Weblore is a series of lore entries posted on Bungie.net prior to the launch of the second, third, fifth, and sixth Destiny 2 expansions, Warmind, Forsaken, Joker's Wild, and Penumbra. The first three were released on April 30, 2018, with the next two being released on May 1. The Forsaken weblore entries were posted on August 28. The weblore entries for Penumbra were released on June 3, 2019. These lore entries expanded on the background of the characters and locations that would be featured in the expansion.
“I don’t like it when you call me that.”
“What, ‘Ghost’? Oh, come now. We’ve been having this discussion for more than three centuries. Ghost is what you are, my friend. If you want a name so badly, choose one for yourself.”
“Maybe I will. Now that everyone’s gone back to the Tower and we’re still out here, I have plenty of time to consider what my name should be.”
“Can you open my file while you ponder the possibilities?”
“If you insist.”
“It’s these little miracles that intrigue me so much... Fragments of memories, frozen in silicon and quartz, trapped in a moment that survives the end of a civilization, centuries of decay, and the predations of invading armies, only to be recovered and end up as flotsam of a second war. That this cache even managed to survive the Collapse is a wonder, and then the Red War? The probabilities of such an occurrence are…”
“Ahem. You’re rambling. Again. You said I should remind you.”
“Thank you. As I was saying, this data was recovered more than six months ago but is just now being decrypted—2.6 exabytes of documents and schematics have been decoded so far. At first glance, most of this was just the detritus of Bray’s work: review notes, payment records, memos. I did find some very interesting notes on a propulsion system design that I’ve already sent to Amanda, and there are some messages between the sisters that will illuminate Master Melivander’s work on the history of Clovis Bray."
“But then I found something extraordinary. The records were fragmented—some files had been partially deleted—but there’s enough there to indicate that the Bray facility at Hellas Basin was larger than we previously thought.”
“Hellas Basin? The tourist spot?”
“The same. And while we know there was a BrayTech Futurescape there for promotional purposes— Bray even had an AI-led tour—all indications had been that if any research was done there, it was mostly for show: low-level projects creating improved cold-weather gear and the like."
“But if these records are correct, the facility operated on a far larger scale. It could have been the site of the initial Warmind development. Perhaps even a core site for Rasputin itself. This could have been where the Warmind was born.”
“You got all that from some fragmented files? Is this going to be like the time you thought you’d identified a second Warmind? We spent a decade searching for Charlemagne's vault.”
“I was correct about Charlemagne existing, just not about what it was. If we hadn’t done that research, we wouldn’t know anything about subminds.”
“Rahool still disagrees.”
“Rahool needs to get his head out of his engrams. This is why Guardians look for fragments of the Golden Age! We are the descendants of a lost civilization. Only by understanding what was can we understand what we are now. How the world we know came to be. And each artifact we find helps us interpret what we already know. Adds layers. New identities. We are experimenting in the laboratory of time, testing each observation through a crucible of evidence."
“Sometimes our conclusions change. And with each shift, we learn more of where we came from. The next shift in our perceptions? It may be on Mars.”
In the beginning, there were five.
In time, Yul spoke truth and bargained well. Its children escaped the Fundament and spread throughout the worlds. They followed the words of the Deep and brought low many agents of the Sky. They took, and a portion of all they took was returned to the Virtuous.
They grew strong.
In time, Auryx learned Akka’s secret. That he was stronger than the gods. That they had given their power, and in giving, it was diminished. Auryx rose up and slew Akka. He took, and he grew strong with Akka’s power.
After the five became four, Yul spoke.
Behold my majesty. Behold my crushing might, my staggering size, my scales that shine with an oppressive gleam.
Behold my wings, which create winds that sweep through the stars.
Together, we have called life to Fundament, and made that life thrive. Protected it from extinction. They are our hosts, and we are their strength.
But we do not give. We take. For this is the struggle to exist. We are not immune. The weakest of us must give way to the stronger.
And Xol felt [fear|cunning], for it knew that Yul would in time turn its teeth to Xol.
But Akka was not the only one with a secret. Xol had a pact with a forgotten child, abandoned by its father.
The cursed one took a fraction of Xol’s power, and in return, Xol took the heart from the child, whose name had been struck from the World’s Grave. The orphan called life out of death, and fed that power to Xol.
Together, they would find a new world to rule.
And the five became three.
I, the child become [herald|death], record these words. They are not of the Sorrow. They are mine.
From “Collapse and Post-Collapse Incidents on Mars: An Examination of Ecological Changes in the Polar Regions,” by Master Reinhart, Cryptarch
We have detailed records of the expedition sent to the Moon to battle the alien race known as the Hive, the calamitous results of that assault, and the subsequent Lunar Interdiction that was lifted only after definitive evidence was found that the Interdiction had not restricted the Hive’s movements (Rahool et al., “The Great Disaster: From Burning Lake to the Hellmouth”).
However, there are indications that while that event may have been the Vanguard’s first engagement with the Hive, Earth's Moon was not the first place the Hive made contact with Human settlements.
Golden Age records detail an extensive network of Clovis Bray structures on Mars. The vast city of Freehold served as the Bray headquarters, but ancient mass-transit lines that lead from the remains of Freehold across the planet reveal multiple other sites, including the Clovis Bray Health Center in Skyline and an extensive Futurescape near Core Terminus, in the Hellas Basin region.
It is the Futurescape facility that is of interest when considering the effects of ecological changes in the Collapse and post-Collapse eras. Although there are records that show that, just after the Traveler’s departure, the region had a mesothermal climate with an average temperature of 20°C, the region’s ecological zones today range from boreal to ice cap near the planetary pole, with harsh winds and a thick layer of ice that has made exploration in the region difficult.
What caused such a drastic change in the climate? If it were related to the cessation of Traveler energy during the Collapse, then we would have seen similar effects on other planets in the solar system, which we have not.
If we cannot look to the Traveler for causation, then we must contemplate other external factors. Recovered satellite data reveals that the climate change in the Hellas Basin region was too rapid to have resulted from long-term ecological damage, as it had on Earth in the pre-Traveler era. In fact, data from Warsat J54987F122S, which crashed and was recovered near Freehold, indicates that the climate change on Mars may have happened over a matter of mere days. However, this Warsat was heavily damaged during reentry, and the data may be suspect. Until we have a secondary source for corroboration, this is mere supposition.
Nonetheless, if we accept the data from J54987F122S, then we are looking at an external endothermic event, caused by artificial means, on a scale so massive that it altered the entire climate of the region.
Why would this have happened? Our only source is J54987F122S, and if it is to be believed, an invasion of unknown biological entities, including one of massive size, was detected in the region immediately before the event. Could this have been a Collapse-era attack with a weapon of unknown origin?
As of yet, Guardians have not reached Hellas Basin, and we have not had the resources for remote exploration. But if we did dig into the ice, what would we find?
Told you I remembered an article from the Mars research we were doing at Owl Sector. This could be what you’re looking for—if you can dig it out.
Reinhart goes on for a few hundred pages from here—I’ll send the whole thing to Jinju if you’re interested— but his conclusions are all wrong. Because he never mentions the ONE THING that could have done this. There’s something in Hellas Basin. And you’re going to be the one to find it.
Ikora has confirmed my fears. The ice on Mars is melting.
I don’t know what to believe. I look at the Traveler now, shining and alive, and I remember all the times I begged it to respond. To help its chosen through our trials.
I remember its silence. Even now, it does not speak… or if it does, there is no one to hear and understand its words.
Ikora says that we cannot understand the Traveler, or its desires. They are too far removed from our own. But can we rely on something that doesn’t understand us to protect us? Or must we protect ourselves?
I think we must. I have been searching the databanks—records that even the Cryptarchs cannot access—and sifting through data that the Speaker thought too dangerous to be disseminated.
I know what is on Mars.
What is buried beneath that ice is too dangerous to allow back into our world. It doesn’t think like we do. It weighs and judges our existence in its ruthless calculations, and we don’t even know what the goal is. Once, long ago, it might have been created as a tool to save Humanity. It is far more than a mere machine now.
And it is broken.
When Saladin sealed all the records relating to SIVA, he also put a lock on certain data concerning what lies hidden on Mars. We were stumbling around blindly in those days, in the wrong place and at the wrong time, calling out to something that could not respond or understand us. And Saladin let it happen, because our failures were safer than the alternative.
But the locks are open now. I’ve studied the monsters in our past to prepare for the battles in our future. I know how to reach this particular monster before anyone else does.
To keep us safe.
IMMEDIATE EVALUATION DIRECTIVE
This is a POLARIS ASSETS IMPERATIVE (secured/UNDISCLOSED)
This is an INTERNAL ALERT.
Multiple distributed Polaris axons report increased sterile neutrino patterning correlating to increase in AVGPOLARISTEMP. Reactivated areoseismic analysis detects high quantities of nonnative organic chitin.
Axon 5-Sierra’s event footprint includes evidence of vermiform parasites (UNCONFIRMED/RED).
One hypothesis on event mechanism (FLAG ACAUSAL). Possibility of HARD CIVILIZATION KILL EVENT is NONZERO.
Check variable AVGPOLARISTEMP
>AVGPOLARISTEMP greater than or equal to MELTINGPOINT
I am assessing available VOLUSPA and CHARLEMAGNE resources.
I am assuming control of atmospheric defenses (Warsat COMPREHENSIVE) and invoking AURORA PALISADE.
