selir.  That crazy power also let her literally terraform a planet in an afternoon; the Trillodan and Skaberen strongly suggested that she should give up the gift for everyone to feel more safe. And given how using it forced her to relive her traumatic past, Charlotte had been happy to let it go.

The second she had come back, she had used her clout among Adapted to have everyone pitch in so she could open up a children’s shelter in Ciel.  Victims of abuse and neglect were welcome to seek refuge no matter their circumstances.  Charlotte knew full well that she was deliberately reaching out to the kids most likely to Adapt in the future. She wanted to ensure that the kids didn’t gain powers and assume that the whole world was against them like she had. 

No matter how malevolent a Scoundrel or how righteous a Reckoner, all of us could agree we wanted that.  

“You been keeping up with anyone,” Alexis asked.  “I know I’ve been really absent lately, just slamming my head into my work and not spending much time with you.  And with Murphy being gone, you’ve been alone.”

“Yeah,” I admitted, “And I’ve been a bit bad about keeping up with people.  I’ve kept up a little with Lightshow, and a bit with Shock and Awe.  It’s admittedly a bit weird that I’m still friends with the first Adapted we ever fought,” I said, shaking my head.  

“A bit.”

“But hey, they play a lot of the same games I play.  When they aren’t out doing Adapted shit, it’s good to have someone to play with.”

“They still working Beleth’s old racket?” she pried.  

“Honestly, no idea.  I figure that I’m out of that game… so I’m just going to stay out.  If I hear about people running drugs or keeping up a fighting ring, I’m going to want to get involved and I can’t do that,” I said, my voice cracking.  

Alexis reached a hand over and rubbed my shoulder, “I’m sorry it still hurts so much,” she said, “And whenever you’re ready, we’ll deal with it.”

“I wrote a letter to Eldritch today,” I said.  “Finally did it.”

“Yeah?” 

“Yeah.  Hated every second of it.”  I laughed and let out a shaky breath, “Writing to my dead parents was easier.  How do you grieve for part of yourself that dies?”  

“I mean, I feel sorry for myself that I can’t walk some days, but my legs don’t have a voice of their own,” Alexis said, “Well, unless I take a lot of drugs.” 

I rolled my eyes and found a parking spot.  I helped Alexis into her chair and the two of us went into the Dweller’s Pub.  

It was always a little jarring seeing Shockwave behind the counter, clad in his crimson suit and with his gold mask on.  But, as he saw us, his face lit up and he stepped out to greet us.  “I heard you two were coming down today,” he said, ecstatic.  “Though, I must admit, I was hoping to see you in crutches by this point.” 

“Oh, fuck off,” Alexis said, leaning forward to hit him in the stomach.  “Rebuilding my spine is harder than I thought it’d be!”  

He laughed and leaned down to give her a hug.  “And you, Nick,” he said, having to force himself not to say Eldritch, “You’ve been taking good care of her?” 

“I know you’d kill me if I didn’t,” I replied as I leaned in and gave him a one-armed hug.  

Shockwave nodded to me, as if to say ‘you’re damn right.’ 

“Your usual?” he asked, heading back to the bar.  

“Yeah!” 

Shockwave was another who had taken a very different approach to the world when we came home.  He embraced his identity as Shockwave and carved himself a strange niche.  Opening a pub, it was a neutral zone for all factions.  No law enforcement dared touch his place, and the Snatchers had tried to raid his place once; they never tried again.  All were welcome inside, but there was no fighting.  He didn’t care if you were law enforcement or a drug dealer.  

Those who tried to challenge that rule were always given one warning.  There were no second chances with Shockwave; people learned that lesson quickly.  

As we took a seat in a booth, we saw the meek red-head open the door and endure a bear hug from Shockwave.  Charlotte had to practically pry herself away from Shockwave before she could come sit down next to us.  “It’s both weird and good to see him so happy,” she said with a grin.  “Where’s Murphy and John?” 

“They stayed at John’s place last night.  Apparently they have been dealing with a rough group of upstarts: World-Eaters.  Got big eyes, and apparently the powers to back it up,” I explained.  “They should be here soon though.”

“Speak of the devil,” Alexis said, nodding at a pair of figures sprinting for the door.  

