Kentarch 3 Suit (Warlock)
Mask of Righteousness
"You don't trust her," Rekkana said. "I can see that."
Lisbon-13 was already walking away. "I don't need to trust her. I trust you." A truth he threw lightly over his shoulder, but Rekkana felt its weight.
"And that's enough?"
Rekkana took a quick half step, trying to catch up to a heart that had leapt too far ahead. But her thoughts were heavy.
Cryptochrons learn to judge and balance secrets. Everyone with sense knows ignorance isn't bliss, but few besides the Cryptochrons know how terrible the truth can be. Those warlocks who join the order must be willing to learn what most would rather not know and to remember what they would rather forget. But accepting a truth is always harder when it's one you cannot share.
She'd known it would happen before they met. She knew everything about him before he'd ever laid eyes on her. She even knew about the man Clovis Bray had to kill 13 times to keep him in check. And it didn't take a Warmind to predict how he'd react to her.
She thought that all this knowledge would serve as armor. You should care less about the characters when you know how the story ends. But then, she was a character, too. It was her story.
"Hey, slowpoke. You coming?"
Rekkana quickened her pace and met him in the shadow of a cube of stone bejeweled by ruby flowers. His glance caught her as she approached and then shifted to the vista around them.
"Strange, being through the looking glass."
Rekkana could see him thinking. His bright eyes were focused on some middle distance as he turned things over in his head: their mission, what her superior had just told them, and her. His turn toward their camp was abrupt.
"We should get back to Yardarm before he starts shooting bugs for fun."
Gloves of Exaltation
Yardarm-4 looked grim. It was the face he always made when he switched from his sometimes abrasive affability to the somber disdain that meant he was taking a situation seriously. There was also that hot glimmer in his eyes that presaged that he was going to say something to provoke her.
"You underestimated them."
There was no venom in the words, just a simple fact plainly stated.
Rekkana put a hand on Lisbon-13's arm before he leapt to her defense.
"Yes," she said.
There was no point in dissembling and no shame in being wrong. The Vex were the most formidable opponent of the Oneiromantic Circle. As beings who share thoughts across time and realities, the Vex often eluded predictions, even those of the most senior members of her order. A fellow Cryptochron who'd spoken with a member of the Circle likened it to trying to count all the crystals of a snowflake melting in your hand. The very act of examination changed the result, and often the evidence disappeared before it could be taken into account.
"But it has given us perspective."
"Perspective? What perspective is worth nearly dying for?" Yardarm-4's anger was dulled by curiosity.
Rekkana glanced at Lisbon-13. He was as reliable as ever.
"Those defenses were insane," Lisbon-13's clever mind made leaps, following her logic. "The relays and tethers. The Angelics. The Vex really don't want us to be here. That means they consider this place a weakness."
Yardarm-4 arrived at the same conclusion. "Yes, it's a weakness. Perhaps it's their greatest weakness."
"Yes. So we must—" Rekkana stopped. Lisbon-13 raised the weapon they'd claimed, his head on the swivel.
Yardarm-4 followed suit. "What is that?" Yardarm-4 sounded rattled. "Where's it coming from?"
The three of them stood back to back-to-back, listening.
"I don't hear—" But then she did.
Robes of Transcendence
"You hear that? Who is that?" Yardarm-4 sounded like he was on the verge of panic. Rekkana had never heard him like that, not even in the worst firefights, not even in their last battle, which might have been the last battle for the Kentarch 3.
"I hear it," Rekkana and Lisbon-13 said as one. All three Guardians summoned their Ghosts, almost simultaneously.
"Ghost?" Yardarm-4 was first. "What have we got?"
"Scan the area for life," Lisbon-13 ordered.
"Multiphasic scan," Rekkana barked at her Ghost.
Their Ghosts all started chattering at once, and they stepped away from one another to hear, fanning out across the grotto and widening their defensive triangle.
"There's something weird," Rekkana's Ghost blurted, words shooting from it, rapid-fire. "I'm getting static on every wavelength. It's like there's a shadow being cast by every signal. It's nothing specific, but it's everywhere. Wait, no. There's something wrong. I—"
Rekkana's Ghost dropped like a stone. She snatched it out of the air.