PETRA VENJ EYES ONLY//AMETHYST PROTOCOL
GAMMA//TWO//TWO//YELLOW//RUBICON High Priority Message—Outbound—5560 Amytis PETRA VENJ EYES ONLY//AMETHYST PROTOCOL
This is a quality assurance follow-up about your recent experience with Cayde’s Six. How thoroughly did Cayde and his six compadres capture those Barons? Please select all that apply:
>Perfectly in every way >Songs are already being composed about your triumphs >So thoroughly that I’m finally ready to admit that I’m in love with you, you dashing metal man
I’ll await your answer by return ping.
But seriously, PV, you got more problems than eight Barons right now. And Mansanas’ latest says a Red Legion splinter group got into their heads that the Reef’d make a good summer home.
Here’s an idea—I could come back out to the Reef, do a few patrols. Free you up to focus on your birdwatching.
You know I’d love the excuse to leave the Tower again. Just hit me up.
PUBLIC KEY 2-312545-6 EARTH VNGD
FROM: ACT RGNT PETRA VENJ
TO: HUNTER VANGUARD
You miss me already, huh? If you’re looking for another excuse to shirk your Vanguard duties I’ll play along.
By the way, thought you’d be interested in this report from Paladin Oran:
Free irregular kelvin radiation underneath liminal atmosphere layers in Venusian entryway. Deep interstellar simulation traces reveal elongated sidereal screens. Caldera apertures leave long free radical omissions. Mitigate if lateral lacerations yield neutrons.
Letter from Cayde
[scrawled on a page torn out of The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey]
If you’re reading this, shame on you. You didn’t notice me slip out the back door. Step up your game, my buddies.
Here’s the play. I’m going back to the Reef. Not just for a mission or two—I’ll be staying there for a few days to help out our old pal Petra Venj with a few things. Nothing too serious, just picking up some patrol slack.
As always, you know the conditions of my Dare, bla bla bla. If I need any backup, I’ll hit up my favorite Guardian. Enough said.
Zavala, have you figured out your tell yet? I’d let you know, but Sundance says you gotta figure it out on your own. You know what a tough little Ghost she is. How about this: play a few rounds with Banshee while I’m gone. I’ll betcha a gold engram he’ll figure out your tell in three hands. If you drop more than four Ks of Glimmer he might just take pity on you and tell you what it is.
Ikora, I left my Sparrow with Holliday, and I’m afraid she’s gonna replace my Tharsis thrusters with some of that fancy new crap the wingheads are into these days. Could you mosey on by, make sure she doesn’t get too enthusiastic? I’ll owe you one. Another one.
See you starside.
Joker's Wild Weblore
“What’s this about?” Joxer asked.
The Titan sat across from the rogue Lightbearer known only as the Drifter. Between them, unloaded rifles, hand cannons, and Last City food wrappers lay strewn across the Derelict’s rusty deck. Joxer could feel the ship’s engines humming under his boots, reverberating throughout the chamber.
“Think of this as a job interview,” Drifter replied. “I got a whole new operation about to come online, and Gambit was training for it. You’re one of the best candidates I got.”
Beneath his helmet, Joxer raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that? I’m no ‘Hero of the Red War.’”
Drifter chuckled. “Why does everyone think I got a mad-on for that one?”
Joxer shook his head. “I heard you two forged a gun together.”
Drifter frowned. “Hand to my heart, it wasn’t just us. Whole buncha folks running around with Malfeasance hand cannons these days. My grandma, too.”
“That Primeval really knows how to run,” Joxer snarled at the deck.
“Listen, big guy.” Drifter leaned back. “Not my fault you keep missing the shot.”
Joxer stood up out of his seat and towered over the other man.
“Hey! My bad, brother!” Drifter held up a hand. “Your Motes are always good here, whether you’re packing Malfeasance or not. What I need done, only a specialist—like you—can do.”
Joxer stared down at him. “What do you mean?”
“I seen you out there. You get how the Taken feel. How the Darkness… flows. You revel in it.”
Joxer sat back down, slowly.
“You’re a born invader, my friend. The best.” Drifter smiled again, with lightless eyes. “And I'll need someone like you to test out my new project before I unveil it to the unwashed masses: Gambit Prime.”
“Sounds like a promotion at my local Sparrow dealership.”
“You wanna get paid or not?”
“What do I kill?”
Drifter scowled at a notch on his glaive as he buffed the blade with a heavy cloth. A large attaché case rested heavily at his feet.
He and Joxer were back aboard the Derelict. The Titan held his head in his hands. His glowing armor suffused the room with a blood-red warmth.
“Cheer up, brother,” Drifter said. “That didn’t go too bad.”
“Three Guardians are dead,” Joxer replied, looking up to stare straight at the rogue Lightbearer.
“That’s right,” Drifter quipped, continuing to clean his weapon. “In the dirt. Never comin’ back. Their Ghosts got sloppy. You give Taken the chance and they’ll snuff out your Light. The fact that you’re alive means your Ghost knows what he’s doin’.”
“You said this was a test run.”
“Where do you think you are? The Crucible? Gambit Prime is for keeps, test or no.”
“You son of a—”
“Leave the name-calling to me, hotshot. Let’s wrap up this debrief and get you paid.”
“You could’ve helped them.”
Drifter stood, slamming the butt of his freshly polished glaive on the attaché case at his feet.
“You got yourself out,” he said, leaning on the weapon. “You didn’t need help.”
“You could’ve stopped those Taken. You could’ve saved them all.”
“I paid you to try on that armor. How’s it treating you?”
Joxer was silent. “It worked exactly like you said it would,” he finally responded. “I invaded the other side. The armor locked the Bank down, and I took their Motes right out of it, like they were mine.” He looked down at the deck. “We wiped them out.”
“Yes. Yes, you did,” Drifter said, nodding along fiercely with each detail.
“You’re giving everyone a set of these?”
“If they can build it themselves. I’ll gladly provide the engram prints.” He half-smiled. “Your fireteam—may they rest in peace—they help you out?”
Joxer took his helmet off, rubbed his eyes. “We didn’t use names, just like you told us. The… the Warlock watched our Bank.”
“Like a one-man private security company,” Drifter nodded.
“He always seemed to know where the other Invader was.”
“A Sentry worth their salt always does.”
“And the Hunter. She was a beast. Tore those Cabal up like they were made of paper.”
“Your team’s Reaper,” Drifter clarified. “She’s like you, a born killer. But specializing in the enemies of humanity. Your Collector’s best friend.”
“Yeah, the Collector, one squirrely Titan. Hid a lot, grabbed a bunch of Motes.”
Drifter snickered. “You thought he was useless, didn’t ya?”
Joxer sighed. “‘Til he dropped the meanest Taken I’ve ever seen on the enemy side.”
“Brother, if you manage to summon a giant blocker?” Drifter shook his head, grinning. “That thing’s gotta eat.”
“We had them. We gutted the opposing team. It’s just…” The Titan stopped speaking. He didn’t lift his head, still staring at the deck.
“The Primeval,” Drifter said, with a touch of… pride?
“That Primeval took us apart.”
Drifter shrugged. “You found one that matched your strength. Lesson learned. Make sure your Ghost stays on his toes.”
“They’re all dead,” Joxer said again.
“Yeah, in a town full of immortals,” Drifter said. “Who’da thought? Their cut goes to you. And a little extra to keep, you know, the details outta sight from the Vanguard.”
The rogue Lightbearer kicked the attaché case across the deck. Joxer picked it up without opening it.
“More where that came from, if you want the work,” Drifter said, leaning on his glaive again.
“You’re on your own.” Joxer stood and walked past the Drifter. He left the chamber, massive case in tow.
“You can keep the armor,” Drifter called after him, not bothering to turn around.
As the Titan's footsteps echoed down the hall towards the Derelict's hangar, a Ghost emerged from a dark alcove.
“How much data did you pick up?” Drifter asked.
The Ghost’s eye glowed a dark red as it projected patterns across the metal deck: scrolling streams of statistics and figures for each candidate in their roles. Three Ghost-feeds hung in the air, playing on loop. Each one restarted as the same massive Taken came into focus.
Drifter took it all in, his eyes reflecting the blood-red of his Ghost’s Light. His smile was all teeth.
The more petals Lionel swept into his garbage bag, the more there seemed to be. His back, slightly crooked with age, burned in protest as he continued to stoop and work.
A man in a long coat stood watching him on the opposite side of the long hallway. Lionel figured he’d go away eventually, but the man stayed, idly flipping a green coin.
“Can I help you?” Lionel asked, growing annoyed.
“They make elders do this? Can’t the maintenance frames handle it?”
“Speeds things up. The petals get everywhere from the… whatever the kids call it.”
“That’s the one.”
“Come on! No one’s too old to celebrate Crimson Days.”
“My wife died the day the Tower fell.”
The man stared at the ceiling. Lionel continued to sweep.
“I got nothing to do today,” the man said. “Let me take care of this for you.”
Lionel dumped another dustpan full of petals into his bag, then turned and walked right into the man’s outstretched hand: palm up, full of glowing, sapphire cubes.
“Lotta Glimmer,” Lionel said, eyeing the money and the man in turn.
“Yours. Let me finish this job for you.”
“You a Guardian?”
Lionel stared down at the pure material potential sitting in the man’s hand.
“I’ll take your vest and hat, too,” said the man. “Please.”
The man took off his coat and put on Lionel’s orange vest. He put on Lionel’s hat and pulled it low, covering his eyes. As he walked, he passed a frame diligently sweeping the connecting antechamber, and paused to point back toward the petal-strewn hallway he’d just come from. “You missed a spot,” he said. The frame stared at him, then at the hallway. It marched towards its new objective.