Murphy and John stormed in and each gave a quick hug to Shockwave before getting pointed to us.  “Sorry we’re late,” Murphy said as he threw himself into the booth beside me.  He looked at me and had that stupid grin on his face, like he was perpetually up to no good.  “We were up to three in the morning chasing someone down.  Bastard was fast.” 

“Had to fucking corral him,” John groaned, “I do not like throwing myself around for that long.”  He turned his attention to Charlotte, “But enough about me, what about you!  I hear you’ve had some developments at your place!” 

All heads turned to Charlotte. 

“How did you-“ she cut herself off, “Menagerie told Lightshow, Lightshow told you.” 

“She didn’t tell me though,” Parasite said, frowning for a split second, “How dare she.”

It was great to hear him sounding more like himself.  The first month back had been a bit touch and go with Murphy as he’d tried to reconcile all the trauma he’d endured.  

“I had an Adapted kid come to me.  But,” she added, “Not because of abusive parents.  Shitty trio of ‘friends’ drove this poor boy to Adapt.”  

“That’s like what happened to Exchange,” I muttered, remembering the younger Adapted that we’d met on Vuuldar.  I wondered what had become of him and the Lost Children.  Vuuldar was a nasty place and I didn’t envy anyone who went back to it.  

Charlotte sighed, “I wish I could say I’m surprised by how horrible people are to one another.  But, at this point it’s just the same shit, different day.  To make matters worse, they want him back.  They tried to strong arm Menagerie and Playlist; it didn’t go so well for them,” she said with a devilish grin.

“Pity you couldn’t give them a scare,” Murphy said. 

She scoffed, “Intimidation was never my thing.  Titan was more of a master of that.”  

“Do you ever miss it?” John asked, “Being Infinite?” 

Charlotte pursed her lips and thought about it for a minute.  “Not really.  Sure, there are things I wish I could just snap my fingers and do, but I don’t miss reliving that basement.  Even though I’m not Infinite anymore, that shit still stays with me.  But now I’m not afraid of losing control.  I don’t miss being afraid of myself and what I was capable of.  I don’t miss always being defensive and guarded.  Besides,” she pointed out, “I don’t need any powers when I’ve got all of you guys in my corner.” 

“Any Survivor would help you in an instant,” Alexis said, “We all know we’re here because of you.” 

She smiled, “Thanks.”

“Speaking of, where is your other half?” I asked.  “He’s usually here for these.”

Charlotte sighed, “Titan is halfway across Tso’got, melting down another Snatcher lab.  He’s tried being more content to simply be…but clearly that’s not working out.”  She groaned, “Honestly, the biggest thing I miss about being Infinite was how much he needed me.  It’s been a bit of a strain on our relationship with my not being powered anymore.  He’s not mistreating me,” she said quickly, noticing that Alexis was about to flip her lid, “But it’s different.  We’re figuring it out, but we were together for years where we were superpowered juggernauts; me not being Infinite changes what we can do together.”

“Please tell me he didn’t go alone at least,” Murphy said. 

“Of course not!  Jamie went with him.  The two of them compliment each other fairly well.”

“Jamie does keep him in check rather nicely,” Alexis said, reaching forward to squeeze Charlotte’s hand in support.  

I empathized with Titan; feeling like you had lost purpose was exhausting and defeating.  The first few weeks back on Tso’got had been rough since I had suddenly felt redundant and unnecessary.  Even now I still had to grapple with those feelings of inadequacy.  Part of me envied him that he was out there fighting and I was here.  

It was strange that I would want to be in a fight as opposed to having lunch with friends.  

Shockwave brought us a platter of sandwiches, a bottle of scotch and a handful of shot glasses.  Pulling a chair up beside Alexis, the man in crimson started pouring shots of liquor and passing one to each of us.  

A somber mood fell over the group as we each took a shot glass and stared at the amber contents.  Ever since we had come home, we’d made a point to meet up once a month with whoever we could and honor those we had lost.  Most of them never got a funeral; this was the best we could do to preserve their memory for now.

“I’ll start,” Shockwave said, raising his shot, “To Mizu.  For always doing his damndest to impress.”

“To Forest,” Charlotte said, “For her noble sacrifice on Vuuldar.” 

“To Mutant,” Murphy said, “For his knowing when it was time to go.” 

