Lore:The Beaten Path

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"And my vanquisher will read that book, seeking the weapon, and they will come to understand me, where I have been and where I was going."
The following is a verbatim transcription of an official document for archival reasons. As the original content is transcribed word-for-word, any possible discrepancies and/or errors are included.

The Beaten Path is a Lore book that was added in Lightfall. Entries are unlocked by progressing through the Season of Defiance story. It primarily follows Amanda Holliday and her parents, Nora and Bram, on their pilgrimage to the Last City.

The Forest

Nora and Bram had picked a dead tree trunk as their target, rotted and blooming with mushrooms. It was a clear day, and the light filtered through the canopy of pine trees. After a few deafening shots from the Chaperone, the forest had become so quiet that there was nothing left to hear but their own breaths.

Bram lowered the shotgun, hoping against hope that he'd hit the stump this time. He hadn't. Nora let out a snorting laugh that broke the silence like another gunshot. Bram handed the gun back to his wife and rolled his right shoulder, wincing.

"It's, ah… it's got a kick," he said finally.

"All the best things do," Nora said, hefting the gun and aiming down its sights. When she looked back to Bram, he was shaking his head.

"The first time you let me touch it, and you didn't even warn me it has a kick?"

Nora grinned.

"You never noticed?"

"Well, you never flinch," he said, winking.

"Guess I know it too well," she said with a smile.

The air was chill; he pulled his threadbare coat from his shoulders and draped it onto his wife's.

She handed the Chaperone back to him and slipped her arms into the coat's sleeves. It didn't quite close over her belly. None of their scavenged winter clothes did anymore.

"You'll get used to it too," she offered. Pity as consolation. He raised the gun.

"Stand sideways. Now hold it against your hip," she said. He propped it on his hipbone; she pushed it aside. "Not like that."

Bram rolled his eyes, but it was with a smile. He did as she directed. He had always been a good listener.

"Remember when we first met?" she said, stepping away.

"I met this gun first," he replied, and fired.

It had been in some dusty ruin on the road. The business end of the Chaperone was the first thing he'd seen.

Bram stared into the barrel before looking into the eyes of the woman holding it. When she saw he was no threat, the muzzle dropped.

"Nora Jericho," she said, as if she hadn't been about to shoot him. "Where'd you come from?"

He gestured behind him.

"What's your name?"

He tried to speak, but nothing came out. He was still shocked into silence.

"You know it ain't safe here, right?" she asked.

"'Cause of you?" he blurted without thinking. Grimacing, he looked wide-eyed at her for one tense moment.

Then she laughed, a short bark that made him flinch, and held out a hand in greeting.

"Nora," she said, starting again.

"…Bram," he answered at last. He shook her hand and gave a high, breathy laugh–a laugh of relief.

This time the shot hit its mark; the stump burst with the impact. Nora watched her husband smile, slow and triumphant.

Then they heard another shot, then another. A sudden burst of Arc energy seared the tree trunk beside them, crackling and burning. Bram stood frozen, but Nora grabbed the gun away from him and held it steady as she surveyed the rows of straight, tall trees.

A movement at the corner of her eye; she whipped around and fired. She hit the edge of a tree, enough to startle the Fallen behind it.

It turned to run, tripped on a root, and hit the ground. Its shock pistol skittered out of reach. It rolled onto its back, scrambling, as Nora approached with her gun. She heard no other shots, no other movement. It was alone. It was terrified. Two of its arms had been cut away at the elbow. The Fallen looked up from the barrel of her shotgun and locked eyes with her. It didn't even try to reach for its pistol.

Nora stood silent, her finger on the trigger, for a long moment. Then she nodded her head. At this permission, the Fallen rose to its feet, then turned and took off into the forest.

Nora waited until she could no longer hear its footsteps. Then she stooped, squatted, and picked up the gun the Fallen had dropped. She handed it to her husband.

"Here," she said. "More your speed."

She held onto her gun tightly. She wondered, briefly, if the Fallen had heard their practice shots and assumed they fired first. If it had attacked out of fear. She couldn't know.

Her husband's arms came around her. She relaxed her grip on the gun.

That night, she and Bram lay together in a shelter he had made in an old, rusted truck; he'd cleared the cab of spiders and put down blankets for a little comfort. Nora had climbed in, smiled, and declared it "good enough." In her way, that was thanks.

"Why'd you let it go?" Bram asked. Nora thought back to the Fallen's terrified eyes.

"The Chaperone ain't for killin'. It's for protectin'."

Bram put a hand on her belly. He felt how their baby shifted inside her. Nora didn't flinch.

"Little star's got a kick," Bram said, with that same high, breathy laugh of relief.

"All the best things do."

The Village

Nora and Bram named their child Amanda. They filled her heart with stories of the Last City until it was as overflowing as their own. Stories of rest and relief, of laying down their weapons. Stories that made their fear, sharpened by the long road and its dangers, soften and disappear for a moment. Stories of safety.