She looked behind her. Lisbon-13 was holding his Ghost. Yardarm-4 was picking his up from the ground. The Light around them faded, and the gloom of the grotto closed in.
"Yardarm, Lisbon, you OK?"
"I'm fine," came Lisbon-13's reply, and he sounded calm.
"Yeah. Sure." Yardarm-4's reply was distant and growing fainter, like he was facing away and moving off.
Rekkana reached for her emergency light.
"Wait." It was a whisper, but not from her friends—it came from somewhere ahead of her, deeper in the grotto. "Wait. Please. Can we just talk for a minute?"
Boots of Ascendancy
"We didn't come here for this." Lisbon-13 was still somehow unconvinced.
"Of course not. Who could have predicted it?" Rekkana began. "But now, with all that's happened, does it matter what our mission was? This is so much more important."
Rekkana wanted to reassure him, but this was an undreamt-of impossibility—an unwritten story. She had never before felt so unmoored, and so free.
"And awesome. Don't forget how awesome this feels." Yardarm-4 said, as if reading her thoughts.
"But these things—these powers we've been given—they come from the wrong side." Lisbon-13's eyes pleaded with her.
"I'm not so sure." And she wasn't. She could be certain of nothing now.
"You remember on Io," Yardarm-14 couldn't contain his enthusiasm, "we were pinned down inside that shipping container with Phalanxes closing in from all sides, and you—you bastard. You ducked out a little hole in the back and made a run for it. I thought you'd left us behind."
"Never," said Lisbon-13 with vehemence. His eyes flashed with anger, but Yardarm-4 didn't seem to notice.
"I know. The whole box was rattling with bullets, and there were explosions, and we were shooting when we could, and suddenly, through it all, I hear you screaming. It was like a banshee wail. You came screaming back on an Interceptor—the Psion still in it. You were steering it with the Psion's head!"
"And you rammed it through four Phalanxes from the side, and then, and then—you remember this, Rekkana?"
"I can't forget."
"You splashed that Interceptor across the shields of another Phalanx, and you RODE THE EXPLOSION over the top. And when you hit the ground behind them, BOOM! It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
Lisbon-13 said nothing. It was as if the story had shut him down.
"That's us right now. We're doing what you did. This whole universe is like that container, and the Last City, the Vanguard, the Traveler—they're all inside that box. But we just snuck out of a hole in the back. And there's that Interceptor, and there's not even a Psion in it. But here the metaphor gets a little muddy, because instead of one Interceptor, there's an Interceptor for you, a Goliath for me, and a Thresher for Rekkana. What would that fight have looked like if we'd had all their firepower on our side?"
"Something ugly," Lisbon-13 almost spat the words.
"He said he'd always trust me," Rekkana mumbled. Her ears were still ringing, and it felt like the ground was rushing up to hit her feet. Yardarm-4 held her upright as they ran for cover.
"Yeah, he also said he'd never leave us. Turns out you can say a lot of things."
In the shelter of an overhang, she allowed Yardarm-4 to lean her back against a wall of stone. She was surrounded by an exuberance of red blossoms. Their simple, sweet scent mixed with a complex cologne of cordite, ozone, sweat, and blood.
She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, Yardarm-4 was inches away from her face, peering into her eyes, inspecting her, weighing what reserves she had left.
"You still with me?"
Yardarm-4 stepped back and scanned their surroundings.
"No. I guess not."
"He winged those Goblins so they'd rush us."
"Yes. He was flushing us out."
"It worked." Rekkana pushed herself free of the flowers and Yardarm-4. She began an inventory of her ammo.
"He doesn't have eyes on us now, or he'd take a shot."
Rekkana wanted to argue against this logic, but she said nothing.
"He knows we're making our way to the gate. So what does he do, Rekkana? Does he get ahead of us to block us, or hit us from behind when we're not looking?"
Rekkana thought about the two men, the Lisbon-13 she knew and the one he still carried within him, somewhere behind those gleaming eyes.
"Rekkana? We could really use that brain of yours right now."
"This isn't it."
"This isn't how the story is supposed to end."
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