“To Soliloquy,” John said, “For giving everything he fucking had.” 

“To Geyser,” Alexis said, “For all the good he brought to my team.”

“To Bargain,” I said, “For saving us from Zellig’s lieutenants.”  

All of us threw the shot back and had a moment of silence.  Shockwave was first to speak up as he rose from the table.  “I’d love to sit and reminisce, but I got a place to run.  Good to see you guys though.” 

We all still held the quiet for a moment; I couldn’t stand sitting still so long and reached for a sandwich. 

One kilogram available to consume. 

I paused, dreaming that voice still belonged to Eldritch.  I knew it didn’t.  I knew it never would again.  Finally, I chuckled as I grabbed one from the pile and took a bite, “Jesus, Shockwave, a full kilo?  You’re too good to us.” 

We stayed far longer than we needed to and the lunch quickly turned into an afternoon of drinking.  A few other Survivors of Selir streamed in and joined us.  

Even though I had fought some of these people in another life, they were friends now.  Even though some of them were still criminals and went against what I thought to be good, I still respected the hell out of them.  We had marched through hell together and watched our friends get cut down.  We had a sense of mutual loss and accomplishment that bound us.  

No matter our alignment, that bond was something we would never break.  

When it finally came time to go, John pulled me aside for a moment.  “Hey man,” he started. 

“Rags,” I interrupted, raising a hand, “I know what you’re going to ask for, and I can’t do it.” 

  “We could really use your help,” he pressed.  “These World-Eaters, they’re no pushovers.  And even though Parasite and I can pack a punch, we’re not you.  We never will be.  We both know Clemency is making big strides in legislation for us and getting your name cleared.  We both know that Feast Day was a fluke, a one off event.  Someone as strong as you can’t just stay on the sidelines indefinitely.  We know it doesn’t suit you.” 

I grinned as I thought of the cobalt-clad Adapted who had gone public with his identity.  He had taken a page from Beleth’s book and taken off the mask and given up his identity to start a conversation with the trade tycoons who ran much of the major cities on Tso’got.  He had pioneered getting the message out that Trillodan were no more and that Tso’got was overdue for a change.  He had taken it upon himself to help clear my name; efforts in that department were going slow.  People were reluctant to change, even though the terraformed Earth was an unmistakable monument to our accomplishments.

“Rags, I-“

He shook his head.  “Come on, stop with the pity routine!  Stop sounding like such a pushover.  You are a fucking beast.  You brought down Zellig, not us.  You fought an army, not us.”

Eldritch fought an army,” I shot back, “Not me.  I just…enabled them.  And until Clemency brings people around, I don’t think Eldritch should come back.  I think his pardon should be posthumous.”

“And we don’t have any of that serum that Charlotte drank,” Ragdoll replied, “You can’t turn that off.  I see how you look at me and Parasite, I see that look of envy and longing.  You want to turn it back, to be a fighter again.” 

I sighed, “Listen, Ragdoll, I appreciate it.  I really do.  But I don’t think it’s in my best interests.”

“Jesus Christ man,” he groaned, “When are you going to fucking get that you’re Eldritch.  That thing inside you, it was an animal that you tamed.  When are you going to stop running away from that?”

My jaw nearly dropped.  “Fuck you.  You don’t know a fucking thing,” I managed to growl as I turned on the spot and walked out to my car.  Alexis had already gotten herself into the passenger seat; I tossed the wheelchair in the back and started it.  I didn’t say a word as I pulled out and started driving.  

Clearly my frustration was noticeable.  

“What’s wrong, Nick?” 

“Nothing.”

“That’s a lie.” 

I slapped my hands against the wheel, “Fucking Ragdoll!  Fucking bastard just thinks he knows what it’s like inside my head!  Fucking tells me to basically get over losing Eldritch, that the thing in there was just an animal I tamed!  What a fucking bastard!” 

Alexis shifted in her seat, “I hate to say it, Nick, but I don’t think he’s wrong.” 

My eyes widened, “What?  Are you fucking serious?” 