For now, the Chaperone was their only safety.

They'd come to the village just for a night's rest. It was a half-deserted settlement of rotted buildings, tents, and lean-tos. But they had livestock, and a field for growing bitter vegetables.

"Is this the City?" Amanda asked.

"No," Nora answered. She always said it with sadness.

They traded with the inhabitants: food, ammunition, warm clothing. When the Fallen raided that night, Nora and Bram fended them off beside the villagers.

From a hiding spot, Amanda watched her mother fire the Chaperone, watched Fallen die in a hiss of Ether. Watched her parents defend people they'd never met and would never meet again. She was used to the sight by now.

The people were thankful and let them stay the night in an empty cowshed, even loaning them a gas lamp. It was a cold night, and the family was happy for shelter and warmth.

Bram portioned out the food while Nora took the Chaperone out and laid it down in the straw. Amanda came to her side, curious. Nora watched as her daughter reached out for the gun and traced the curling, embossed design on the barrel with a fingertip. She did it with the reverence reserved for sacred things. Nora knew that was a good thing. It meant Amanda would treat the Chaperone with care. Not just as a weapon, but as a memory.

"My mama gave it to me when I left her," Nora told her daughter. She then nodded to the curly floral designs along the gun's receiver and barrel. "But I did those."

It had given her something to focus on. Something to do when the day was too hot or too cold to keep moving. Carefully carving out those soft and delicate shapes, she'd taught herself beauty when the world could not.

"Can I shoot it?" Amanda asked. She'd never asked before. Bram looked up with alarm at the prospect, but Nora only laughed and tousled her daughter's hair.

"No," Nora said, her voice kind but firm. She saw Amanda's disappointment across her face—that exaggerated, devastating emotion that only children can feel. She wouldn't cry, but she would probably sulk for a few days, at least until something else caught her interest and became her whole world.

Nora wanted to keep her attention for as long as she could.

"You can help me clean it," Nora offered. "I'll show you how to take it apart and put it back together. Just like your little engines."

Amanda's expression told Nora that this is what she really wanted.

Together they disassembled the gun, cleaned it, oiled it, reassembled it. Nora named each piece and what they did. Soon, Amanda knew the shape and texture of it all. How the pieces fit together, how they functioned. How the parts worked to create a whole. Amanda took it all in with the boundless curiosity that motivated her every thought and movement.

"We do this every time we use it," Bram told his daughter. Nora nodded.

"Every shot I fire," she continued, "I gotta clean it so it's good as new and won't jam up when we need it most. That way, it can protect people for a long time."

Then she tickled her daughter's sides, enough to make Amanda squirm and smile. That's how Nora knew her daughter would remember this moment. Bram laughed at the sight and came to sit beside them; Amanda crawled into his lap. Nora knew she'd teach her daughter to shoot one day, but for now, she wanted to savor the time when Amanda was too young to try.

"We use it to keep people safe," Nora said. "That's all that matters."

Nora watched her husband hold their daughter. She knew, one day, the City would keep Amanda safe. Nora wondered if the Chaperone would have any place there. She had a quiet hope that it would not.

The Ravine

They were traveling with a group, refugees who had gathered at the northern edge of the Panama ravine. Crossing was safer in larger numbers. They shared stories, traded supplies. They had all heard of the Last City. Some were looking for it; some not.

The crossing was treacherous, but they braved the narrow switchbacks and steep cliffs and came to the southern edge to make camp. Amanda helped an old woman fix her dilapidated cart, which had broken down halfway up the ravine and had to be carried by helpful strangers. Amanda's dexterous, skillful hands were smeared with black grease, and she wiped them on her shirt in a long staining trail that her mother knew would never come out. Nora sighed and turned back to cleaning her gun.

"How long?" one of the refugees asked her. Nora knew what he was asking.

"Twenty-six years," she said, not looking up from her work.

He whistled, surprised. The sound grated on her ear.

"Lugging a kid for half that too? You're crazy."

"You think there's nothing better out there? That this is it?" Nora asked. He sneered.

"You'll waste your whole life," the stranger replied indignantly. "I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to chase after something that doesn't exist."

"You won't be safe anywhere but there," Nora said. She turned to look at him, a scrawny man with lank hair and scars along his cheek. She wouldn't entertain his skepticism. He laughed at her, but it was a nervous, trilling sound.

"'Safe' doesn't exist either," he said. "I learned that from the Fallen."

"Ma," Amanda yelled, shaking her mother awake. Her father was already loading his shock pistol. There was loud shouting outside their tent. Nora bolted upright, pulling Amanda behind her, looking to her husband. The next thing she reached for was the Chaperone, loading it instinctively as she went outside with Bram. Amanda peered through the open flap in the tent.