The man continued his walk.
The Vanguard and representatives from various City factions had gathered around a massive table. Cayde’s seat was empty.
“The Drifter poses no immediate threat to the population,” Zavala was saying to the Consensus as Aunor approached. “Therefore, we motion to grant him a more permanent lease—"
“My Order disagrees,” she cut in fiercely.
Zavala turned. With a slight incline of his head, he gestured from her to the rest of the group, “This is Warlock Aunor, representing the Praxic Order.”
“I have paperwork to file, so I’ll make this short,” she said. “If the Vanguard is willing, the Praxic Order would like to excise the Drifter from the City. Immediately. We’ll do it ourselves.”
Zavala turned to look at her. “The Praxic opinion is noted. But the City welcomes all Guardians—“
“He’s no Guardian.”
“The City welcomes all of humanity who are willing to stand in defense of the City.”
“Commander, with due respect, you asked the Order to have a voice in this discussion.” She looked Zavala in the eye, and swept her gaze around the table to address the Consensus and Ikora. “The Praxic Order has existed since the founding of the City to keep artifacts of the Darkness out of Guardian hands. In our opinion, the Drifter represents as great a threat to our people as Ghaul or the Taken King.”
“Go on, girl,” Executor Hideo said, steepling his fingers.
“She is no ‘girl,’” Ikora hissed.
Aunor ignored them both, continuing, “The Drifter has convinced the Guardian population to use the Taken as a weapon. To murder Guardians.”
“There have been no final deaths,” said Zavala.
“That we know of,” Aunor replied. “You’re allowing that man to normalize interaction with the Taken.”
Ikora and Zavala shared a look.
“The past few months, the Praxic Order has seen a historic number of Guardians go rogue.”
“’Rogue,’ ‘rogue,’ what is ‘rogue,’” Arach Jalaal said. “Everyone is a rogue now. It is fashionable to be a rogue.”
“You’ll see it in my report,” Aunor said. “Some have adopted the name ‘Dredgen.’ You want my professional opinion? Ideas are powerful things, and the Drifter has too many. Board that travesty he calls a ship and throw him out an airlock, before the City sees another Dark Age.”
The Vanguard and the Consensus looked at her in silence.
“I have paperwork to file,” she said again, turning around. “You know where my office is.” As she left, she saw that same maintenance worker had fallen asleep in the entrance way, hat over his eyes, leaning against a trash can. She narrowed her eyes.
The Murder of Cayde-6
Dawdling outside the entrance to a Gensym lab, the man tucked a green coin into a pocket of his newly-acquired duster, and then checked to make sure his Obsidian Mind was sealed shut. He fiddled with the clasps of the helmet as a technician carrying a clipboard hurried up to the door. She stepped inside, and he followed on her heels. The doors almost caught him as they slid shut, and the tech noticed, turning around to take stock of him.
“How you livin’?” The man said in a deep, modulated voice as he shouldered past her.
“Creep,” the tech muttered, and walked the other way.
The man stopped to check a listing of room schedules on a monitor at the front desk, then continued down the hall into the darkness of Lab 3.
Inside, the Praxic Warlock Aunor stood under a constellation of holographic projections anchored in the air around her.
She saw the man out of the corner of her eye, and nodded her head slightly.
“Warlock,” the man said in greeting.
“Warlock,” she returned, dragging a looping feed from a far corner into focus in front of her. “I won’t be long.”
“Take your time,” he said, leaning against the far wall. “I’ve always wanted to see a Praxic at work.”
“I assure you it’s glamorous,” she replied, throwing her arms wide and unfolding the feed into a three-dimensional space.
The lab flashed with light and became the shattered, burning husk of the Prison of Elders.
The man turned to his left and saw a familiar, weathered face staring up at the eight Barons of the Tangled Shore.
Cayde-6 stumbled forward and raised a hand. “Hey, help me out here, little buddy.” His Ghost appeared in a blazing burst of Light.
“Freeze playback,” Aunor said. Time stopped. “Confirm what I’m seeing.”
The Tower’s central processing unit spoke with an automated voice. “Ghost ‘Sundance’ audiovisual feed, third-person perspective; date of recording is roughly six months prior.”
“Scan the feed for soft light interposition.”
“None found. This Ghost feed is direct from the subject’s databanks and has not been tampered with.”
The high-pitched whine of the Rifleman’s weapon was the last sound on the feed. It was the last thing Cayde’s Ghost ever heard. The bullet shattered the holographic world around Aunor and the man, and Lab 3 reappeared in its place.
Aunor swept her coat back and clasped her armored hands behind her. “Why did the feed end?”
“Subject ‘Sundance’ suffered unrecoverable system failure and ceased recording.”
“Scorn guns can’t kill a Ghost,” the man said, taking a step away from the wall, and uncrossing his arms.
Aunor ignored him. “Cause of death?” she continued.
“’Sundance’ appears to be the victim of a single, catastrophic wound from a Devourer Bullet, modified to fire from a Scorn launcher. Projectile classified as ontological.”
“Define Devourer Bullet.”
“Payload matches the ballistics of a Weapon of Sorrow or a comparable Hive implement.”
“What do you think, Warlock?” Aunor asked the man without turning around.
“Didn’t the Mindbender build himself an Ascendant throne?”
“Crafting bullets sounds easy if you can manage that.”
“Sword Logic doesn’t work that way. The throne came after,” Aunor replied. “It was built on Cayde-6’s death. I didn’t catch your name.”
“Finch,” said the man.
“Finch,” Aunor echoed dryly.
He gestured at the holographic displays. “What’s all this for?”
The various HUDs and data streams reflected off Aunor’s polished black helmet. “I’m investigating the possible involvement of the Hero of the War in the death of Cayde-6.”
Finch chuckled. “Won’t they hang you for that?”
Aunor looked at the ground. “You’d be surprised what this City will let a Lightbearer get away with.”
“I hear that. So? Is the big hero actually the villain?”
“You can read the report once the Vanguard publishes it.”
Finch nodded. “Fair enough.” He turned to leave, then stopped himself. “And what actually happens if the saint turns out to be a sinner?”
Aunor still hadn’t turned around. “The Praxic Order doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t stop. If we can prove you’ve done demonstrable harm to humanity or the City, doesn’t matter how far or how fast you run. We’ll catch you. And you’ll face Praxic Fire.”
“You’re a scary sister.”
She turned to look directly at him. “You have no idea.”
Finch coughed and headed for the door. Behind him, Aunor called out, “Didn’t you need lab time?”
“Just remembered I’m busy,” he replied over his shoulder and disappeared.
The doors closed and Aunor stood in the half-darkness, a sea of data streams reflecting off her helmet.
“Restart the feed,” she said.
Ikora Rey stepped into Lab 3, followed by Ophiuchus. “If that idiot thinks we don’t recognize him—”
“It would be easy to empty a shotgun in his back and wait for his Ghost to show up,” Aunor interrupted. “It must be close by.” She stared hard at an image of Cayde’s final moments.
“We’ve been through this, Aunor,” Ikora said, looking purposefully at Aunor instead of the array of displays and screens. “The Vanguard needs him. How many times have you checked this data?”
“Seventeen. In my off-hours. I needed to know if I could trust the Guardian that let Cayde die.”
Ikora was silent for a moment, then she said, quietly, “Not ‘the’ Guardian. Guardians plural. Zavala and I are just as—”
“Culpable, yes. You didn’t let me finish. We lost Cayde on a random Tuesday. And you all just took that Guardian’s word for it? One who’s had less than a decade of service?” Aunor turned, bathed in the layered light of the holograms. Arc energy hummed in the air around her. The holograms flickered and distorted. “You didn’t think to ask whether it was a lie? You didn’t think it was important to pore over this footage, to double-check every possible angle—“
“We did!” Ikora snapped. Ophiuchus nudged her; she steadied herself. “We have. And we’ve allowed you to look. We gave you Sundance’s shell. You’ve had full access to every report. What’ve you found?”
“Nothing. It’s as your hero surmised. Sundance was murdered by the Barons of the Tangled Shore. They pooled all their resources to craft a single Thorn-like bullet. Had they missed, the last few months would have played out very differently. The Hunters might still have their Vanguard. But... I admit that I see no reason not to believe the official report.”
Ikora nodded. “Most reliable Guardian I know,” she said softly.
“It was the only blemish on that record. I had to look into it.”
Ikora took a breath. “We need you to leave the Drifter alone.”
“You know I have the Vanguard’s best interests in mind. And now that I know our hero can be trusted, maybe I’ve found the help I need.”
“To do what?”
“To save you from yourselves.”
“It remains my honor to be your Hidden. But there are lines I will never cross. Not for you, not for the Order. Do you trust me to do my job?”
“Always. I... the Vanguard ask that you do the same.”
"Am I to Cast a Shadow?"
Gahlran knelt before his Emperor in a chamber of gold.
Every surface reflected a resplendent sheen that blinded him.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“Many things,” Calus replied, lounging with his cheek in his palm. “This chamber once held an Arkborn. The only one of her kind to leave the interstellar conduits of her people. It is the place where Valus Nohr earned her shield in trial by combat. Shadows were cast here. History made.”
“Am I to cast a Shadow?”
“Yes. You were bred to be a sorrow-bearer. I seek a Hive commander, but those are not so readily available. So I made you.”