She sighed and raised her hands defensively, “Listen, I’m not totally sure how your head works.  I’m not going to pretend to have any genuine insight into the pain you feel.  But, I remember how happy you were when we started acting as a Reckoner team.  I remember how ecstatic you were, how much you thrived.  Even in the fights where shit went sideways, you rose to meet the challenge.  You let yourself get blasted by Shockwave.  You tried to blitz Beleth to make space for us.  I think you need to embrace that the power comes from you.  That voice in your head came later down the line.  You didn’t start with a second personality helping you.” 

I blinked a few times, unsure of what to say.  

“I have a purpose right now.  I have a drive because I don’t need to fight to sate the stupid needs of my Adaptation.  Even still, if I’m being honest, I kind of miss a good scrap.  But you, your Adaptation was tailor made to fight.  More and more Adapted pop up each day, and plenty of them are going to be Scoundrels.  Do you remember why we started being Reckoners?” 

“Because we could do something about how shitty things were.” 

“You can do something about it.  And compared to back then, you have so much more control.  You have so much more practical experience.”  

I clutched the wheel hard enough my knuckles turned white, “I don’t want to be a monster anymore.  I’m so tired of being a monster.  And the second that I cover myself in Neklim, I’m going to cause a panic because all they’ll see is the monster!  It’s better if I just stay dead and buried.”  

“And what happens when you finally start to snap and lose control?  What happens when you lose your shit?  You have no outlet!  You have no purpose!  And let’s be real, taking care of me is, at best, a shitty stand in!  Nick, the last thing you need to do is build up animosity towards your friends and yourself because your life feels aimless.” 

“There’s always going to be a fight,” I reminded her, “No matter how many people fall over, another springs up.” 

“There’s always going to be crime, so cops should just quit?” she shot back.  “The public is becoming more and more accepting of us and more and more people are willing to be quiet patrons for Reckoner teams.  Our existence is becoming more and more legitimate and you know it!  Even if Feast Day drove a wedge between humans and Zari, us defeating the Trillodan is mending that.  I think within the next year we won’t have to hide behind masks anymore.” 

“Except for me,” I reminded her.  “None of you are the most notorious criminal in Ciel’s history!” 

“Oh my God!  Stop being a martyr, Nick!  You’re afraid of what people will say, but fuck that shit!  Prove them wrong.  Actions speak louder than words; go out and prove that Eldritch isn’t just the monster from Feast Day!  Do something before you set yourself up to have it happen a second time.”

When we got home, I didn’t say a word.  I helped her inside and went to the back yard, sitting on the step and looking at the little sand-garden I had made.  As I sat there, listening to the sounds of traffic and people screaming at one another, I wished for that quiet voice in the back of my head.

“She’s not wrong,” I finally confessed aloud.  “Damn her for having a good point.”  I groaned and put my head in my hands, “So, what are we supposed to do?”  I looked at my palms, imagining the tendrils growing from my skin, “What would you want me to do?” 

Eldritch’s last words echoed through my mind: make it count.

Wasn’t that what I was doing?  

“No,” I quietly realized, “This isn’t counting for shit.” 

I slipped out my phone and sent a message to Ragdoll. 

Sorry about earlier and being shitty.  I’ll help.  You want me to meet you at your loft? 

A reply followed almost immediately.  

Tonight at eight.

I pocketed my phone and stood up, a rush of adrenaline already hitting me.  I hadn’t done anything yet but I felt…alive again.  

As I walked back inside, I was caught off guard to see Alexis sitting there, waiting for me.  The second she saw my face, her lips curled into a smile.  

“What are you so happy about?” I demanded. 

“You’re going out tonight.”  It wasn’t a question.  It was a fact.  

“How-” 

“You’re fucking smiling,” she noted as she spun herself around and headed back to her desk.  “You haven’t properly smiled in nearly two months.  Isn’t hard to put two and two together.” 

As usual, she was right.  Still, a knot of guilt stayed in my stomach.  “Are you going to be okay?” 

“I’m in a wheelchair, not on life support,” she snapped.  “Good lord man, relax.  I’m going to be okay for a night.  Even if I forget to eat or drink, one night won’t kill me.”  She turned back around and wheeled herself up to me, pulling my midsection in for a hug.  “You have no idea how happy it makes me to see you smile, Nick.” 

“Do me a favor,” I requested as I peeled her off of me. 

“What?” 