Fallen. House Winter. The Arc energy from their spears lit up the night.

"Run," Nora whispered to her daughter. There was a tremor in her voice. "Hide."

Two words Amanda knew instinctively to obey. She scrambled out of the tent and left her parents behind. Amanda knew they would protect the others.

She ran. She found her hiding spot. She heard the fight. She heard the familiar shots of the Chaperone, loud and clear, and the shriek of a Fallen Captain. But then her mother's gunshots faded into the rest of the fight until Amanda couldn't hear them at all.

Slowly, the noise subsided. Amanda emerged from her hiding place and called out for her parents. By now, she knew what fresh death smelled like. She knew to keep her head and heart steady as she saw the people they'd crossed with lying on the ground. The old woman she'd helped a few days before lay dead, her hands clutching at the dirt.

Amanda called and searched. At last, she found her father; he scooped her up and held her to his chest. She closed her eyes, her cheek on his shoulder, as he called out for her mother. Nora did not answer.

"Why did they do it?" Amanda asked. Bram held his daughter's hand more tightly.

"I don't know," he told her.

The group they had traveled with had counted and buried the dead. Amanda didn't remember much about the next few days. But years later, at her mother's funeral, she could still recall how strange the Chaperone looked in her father's grip. She knew he'd only fired it a few times; her mother had teased him about how he'd never picked it up again. Now Amanda tugged at her father's elbow.

"We can't take it," she said to him. Bram looked at her, incredulous.

"We have to," he said.

"It's hers."

"We might need it."

"So could Mama," she replied solemnly. Bram let her pull the shotgun from his weak grip. Then Amanda knelt in the loose dirt, reached down, and lifted her mother's cold arm up, tucking the shotgun between her forearm and shoulder. He watched her do this, his daughter's face set in a silent resolve.

When she was done, Bram lifted a shovelful of earth and shook it over his wife. Amanda wanted to help. She wanted to bury her mother, too. She grabbed fistfuls of dirt and dropped them over Nora's body.

"Goodbye," Bram whispered.

"Goodbye," Amanda repeated.

When Nora was 10 years old, all she had was the Chaperone and a story of the Last City. She left her frightened mother in a desert bunker and walked for years towards whispers and rumors.

When Amanda was two months shy of 12, she and her father covered Nora and her gun with a blanket of soft earth, then walked on.

The Last City

There were memories Amanda knew she had to keep. Her mother's death was one of them. Her father's, too. But the Chaperone was just as clear in her mind, even when the sound of their voices faded.

Amanda remembered the final shots of her mother's gun that rang out the night she died. The terror Amanda felt, and the loss. When she reached the Last City, the sound stayed with her through those early years. It would jolt her awake. It would pierce her thoughts. It would make her feel completely alone, even when she knew she wasn't.

But eventually, once she finally felt safe in the City's walls, the memory of that sound reverted from a terror to a comfort once more. It had kept her, and so many others, safe. Just like the City did now.

The gun had been laid to rest in her mother's grave. The only other person who had fired it was in his own grave a half day's walk north of the City, dead from disease. She couldn't bring them back like the Traveler could. She couldn't put her family back together. But there was something she could bring back, in a way.

"I have a commission," she said, and laid down everything she remembered about her mother's gun. The Tex Mechanica gunsmith took her plans with a smile. In two weeks it had soured to confusion, in four it had curdled to annoyance. Amanda inspected each piece as it was made, comparing them all to her memory.

"Not like that," she said. The chamber was retooled.

"Almost," she said. The barrel was reshaped.

"That's not right," she said, pointing at the curling designs that were meant to finish the weapon. At this, the frustrated armorer laid the chisels down on the worksurface.

"I've done everything you asked," she said, pushing away from the table with an exasperated huff. "Now what?"

"This is the only thing we got left," Amanda offered.

"Then do it yourself," the gunsmith said. "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life on this gun. I'm not even going to spend the rest of the day on it. Do it yourself."

She did.

It wasn't her mother's tools, or her mother's gun. Amanda had to keep reminding herself of that every time she tapped the tungsten chisel into the barrel. A pile of scrap metal, scored and marked and discarded, told her she was getting a little bit better at it each day. Her hands a little steadier, her memory a little sharper. Slowly, slowly, she traced the night in the cowshed with her chisel… and brought back the beauty of the gun before her eyes.

Then one day, Amanda pressed it against her hip, held the barrel, leaned forward. She'd seen her mother use it so many times that she could mimic the stance and movement, even though she'd never been allowed to fire it. Now her grip tightened, and she pulled the trigger.

When it fired, it fired clean. The sound was lighter, more piercing. But it kicked, and it shone. Her life was better than her mother's had been. Nora had made sure of it. And the life of this Chaperone would be better than its predecessor's as well.

It would keep people safe.

That was all that mattered.