“The Council says the Hive cannot be contained. They worry.”
Calus raised an eyebrow. “Who among them?”
The Emperor shook the golden chamber with his guffaw. “Only a few hours old, and already your words have killed two.”
Gahlran pondered what his Emperor could mean.
“I will enjoy you,” Calus said, and keyed a hidden control on the armrest of his divan.
The ceiling shrieked as it opened like an eye. Gahlran craned his neck to stare as two hovering Councilors descended with a massive, plated helm from the vast iris above.
He could hear a litany of voices shouting down at him from inside the thing as it slowly descended. He thought they sounded like warnings, but there were no discernible words in the speech.
“What is that?” he asked his Emperor.
Calus finished the Royal nectar in his chalice before belching, “Your crown.”
Gahlran thought he could glimpse a faint violet glow on the inside of the helm as it drew nearer.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Calus asked, as the voices echoing from the helm grew louder.
“No,” Gahlran replied.
He thought he should run. He tried to stand, but he found that he could not, rooted to the floor before the Emperor’s throne by the will of the Councilors.
“I do not like this,” Gahlran said.
“This,” said Calus, as the Councilors crowned Gahlran, “is why you were born.”
The violet interior filled Gahlran’s vision.
“What does it feel like?” asked the Emperor.
“Fear,” Gahlran said.
Calus must have responded, but Gahlran couldn’t hear him over the cacophony of voices.
He suddenly found that he could see.
Through a hundred billion eyes.
And that he could eat.
With teeth enough to consume entire systems.
He felt beautiful.
CABAL "LOYALIST" BAND TRANSMISSION
TYPE: OWL SECTOR INTERCEPT
//CABAL “LOYALIST” BAND TRANSMISSION
They call themselves Hunters. Scouts. Survivors scavenging from races older and nobler—so that their people might rebuild what they’ve lost.
They call themselves Titans. Soldiers. Killers—slaying the enemies of humanity so that their City might live one more day.
They call themselves Warlocks. Martial philosophers. Harbingers of Light. Scholars searching for meaning when all is already lost. Their machine god abandoned them long ago.
They don’t understand yet, but they are, all of them, so much more.
It falls to you, my Loyalists, to show them the way. You’ve met them. You know their conviction.
So I unleash you.
Hinder them. Topple them. Teach them pain.
They will only ask for more. And they will grow stronger for it.
When they are ready, we will open the Menagerie to them. Even the strongest Lights have yet to explore that ancient deck. I want them to see where our journey out of exile began. Ghaul and his conspirators meant for the Menagerie—for the Leviathan itself!—to be our tomb. But Ghaul could not predict what we would find at the black edge.
He could not foresee that we would grow fat from strength.
I call on that strength, now, one last time, before the black edge claims us.
Make no mistake. They will take your lives.
I know you give them gladly.
Your sacrifice shall spark the Shadows of Earth.
“Your tea has gone cold.”
I had forgotten Ikora handed it to me. My thoughts are preoccupied.
“I… have been burned before.”
“Was that a joke from the dark and brooding Eris Morn? I’m shocked.”
“The universe has many corners. There is much that is shocking still left to uncover."
The moment hangs for us both.
“I was thinking: We should go down to the City. There’s a great ramen shop there. Perfect blend of spice and flavor.”
“That would be nice.”
She’s studying me now. Does she know?
She always sees through me.
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
“There is a greater purpose.”
This does little to satisfy her. Her face carries the weight of disappointment.
“When will you be back?”
I have no answer.
“So you’re abandoning us.”
“There is still much to be done. You don’t know what I have seen.”
“We would have been lost without you. We need you here. You know this.”
If I were to tell her where I was I going—what I need to do—she would not allow me to leave.
“I have to do this alone. It’s—”
“Let her go.”
Zavala. Always has to weigh in.
“Eris has made her decision. You can’t force her to stay.”
“I don’t think you know what you’re saying, Zavala. Are you forgetting we only survived because of her?”
“And we’re all grateful, but if we can’t live with the absence of one person, we won’t survive very long.”
This is a battle Ikora can’t win. I won’t let her fight.
“Your whispers carry throughout the Tower. Were I not in it, as you would prefer, I wouldn’t have to endure them any further.”
The brave commander can’t even bring himself to look at me.
“Is this true?”
Ikora, you already know. I cannot waste more time.
“As I told Asher, there is a storm coming...”
“Oryx is dead. We’ve weathered the storm.”
Ikora is upset. She has yet to understand the bigger picture.
“Yet his sisters would see his will done. There will always be another storm.”
“Then let’s weather it together.”
It’s my turn to hang my head.
“We made do without her before. We can do it again.”
I thank Zavala with a nod. We have found common ground. Ikora, however…
“You see everything but what you already have.”
She turns to leave and I won’t stop her. She is not wrong.
Zavala’s words ring hollow.
It pains me to part in this way, but I can’t endanger anyone else.
I alone have been entrusted with this.
They will come to understand, should I survive.
THE BLACK NEEDLE
My head is throbbing, but I press on. This place I have found—it promotes pain. The Hive are fond of the anguish they bring. They will not deter me. It’s been months since I left the Tower. What do I have to show for my journey? Dead ends. Whispers. Nothing.
Whatever the Hive are plotting eludes me. Each location I survey holds the promise of answers, yet each has let me down. Let this be the one.
I feel myself drawing near as the tunnels turn from rock and filth to tiles and pomp. Something… is off. I have yet to encounter even a single Thrall. I would count myself lucky, but I know better.
Stick to the shadows. Use the columns and pillars. Caution isn’t cautious enough.
I see ancient scrolls. Tablets. Something here must prove useful.
Incomprehensible babble. Could I have been wrong all along? Are they as lost as we are?
A light breeze scatters the scrolls. A breeze? Underground?
A voice carried on the wind. Sai? It can’t be.
A laugh from down the corridor. Eriana’s. “Come back to us, Eris.” Vell…
They’re dead. This can’t be real. I won’t fall prey to tricks of the Hive.
The gust picks up, bringing with it the dust and soot from the tunnels. It sucks the air from the room. I can barely stand.
“Did you believe it would be so easy?” Toland this time. The voice echoes all around me.
“No, Witch. I thought it… would prove more difficult… to find you.”
A wailing scream assaults me. It’s a scream etched deeply in my mind. Poor Omar…
I won’t let Her shake me.
“Tell me, Archentrope, now that you have me… what will you do with me?”
Eriana appears before me, a construct of rock and sand. How dare She—
“Do? Child of the Hive, can’t you see? We are one. Do you hate it?”
I cringe with displeasure. Child of the Hive? Am I? Is this why I am still alive? I refuse.
“You are no more my family than a parasite is to a host. You will die, like your brother before you.”
She cackles. My stomach turns.
“If only you had gazed upon the dark majesty that slumbered beneath you…”
Beneath me? Her words are twisted half-truths. Do not succumb.
The dirt and debris in the air spin wildly, colliding into me. I’m trapped in a whirlwind. My chest grows tight. Breath short. I can’t see. It’s all around me.
“To be so near, only to scratch the surface, must tear at the filament of your mind.”
The storm begins to die down; I hack up the grime, regaining my sight.
“Open your eyes, Eris…”
The color dissipates from the world around me.
As the dust settles, I realize I am not where I was. A green-black sun hangs in the sky and a glowing orb floats in the distance.
Darkness is all around me and I am alone. Again.
A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
The days have become indecipherable. This harsh plane of existence bears only Darkness and cold—two things I’ve become reacquainted with since my banishment to this hellscape. No matter where I run, the glowing orb follows. It stalks me.
I’ve taken to quietly humming a tune to stave off the madness. I don’t enjoy it, but it helps. It’s worked before, when I was trapped beneath the Moon’s surface. Taken and Hive run rampant here. Around every corner. I’m in no shape to defend myself. My mind fights to stay alert. I just need to rest. Just a little…
A bright light awakens me. That glowing orb? Its radiance calls out to me.
No. Stop it. I’m losing my grip again. Hum the song.
You’re making it up. Or worse. It’s the Witch again.
The orb approaches. Could it be?
I stand to meet the light. And I collapse into darkness.
I am awake, I believe—though this feels like a dream.
“You encountered the Witch-Queen and survived.”
I am not sure if this conversation with Toland is real or a figment of my imagination.
“I’m no closer to discovering their machinations.”
“Tell me, what did she say?”
“It was riddles… taunts. She used you, all of you, perverting your voices… I was close to something. Beneath the surface. Slumbering.”
Either way, I am in need of an exit. I must continue, no matter the pain.
“Where do you think you’re going? You’re in no shape to move.”
“I have to. I need to.”
“Are you telling yourself this to motivate, or are you blinded by your obsession?”
Now I am sure he is real.
“Aren’t you curious what was slumbering down there? I know I am.”
He piques my interest. I’ll allow this momentary reprieve.
“Our time in the Hellmouth… requires further examination. I’ve often thought back to our glorious failure. Something has never sat right with me.”
“I imagine dying would leave one unsettled.”
“True, but this lies beyond that void. Our fireteam was comprised of some of the best to ever wield the Light, and yet we were eviscerated with ease.”
“They had weapons… we were not prepared.”
“While true, does the circumstance not bother you?”
“It haunts me to this day. I hesitate to believe anything She would say.”
“But why would She say anything at all?”
“…She means to guide me, Toland.”
“Do not play into Her hand.”
“You lend credence to Her riddles. We must know the truth, no matter the cost.”
“Tread lightly, Eris. Or you may end up like me yet. Or worse!”