“Don’t forget to hydrate, please.  I don’t want to come home to you having a heat stroke or something stupid.” 

She rolled her eyes, “This from the guy who is going to help fight people called ‘World-Eaters.’  Fucking pot calling the kettle black.” 

“Shut up Alexis,” I laughed.

With a spark in her eyes, she turned back to her work space and promptly followed my instruction.  I shook my head and took a quick look in our bathroom mirror, almost not recognizing who was looking back at me.  

She was right.  I looked worlds better already.  

I was a bit nervous going out alone.  When you were escorting someone in a wheelchair, people assumed the best of you.  Going out alone made you neutral at best.  I kept my head down as I walked to Ragdoll’s place, hoping none of his neighbors recognized me.  

Truth be told, it was overkill.  None of them gave me a second look.  

I knocked on the door and was greeted by Ragdoll’s beaming face.  With a hurried greeting, he dragged me inside and slapped the door shut behind me.  

“You’re a bit late,” Lightshow said from the back corner, “We were almost worried you were going to get cold feet.” 

“Don’t tempt me,” I shot back.  “Besides, right now I’m a normie.  I haven’t consumed anything in months.” 

“Which is why,” Ragdoll said with a grunt as he dragged a huge metal tub out from around his counter, “We planned ahead.”  

My eyes widened at the immense bucket of raw material for me to consume.  It was like someone had put a quarter cow into a grinder.  “How did-“

Lightshow snickered as a familiar figure constructed nearby.  

“You mimicked Repository,” I said, now up to speed.  “Even though your power is ephemeral, the raw materials he makes aren’t.”

“And basic animal bits are…pretty easy to make en masse,” she said with a grin.  “So, go on big-guy, eat up!” 

I knelt cautiously and put my hand against the material.  My power instantly perked up, like a dog hearing the doorbell.  

Sixty-eight kilograms of material to consume.  

Enough for me to make two tonnes of Neklim tissue.  I was practically salivating at the thought of using my gift again, but I still couldn’t bring myself to devour the material provided.  I started to shake as my mind warred against itself.  

Murphy noticed and waved people back.  He stepped closer and took a knee beside me.  “What’s going on man?”

“We fought the Trillodan… and that only stopped when we said it was enough, right?” 

“Yeah.”

“So, why do I want to keep fighting?  Why can’t I just be happy stopping?  Why can’t I be happy just being Nick?  Why do I need to be Eldritch?” 

Murphy frowned, “Right before we left, Skaberen pointed out that even though I had gone through some awful shit, I had gained plenty of people around me.  Even though Zellig had broken me, I didn’t have to stay broken forever.  I could fix myself.  I could have other people help put me back together.”

It seemed like such a non sequitur that I actually managed to look away from the pile of meat.  “What?” 

“My point is that you lost something, and you’re afraid to be Eldritch again because it means you might lose another part of you.  You have to remember, we got roped into the fight with the Trillodan; up until then, we had no desire to quit being Reckoners.”

“Feast Day threw a bit of a wrinkle in that,” I said, a nervous laugh escaping.  

“Man, fuck that.  We would have dealt with it then if Titan hadn’t pulled us away and you know that.  We were never going to stop as the Sentries; we had to because of shit way beyond our control.  And sure, some people moved onto other stuff, but all of them embrace their gifts in one way or another: Dragoon is still building stuff, Menagerie is still protecting people, and Titan is still melting down Snatcher labs.  There is always going to be a challenge for us to rise to.  And now,” he said, sweeping his arm back to the rest of the group, “You have a lot of people in your corner.”  

As I looked at the mix of Flag Bearers and Rogue Sentries, I didn’t see judgement.  I didn’t see pity or frustration from any of them.  They looked at me and knew what I was coping with, at least in part.  

We were all Survivors of Selir.  

“We’re Adapted, and Adapted fight,” I said to myself. 

The meat in the tub vanished as I felt my storage collect the material.  I felt my power just underneath my skin, just waiting to be tapped into.  The power of Eldritch at my disposal.  

My power.  

“Okay,” I said, turning to Ragdoll.  

“Welcome to the fucking team,” he said, giving me a handshake before pulling me into a hug.  

As a cheer went up around the room, I felt something that had been missing since we’d come back from Selir.  

I was finally home.

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