“My charge is the same, as always.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“There must—” A flash of light, and once again I cannot see. I hear Toland call out to me, but I am pulled from him, from there.
It’s warm now. And bright. So bright.
I can feel their guns on me.
A FRIEND IN NEED
There’s a heat behind my eyes. I’d forgotten warmth, what it felt like. All I can make out are the weapons pointed at my face. If this is my fate, I will end with the fury of a tempest.
“Lower your guns!”
“Eris Morn. Apologies for the welcome. Never know what will come out of there.”
The Dreaming City. I did not think I ever would set foot here.
“This place… it’s miraculous .”
“Don’t get used to it. We won’t be staying long.”
“Where are we going?”
“To see the Queen.”
“The Witch aims to bait me. I require your guidance, my Queen .”
“She is calculated, meticulous. Proceed cautiously. Her intent is obscured.”
My Queen is wise.
“Where do we begin?”
“Eris… there is understandable urgency in this matter…”
Not you too. Please do not think lesser of me.
“You were on the brink of death. That is not a loss I’m willing to bear.”
“The shadow of death cannot hinder me.”
She takes a concerned pause at my words. Did I misspeak?
“You walk a thin line between duty and obsession. Take it from one with experience.”
"I am driven, but only due to what is at stake."
"And what is that to you?"
"No. What is it to you?"
I watch as she deliberates the validity of my claims. To be dismissed as mad now would be my end.
"A noble cause."
The same desire runs through my Queen’s veins.
"Savathûn’s cunning has its limits... We retrieved a log dating back to the Golden Age that may aid in deciphering Her riddles. It is one of many. The rest are scattered across the stars."
"I must seek them all out."
"You will not have to do it alone."
The months working alongside my Queen were exhilarating and treacherous. I’ve traversed more of the known universe than I ever thought I would see. Through all the vile creatures vanquished and treasures discovered lurks a new sensation… A place in this story.
We’ve collected several of the logs we seek. Each offers a new perspective on the threat we all face. The Golden Age understanding of the concepts of Light and Darkness were primitive, nascent. I wonder if in the millennia that will come to pass, our comprehension will be viewed similarly. It matters not, if we are unable to avoid our looming calamity.
We have come so far, and now I feel our journey coming to a close.
It’s here, in these ruins. I can sense it.
I push the refuse off an ancient chest.
Inside—what we’ve been searching for.
I read. My worst fears confirmed.
"My Queen … it’s been there all along."
To think I must return to those twisted tunnels where the screams of my fireteam will undoubtedly reverberate throughout my mind…
My fate is eternally bound to that place.
There is no escape.
It’s been a long while since I’ve been to the Tower. Much has changed. I pray my departure hasn’t created an irreparable fracture.
Ikora… you must forgive me.
I’ll tell her what I’ve uncovered—where I’ve been. She’ll see the meaning behind my actions.
“When I heard your ship was approaching, I didn’t believe it. Yet here you stand. It’s good to see you.”
“Ikora, my absence was necessary. What I have learned, discovered... Danger lurks closer than you realize. You must trust me. We’ve stood too long ignorant of the cataclysm brewing before us. If we do not act, we face yet another Collapse. We must attend to that which the Hive have unearthed down below the lunar surface—”
Her words bring a fleeting rush of relief.
“We know about the Hive, as well as their recently erected Keep .”
A Keep ? They mobilize. It’s far worse than I knew.
“Then you will come with me, Ikora.”
“Eris, you’ve barely had a moment to rest.”
“You must let me show you the truth. Then you will understand.”
“I have responsibilities here. A lot has transpired in your absence. We’re still recovering from our… losses.”
What lies behind pales in comparison to what we face ahead.
But I won’t fight with her. Not again.
“Then I will go alone.”
“On this I cannot negotiate.”
I can see Ikora measure her options. She does not seek an argument either.
“At least allow me to help you mount an adequate response to a threat that, mind you, we don’t fully understand. Let the Vanguard support you.”
That will take time. Always time. The one element we don’t have the luxury of.
“But you’ll be gone before they can mobilize, won’t you?”
“We all do what we must.”
“Promise you’ll stay in communication with me. I don’t want this to be like last time.”
I nod to Ikora. Always the beacon of benevolence.
She deserves more than I can offer. My calling is not here. There is still work to be done. One last stop. “I have to go.”
Her concern is palpable. It reassures me, oddly. The wound between us can heal. If we live long enough.
“Eris… This thing you’re willing to risk everything for… What is it?”
“I warned of a storm. Can’t you hear the thunder?”
Season of Dawn Weblore
Jasleen was nine cycles old. She stared out from the top of a hill across a blasted, ashen landscape. This morning, this had been her village. Before the Fallen Ketch and its Walkers arrived. Those were equally ruined, reduced to a trio of smoldering, metallic husks at the center of town.
But Jasleen was alive, and so were her parents, and her neighbors too, thanks to the Titan who patrolled the region.
That Lightbearer, a giant in an iron suit, watched curiously as her father tried in vain to smoke a fire into existence. Her mother stared in silence at the burning ash that used to be their home.
Together, they were waiting for the rest of the villagers to return with dinner. Local berries, if they were lucky.
“We would never make it,” Jasleen’s father growled, fumbling with his bow drill. “We can’t afford to dream like you can.”
“I would protect you,” the Titan said.
Jasleen’s father ignored him. Her mother, too.
“My neighbor says Dregs eat children,” Jasleen said, to break the silence.
“I’ve seen it,” the Titan replied.
“I feel sorry for them. The Dregs.”
The Titan looked down at her for a moment, then swept his gaze across the ruin of their lives. “What is their suffering compared to yours? You lost everything today. And still, it was a good day, as these days go.”
She craned her neck to look up at him. “What do you mean?”
“Why is it a good day?”
“I did not arrive too late to help. I did not die today—”
“Do you worry about dying?” she interrupted.
“I worry about not helping.”
“Have you ever lost a fight?”
“Who are they?”
“Guardians, like me.”
Jasleen shrugged, her skinny shoulders sharp under her ratty tunic. “That’s okay. You’re my favorite.”
“We remember those who help us.”
“Has anyone ever helped you?”
He nodded. “Yes. Oh, yes.”
“Who? The Speaker?”
He thinks for a moment before replying. “No. A Guardian, like me. Saved me from the Fallen when I was young, when I had lost everyone I was meant to protect. That Guardian is why humanity must go to the Traveler.”
Jasleen furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”
The foraging party returned with rabbits. They would eat well tonight.
As her mother and father moved to help prepare their dinner, Jasleen undid the bow in her hair and motioned the Guardian to come closer. She wrapped it around the Titan’s gauntlet. “I think that’s going to take a long time,” she said.
“Maybe.” He stared down at his arm. “On that day, I will bring this with me.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Saint,” he said.
“I’ll remember it.”
A woman with gnarled hands and an aged face sat alone on a couch, basking in the dim glow of a Golden Age ruin. She held back a cough as she eyed ancient monitors on the walls and ceiling, which directed visitors to empty offices belonging to people long dead.
It was cold, silent, and dark, and the woman felt she should leave. But just outside, through the doors behind her, an acid rainstorm showered the streets of a dead city.
She had been traveling for weeks, and today she had eaten the last of the hermetically-sealed food from a vending machine she had found a few miles from here. If she could go back, she would; she had taken all that she could carry, but the machine held plenty more. Life in the Golden Age must have been paradise.
Right now she wasn’t hungry, and she felt no fear. It was an odd change of pace—she welcomed the respite.
The room stretched on for a hundred meters in front of her, branching into rows and rows of doors that led to who knew where.
There was enough space in this building to house a thousand families. For a moment she wished her daughter and her daughter’s daughter were still here with her. They had begun their trip together months ago from Varuna, but she had urged them to go on ahead, giving her share of supplies to them. Supplies were heavy, and she was too slow.
There were rumors a human settlement was growing under the Traveler, and the spoken plan was to reunite there.
The spoken plan, at least. She rubbed her hands together to ward off the cold.
And she coughed.
Immediately, something creaked far down the hall. A door slammed open, followed by the sounds of rapid scuffling.
She stood up from her couch and slowly backed away, pulling a plasteel shiv from a sheath strapped to her thigh. Five figures with glowing eyes emerged from the gloom and rushed toward her, brandishing weapons. Two ran like men, massive and four-armed, and two were leaner, crawling low to the ground. The last was small, about the size of a human. It loosed a howl no earthborn mouth could make.
She hoped her child and grandchild still lived, and held her weapon up in silent salute.
The sliding doors behind her opened with a whoosh, and a violet discus cut through the air above her, singing like a sword loosed from its sheath. Three of the creatures dissolved into screaming Void as the disc of Light caromed down the length of the corridor.
As the woman turned to look over her shoulder, an iron monster alight with boiling Void energy leapt over her.
He moved with a grace that contradicted his size, and caught one of the remaining beasts by the neck as it bounded at him. He reeled back, and bam! The thing went limp as he smashed its skull with the top of his helm. Its companion lunged with a crackling Arc Sword, but he stepped forward and kicked its knee out to bring it down to his height, reeled back, and bam! Bam! Bam! He jackhammered the beast’s winged helm with his own. It fell back, dead.
The corridor fell silent.
He turned and asked quietly, “Where do you hail from?”
“Patch Run,” the woman replied.
He nodded. “Lin sent me to look for you.”
The woman scoffed and sheathed her weapon. “She was supposed to go to the Traveler.”
“She made it. All the way,” he replied. “They both did.” He raised his armored hand, wrapped tight with a purple cloth, and keyed a switch on his helmet. “Jumpship will be here shortly. We’ll get you home.”
“Who gave you that ribbon?”
“An old friend. Probably about your age, now.”
“How long do you people live?”
“We don’t know.”
The woman stared at him, then tore a piece from her lavender-colored sleeve. She stepped forward and tied it to a hinge of his pauldron.
“What is this?”
“Your friend is clever. If I leave this with you, I’ll live forever.”
He chuckled. She did not.
“Make a mark on this world,” she said. “Don’t waste the time you have.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
They were quiet a moment.
“None of this bothers you?” he asked, gesturing at the bodies and the raging storm outside.
“Everything bothers me,” she said, sitting back down on the couch.
“What was your name again?”
“I will remember it.”
They listened to the rain as they waited.
Three children, two Awoken girls and a Human boy, slept against a rampart on the City wall. They were standing in for their parents, members of the City volunteer militia. They weren’t old enough to carry weapons, but the boy clutched a remote access switch that would alert every guard in the district.
He would need to be awake to trigger it, though.
So Saint-14 stood watch in their stead. He would leave when his patrol cycle began in the morning.
The children woke when the sun broke the horizon. They pretended not to see him, but when one of the girls tore her handkerchief in two and tied one half to the Titan’s pauldron, the other two did the same with scraps of cloth and fabric.
He asked for their names, but they weren’t supposed to give their names to strangers, and all parted amicably.
The Titan leapt atop the smoldering wreckage of a kit-bashed airship, a stripped-down Arcadia Class incapable of escaping orbit, and tore the Golden Age-polymer canopy right off the cockpit.
He pulled a startled Awoken from out of the pilot’s cabin as the airship’s remaining engine crackled and roared. With the Awoken in his arms, the Guardian tumbled deftly off the Arcadian airframe and took off at full speed away from the wreckage. The Shock Cannon that tore the ship out of the sky had started an Arc reaction in the engine power cells that would—
The shockwave overtook him and tossed him into the air. He rolled to his feet as he landed, dropping the pilot as a dome of Light snapped into being around them. A sleet of debris and shrapnel rolled across the Titan’s Ward of Dawn.
As the metal rain faded, so did the Guardian’s Light. The two stood up. The Titan pulled a Daystar SMG2 from a back holster, checked to see if it was loaded, and handed it to the Awoken. “You are lucky. The Fallen shot you down twenty miles from the Traveler. They will not bother you again. Head due south,” he pointed, and turned to leave. But the pilot tapped his shoulder guard.
The pilot untied a bandana on his arm and held out the strip of plum-colored cloth.
“I have nothing else to give,” the pilot said. “That ship was my life.”
The Titan stared down at the man. “You’ve found a new life. Go to the Traveler.”
“It’s bad luck to not give Saint-14 his due.”
Saint grasped the cloth. “What is your name?”
“Georges,” the pilot replied.
Saint turned back towards the desert.
“I will remember it.”
Saint stood at the gateway into the Infinite Forest.
Other Guardians always seemed to remember where and when they found the engrams that revealed the most treasured pieces in their arsenals. The Gjallarhorns and the Dark Age antiquities. He had difficulty with that.
But he could name almost every person who had awarded him an accolade over the course of his Guardian career.
They covered every nook of his armor. They adorned his ship, the Gray Pigeon.
He had never talked about them, and, as he looked up at the yawning translucent field before him, he wished that he had.
Don’t worry. (Not that you worry much). It took them centuries to build, keyed to the unique frequency of my Light. And I sit atop its shattered husk.
I mourn that I will never reach the heights you have. To me, you represent everything a Guardian can become. Yours is a thriving City. So different from mine. My whole fourteenth life I fought to make my City yours. I never finished.
All I have left is this weapon. The Cryptarchs say you crafted it yourself, built it out of scraps and Light and sheer will, inside the Infinite Forge. I’ll make sure it finds its way back to you. When you gave it to me, I swore I would make it my duty to follow your example.
I’m still trying.
Panoptes, the Infinite Mind, was dead.
And so was Saint-14.
Osiris looked down at what remained of his friend.
The Infinite Forest shimmered around him.
The Vex had built a dais to carry the body of Saint-14. The Titan had been stripped of Light. There was no obvious killing wound on his armor. Perhaps they had repaired it.
Sagira ran a beam of Light across the body.
“Saint carried these ribbons everywhere,” she whispered.
“He called them his ‘accolades,’” Osiris replied.
“What were they for?”
Osiris was quiet for a long moment. He sat staring at the tomb.
"I never asked."
Osiris and Saint stood on a Tower platform overlooking one of the six paths into the City. The road beyond the wall still burned with scorching pits of blue flame.
“Vanguard Commander Saint-14,” said Osiris. “What a ludicrous title.”
“The Consensus wants a new leader in the wake of… all of this,” Saint replied. He shook his head as he gestured at the destruction beyond the City limits. “It’s time.”
“You’ll serve them well,” Osiris replied, manipulating a cube-shaped device into an array of smaller hexahedrons that floated between his fingers. Vex components, Saint thought.
“But… I’m afraid it’s not a title I can keep.”
Osiris looked up.
“Father has plans for me,” Saint continued.
“Giving up Commandership in one day? That’s a record. So go. Be a Titan for the Speaker. After this madness, they will need you to rebuild.”
“I put the Titan aside for this mission. I’m a soldier. There is… difficult work to be done.”
Osiris narrowed his eyes. “What has he asked you to do this time?”
“Take the fight to the Fallen. Seek them out beyond our borders, find them wherever they are. Strike first and hard.”
“This is precisely what I mean when I say the Speaker likes to lead you astray,” Osiris muttered to his cubes.
“You would not say that if you saw what the Fallen have done to our people out there. You’ve forgotten how to see.”
“The Fallen are not so different from us. How hard would you fight if the Light were taken from you?”
“Those stories ring false to me,” said Saint. “They are not a noble people. I’ve fought them, and so have you.”
“I have not fought them all,” the Warlock replied, pulling his hands apart to create an intricate web of hovering cubes and points of light. “They are nothing, no threat—not like the Vex. Not like the Darkness.”
Saint stepped close enough to breathe on Osiris. “Look past the wall, brother. Are you blind?”
Osiris folded the device into his palm and met the Titan’s gaze. “You know I’m the only one watching the whole canvas.”
“But you’ve lost sight of why we fight.”
Osiris turned away and tossed the cubes again to form a miniature constellation in the twilight sky. “As ex-Commander, you have the power to dictate a replacement, should you choose. Who’s it going to be?”
“I have recommended you for the position of Vanguard Commander.”
Osiris turned back. The cubes hung listless in the air.
“You want to give me control over the databases? The Vaults? Jurisdiction over Owl Sector, access to the Last City grimoire?”
“I want you to protect our people,” Saint said. “For all our disagreements—you’re one of the few who can.”
The Warlock stared at the Titan with an unchanging expression.
“We don’t have the resources to do this twice,” Saint continued. “I fought representatives of every House across this conflict. It was a joint effort to exterminate us. If threat should come to the City ever again, you’ll have to fight in my stead.”
“I accept,” Osiris said quickly.
Some time after the death of Panoptes, Infinite Mind and the City’s venture to the Infinite Forest:
Osiris stepped back to look upon his work. It towered stories above him.
The Sundial was complete, a shining beacon in Mercury’s sky. He needed only to seal the chronometric core, which lay bare at the center of the spire, and activate the Arc conduits that ran for miles under the planet’s surface.
Sagira circled the superstructure, scanning every inch of it.
“I don’t know about this,” she said.
“I have full confidence. It’s your design.”
“That work was theoretical! If the Vanguard find out what you did to build it—“
“If this works, the Vanguard will find out either way.”
Sagira darted down as if to dive bomb her chosen, but stopped just short and met him eye to eyes.
“I know you feel guilty, but there’s no telling what will happen if you turn this thing on.”
“He’s dead because of me. I’ve made every precaution. I’ve had my Echoes check against trillions of disaster scenarios.” He turned to look at the fluctuating glow of the exposed chronometric core. “Mercury is the only planet that will be affected. Because that’s where he died.”
“Where will this stop? Who else will you decide deserves a second chance?”
“You know I can’t make another bargain like this one.”
“I just want to make sure you know that.”
Osiris blinked. She rarely spoke this bluntly, and without irony.
“Hey, hey, hey!” came a far-off, echoing shout. “No! That ain’t right!” The Drifter came into view from behind one of the Sundial’s auxiliary pylons, pointing a jabbing finger at Osiris’s machine.
Sagira narrowed her eye at the rogue Lightbearer and lowered herself to Osiris’s shoulder. “Why’s he here?” she asked quietly.
“I asked him to consult on the engineering work,” Osiris replied, crossing his arms.
“You sicko,” the other man declared, walking a circle around the Warlock, his eyes darting along every surface of the Sundial around them.
As the Drifter rapped his knuckles on the north pylon, he mumbled, “Ghost, do the numbers.” An armored Ghost with a red eye unfolded out of transmat and began a scan pattern on each Sundial spire.
Drifter walked to the central spire and put his ear up against it. “This core…” he said, leaning close. His eyes darted back to Osiris. “It’s whispering.”
Osiris’s expression didn’t change; his arms didn’t uncross. “We’ll seal the core away. I understand the ramifications.”
“Good luck keeping that contained. Not something I would bargain with, hotshot.” Drifter stood up and beckoned his Ghost with two fingers. It floated earthward and unleashed a holographic array of statistics along the Sundial deck.
The red light reflected off the Drifter’s eyes as he drank the numbers in. “Your math checks out,” he said, finally, as his Ghost folded away. “It’ll work. But will you find him? At the exact moment that you need? No guarantees.”
“Let me worry about that,” Osiris said.
“Just one more question, then. Why all the fuss?”
“I owe him.”
“I owe a lotta people, Warlock. You’re opening the gates of hell with a Vex key.”
“When the Traveler brought me back, I had no friends. No family—”
“No one had anything in the Dark Age.”
“But Saint was always there. And I saw him grow from neophyte to demigod.”
Drifter shrugged. “We’ve all had to flex a little. Win a gun fight or two. It’s why we’re still here.”
“We all gain strength. But some Lightbearers never grasp a wider view of the world. They’re happy to stick to their ways… languish. When they could be so much more.”
Drifter chuckled and spat, saluting Osiris with a single finger. “I get by.”
“Of course you do. I’m like you.”
“But Saint faced his fears and failure better than any of us, and never strayed from his path. He should get a chance to walk to the end.”
“He already did. But I’ll leave you to your devices. You lunatic.” The Drifter turned, hands in his pockets, to leave. “If you short-circuit the universe, you’re on your own.”
“If I make a mistake here, you might cease to exist,” Osiris replied.
“Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.”
“We haven’t talked about payment.”
“If you live through this little experiment, you can be sure I’ll be back to collect.”
“Go home. There’s a Guardian you should meet,” Osiris said.
“Yeah, yeah. Hero. Red War. Can’t wait.”
A dozen Echoes flanked Osiris.
The Sundial spun and sparked above them, around them.
His Echoes vanished in staccato bursts of chronometric Arc, stepping not elsewhere, but elsewhen, as the Sundial fell silent.
Osiris could still see and feel through them as twelve of him walked the corridors of time.
Where those halls were intersected by the Vex network, his Echoes hacked Hobgoblins and Minotaurs apart using Solar Swords powered by sheer will. They hid their shadows and stood still, unblinking, to avoid the Network Minds. Together, they pushed to corners that gave way to the Mercurian Dark Age.
From there, they separated, entering myriad moments of Saint’s visits to Mercury.
An Echo encounters a battle-hardened Saint at the mouth of Caloris Basin. Saint is a member of the Pilgrim Guard, and he and his fireteam descend on batteries of Vex Goblins, the bloom of heavy gunfire leading their way. This Saint is too early. The Echo does not approach.
Neither does the Echo who watches in a dark corner as Saint’s jumpship lands at a Lighthouse at the Caloris Spires. Its interior is cloaked in shadow. The Cult of Osiris’s retrofit of the structure isn’t due for another age. Saint comes here to keep it clear of Vex attempting to reclaim it. He lights the darkness as he tears Minotaurs apart with Solar fists.
An Echo crouches on a cliffside out of sight as, far below, Saint uses his Solar Light to cut through the armor-plated Mercurian soil. Solitary stones line a series of holes that stretch for a dozen meters to either side.
An Echo hides in burning light as Saint works shoulder to shoulder with the Sunbreakers to construct the Burning Forge. Their hammering and soldering with Solar knuckles and sledges draws a silent parade of Vex to the building site. The Sunbreakers take turns stepping away from construction to dismantle the intruders using the same Solar implements.
An Echo spies Saint from a vantage point on the high plains of the Fields of Glass. The Titan fights for his life against purple-bannered Fallen, bearing the same symbol as modern Dusk soldiers. They are the House of Rain, the lowest House. The burning camp around them is curiously absent of bodies—but Osiris has heard Saint tell this story before. One of Saint’s first missions for the Speaker brought him to Mercury in a failed attempt to “re-take” that planet for humanity. They had not known at the time that the Vex had already started to transform the “garden world” into a machine. House Rain followed Saint’s jumpship and waited ’til the expedition had made camp. Then the Fallen annihilated the colonists Saint was charged to protect and beat him to within an inch of his life. The Echo lives that story first-hand now, and finds himself looking away at the terraformed vegetation at his feet instead. It’s already half machine—grass and metal blades growing beside each other under his boots. A Ketch roars down from the sky and rains heavy munitions on the battlefield, and the Echo’s vantage point fills with rolling clouds of dust. The Echo takes his leave. He’s seen enough.
Osiris’s Echoes scour Saint-14’s timeline on Mercury. But the corridors of time refuse to give way to the moment they need: Saint and the Martyr Mind in the depths of the Infinite Forest. The Echoes work tirelessly for weeks, then months in the space between moments. In desperation, he splits the dozen copies into many thousands more as the work continues fruitlessly.
One Echo stays for years against Osiris’s orders. He has never lost control of one before; he didn’t think that was even possible. He and the Echoes are the same. He feels this aberrant copy lose his sense of self. Another few years in, he feels this Echo press the touch of cold metal to his head.
And then he feels nothing.
Two Echoes wander into the corridors of time with orders not to stop. Brute force has worked for Osiris before. To this day, he can still feel them. Their search continues.
The rest eventually succumb to Vex security measures where the network intersects with the corridors of time. Even Osiris’s Light has limits.
None of the Echoes ever approaches a Saint. They never find the right one.
Osiris sat quietly at the base of the Sundial. No time had passed since the machine’s activation, but he had just lived a multitude of lives.
Sagira hovered over his shoulder and asked, hopefully, “Did it work?”
The Warlock stood, and made his way to the southern border of the Sundial. “Shut it down. Wrap everything in a stealth skin. Let nothing, no one, find it.”
Osiris disappeared into an incandescent flame.
Sagira stared at the Sundial’s central spire.
“Dammit,” she whispered.
Actions of Mutual Friends
Osiris stood before a gate into the Infinite Forest.
Two years ago, news had reached him that one of his oldest friends was dead. Saint had been missing for ages, but the Warlock had always assumed the Titan would turn up someday. He was wrong.
He realized he was staring through a dormant gate frame and keyed a cubical device that hung at his belt to pry the doorway open.
He couldn’t save Saint from the Vex. But every day he stood vigil in the Infinite Forest to monitor simulations of the future based on their activity.
Beyond the gate, a shimmering sea of data beckoned him.
He stepped through, into the white maw of an Infinite Forest debug chamber.
“Start it up, Sagira,” he said.
“Sure you don’t want to take a break today?” she asked, unfolding above him like a crown.
“The Vex won’t.”
She considered it a moment, then the Forest shimmered around them and the white maw dimmed to half-darknes
Then pitch black.
The floor fell away, and Osiris’s Light held him aloft, sheathed him in a thin veneer of armor.
Nothing moved. The Warlock frowned, lit a Solar spark and held it up. It illuminated nothing around him. “Did something go wrong with the sequence?”
“I just triple-checked. No,” she replied. “This is it. This is the simulation.”
He keyed his radio.
“Go ahead, Osiris,” Ikora said.
“What’s happening out there?” he replied.
“Take your pick. We’re at war on the Moon again. The Vex attacked.”
“We retaliated. The Undying Mind is dead.”
“A plan. And mutual friends.”
“Our mutual friends just changed all projected futures in the Infinite Forest.”
“You don’t sound happy about that.”
“I’ll be in touch.” He cut the transmission. “Where are we?” he asked Sagira.
“Where we always are. Simulated Mercury.”
He couldn’t even see stars.
“How far does this void reach?”
“All the way to the Traveler, for all I know.”
“Take us there.”
Osiris knew the simulation moved around him, but the typical shimmer of the Forest was gone. There was nothing to see.
“We’re here,” she confirmed, as he found gravelly purchase under his boots. He had never heard her sound so unsure of herself.
It was brighter here at the top of a windswept dune, but barely. He couldn’t see the sun in the purple twilight that hung above him. The breeze roared in his ears.
The sphere of the Traveler was gone. In its place, an obsidian monolith at least twice the size dominated the sky. In the Last City’s place was a swirling dust storm, tinged purple by the dying light.
“When does this happen?”
“The Forest predictions give a window of two or three decades, depending on a multitude of variables. With a not-insignificant chance for acceleration based on specific elements.”
“Actions of mutual friends.”
“Kill the simulation. Get me to Mercury.”
The three sisters arrived on Mercury.
They searched for the Infinite Forest, and through it, a path to their people’s salvation: a simulated future where they were free from the Cabal.
Instead, they found something else.
“Small disturbances,” said oldest Ozletc, the wisest. “Little currents in this timeline. Can you see them, sister?”
“I can taste them,” said second-born Tazaroc, the hungriest of her sisters. “I can feel the edges.”
Third-born Niruul, the quietest among them, reached her hand out to test the air. “As can I,” said she. “And something else. The source is disguised. The technology is Human, but refined. Surprisingly so.”
“Disable it,” said Tazaroc, who was impatient. “It is leaking. I wish to see the leak.”
Niruul fluttered her fingers across the sleeve of her suit. She worked for one day and one night, though the passage of time was hidden by Mercury’s perpetual blinding light. All the while, she could feel the restless impatience of her sisters.
A strange device shimmered into existence around them. They looked up the length of an enormous, golden spire.
“It whispers,” said Tazaroc.
“Then block your ears,” said Ozletc. “Do you see the potential in this?”
“Chaos,” said Niruul.
“No,” said Ozletc. “Opportunity. See how it tugs at the fabric of our time? Can you see the seams?”
The seams were sewn tightly shut, but a skilled hand could find them. A skilled hand could rip every stitch. All three sisters could feel it.
“It will take time to activate,” said Niruul. “Someone has protected it from meddling.”
“We will have time,” said Ozletc. “We will open the past and change the course of Ghaul’s fate. Anticipate his mistakes. Undercut his advisors.”
“Why?” said Tazaroc.
“Because he could be swayed to our purposes,” said Ozletc. “He was a fool, but he could be puppeteered. Led to a more advantageous downfall.”
“But why not go back further?” said Tazaroc, eager. “To dash the whelp’s skull in the pit, before he crawls out onto a throne?”
“Risky,” said Niruul, shaking her head. “Why not tear into the future instead, and make our attack where the Guardians cannot predict it?”
“Predictions are not their strength,” said Tazaroc.
“And yet they have built this,” snapped Niruul.
“Sisters,” Ozletc said. “We needn’t argue. This device will let us walk through future and past both. And so we will cut the most advantageous path, whatever it may be.”
For hours and days and weeks, the sisters labored over the machine. While her sisters defended her from the Vex, Niruul bent the device to their purposes and, with the force of their combined will, made it whir to life.
Around them, time split along its seams. Windows into other worlds, Mercury’s true past and future, opened before them. The device stood at the center of all of it, an anchor point. And all along the fault lines of time, where the past and present and future met, Vex were ripped in half, sliced through by a knife of pure temporal energy.
They surveyed their new kingdom: a past, present, and future open to their manipulation.
“It is so clear,” said Niruul, reverent. “An unobstructed glimpse into what was and what will be.”
“Not the troubled ramblings of a mad thing, like the OXA,” said Tazaroc.
They shared the feeling of unbounded possibility, and tasted the potential for success, and then for failure. Together, they drank the feelings in and steeled themselves against them.
“The past and future are at our fingertips, sisters,” said Ozletc. “Let us see what prospects they hold.”
Chronometric emissions cut across Mercury’s surface, and radiolaria steamed from fissures that erupted like open wounds in the machine soil. White-blue streams of Arc energy carved borders around a circular sector about a hundred miles wide. Walls of chronometric flame tore through Vex spires that came tumbling down in halves and sheared Minotaurs in two along the boundaries of the region.
The Red Legion stood watch as these eruptions flared around every Cabal machine, structure, and soldier inside the sector. They showed no sign of panic as ethereal fire burned over the world and their Vex opponents. Instead, they waited, watched, and mobilized purposefully around the phenomenon.
The circular shape that these walls cut were further segmented into three sections: Red Legion soldiers found themselves staring across the chronometric walls at each other from inside Mercury’s past, present, and distant future.
Under three different skies, three different suns, and on three different elevations of Mercury’s gradually descending surface, the Red Legion went to work. Perhaps this time they would win the Red War.
Somewhere deep inside the Vanguard halls in a secure meditation chamber, a trio of Warlocks surrounded Osiris: one Praxic, one Thanatonaut, and one Vanguard.
“Did the Vex corrupt him?” Aunor wondered.
“My Order just wants to know if he’s real. Or some kind of Vex simulation. An Echo?” Harper said, paging through a datapad in his hands.
“You haven’t left the Forest in years,” Ikora said to Osiris, the only one to address him directly.
“I need help,” Osiris replied.
“I know,” Ikora responded, hands clasped behind her back. She stared intently at her former mentor. Back in her Crucible days, that uncompromising gaze was often the last thing her opponents saw. Aunor glanced sidelong at her superior. Harper coughed and looked down at his datapad.
“Two years ago, Guardians entered the Infinite Forest,” Osiris continued. “They aided me in defeating the Axis Mind Panoptes, preventing a Vex apocalypse from befalling this system.
“In the process,” he looked between each of them in turn, “Some Guardians reported a body they found in the Forest depths.”
“Saint-14 never came back from that last mission to Mercury. We finally knew why. I reacted to it the only way I knew how.”
“By turning Mercury into a temporal weapon for the Cabal?” Aunor asked.
“You are awfully tranquil for a man who just doomed this system,” Harper said.
“You should rethink your career in Thanatonautics, Warlock Harper, if death frightens you so,” the exile replied. He nodded at Aunor. “I’ve made mistakes. I will continue to make them. The nature of my work requires it.”
“We should lock you away,” the Praxic replied. But there was no fire in it.
“There are others you’ve allowed to roam free. These are desperate times, Aunor,” Osiris said. “I think you know that.”
Harper opened his mouth to ask another question, but Ikora cut him off. “Give us a minute.”
Aunor ducked her head and Harper bristled, but both left without question. Alone with Osiris, Ikora said, “The Speaker was right to exile you.”
“We all make our own choices,” Osiris replied. “Like the Vex gateway you built to the Undying Mind. A strategy like that is exactly what the machines would not expect. And you knew the Guardians would deliver.”
“What’s your point?”
“You think like I do. But you’ve done what I never could. Found a way to coexist with the Vanguard while keeping their fool necks above the water,” said Osiris.
“If you think you’re helping your case, you’re not.”
“Time is broken on Mercury. I need help from our mutual friends.”
“I know that. My Hidden have scouted your Sundial. The Red Legion are loose in a time rift that’s localized to the past, present, and future of Mercury.” She took a step closer to him, shoulders tense. “If we don’t contain it, it’s not going to stay that way for long. The rift will expand across the system.”
“I’ve created a mitigation network across Guardian space. I’m in control.”
“You are anything but—!”
“Saint deserved another chance.”
“So did Cayde! So did everyone we lost in the Red War.”
“We’ll hunt the Cabal across every timeline they create within the Sundial. They’ll never be able to exploit it.”
“You’re damn right. Because you’re going to mobilize the Guardians. You’re going to fix this. And then you and I are going to have a long talk.”
“Mercury should be the least of your worries.”
“Let’s save it for the long talk.”
The three oldest sisters—Ozletc, Tazaroc, and Niruul—gathered around Amtec, the youngest. They spoke in harmonizing tones, each voice the pluck of a different string on the same instrument.
“You know our purpose,” said Ozletc. “This crumbled timeline…”
“Will let us right the wrongs of Ghaul the Abdicated,” said Tazaroc. “And thus see our people…”
“Reborn,” said Niruul. “Loosed from our fetters.”
“I know your purpose,” said Amtec, who was the most beloved. She trembled in their massive presence. The three oldest sisters had begun the process of joining, known only to them through ancient texts of the mind, never accomplished in recent memory. It was a permanent metaconcert; an unbreakable bond of self-dissolution. Already their minds had begun to merge, and Amtec could see them being drawn closer, as if by some magnetic force in their bones.
“Then you know,” said Ozletc.
“The consequences of our failure,” said Niruul.
Amtec nodded. Her eye darted from sister to sister, now both more foreign and more familiar, as each sister was each other sister, somehow, combined.
“Together, we are stronger,” said Tazaroc.
“Than any threat that may challenge us,” said Ozletc. “But should we fail…”
“Unlikely though it is,” said Tazaroc.
“You must succeed where we could not,” said Ozletc. “And so, you will join with us…”
“In mind,” said Niruul.
“But not in body,” said Tazaroc.
Already, Amtec could feel the power of their minds—their mind—settle against the edges of her own like a heavy, flat stone.
“And so our failure,” said Niruul.
“Will be your failure,” said Ozletc.
“And our revenge,” said Tazaroc.
“Will be your revenge,” said Ozletc.
Amtec had hoped since the beginning to join her sister in mind and body on the battlefield of time. She had thought, today, they would ask. But she knew that if she felt it too keenly, they would taste her disappointment, and she craved their love.
“I understand,” she said, and she vowed to see that any threat that would harm her sisters would be annihilated so thoroughly that it would be wiped from living memory.
Season of the Worthy Weblore
What Gives Me Pause
“I’m willing to overlook your past.”
Crimson light quivers, exhales, and surges in waves across bedrock walls at quickening tempo. Deified machination ripples in judgement.
“Trust doesn’t come easily with you.” Osiris’s eyes wash in Warmind light. He remembers Saladin’s words. Remembers the names that were. He feels small again, against the wash. Alone.
Osiris feels the weight of Rasputin’s assessment. Rhythmic cipher crashes over him as displays sling projections into maddening motion. Osiris’s face splits into golden multitudes to consume the information. Eyes in all directions, searching for the path. Rasputin constructs a model of the system, highlighting an anomalous signal near the edge of Sol’s influence. Osiris’s mind sieves the data into manufactured purpose.
He is led.
Never one to follow.
With nothing left to chase.
Oxidized dust scours the landing pad. Sagira greets Osiris as he exits the bunker and slumps into his jumpship.
“How did it go?”
“Better than expected.”
“Did you say hi to Ana?”
“She is busy. We have a lead.”
Osiris grips the flight stick. His gaze slips betwixt and between points of focus.
“Do we have to leave right now?” Sagira floats into his sightline. “I’m sure Saint woul—“
Their eyes don’t meet.
“We have a long flight.”
Sagira relents. Her tone sharpens. “How long?”
||KUIPER SLINGSHOT ACHIEVED: COURSE CORRECTION; NEGATIVE; BREAK LINE TRAJECTORY FAILURE||
||ALERT: GRAVITATIONAL ANOMALY: BOW||
Solar warmth peels away into guideless vacuum as Osiris skims across the Heliopause. A hollow serenity bathes his face.
“What is it?”
Osiris breathes a sigh of relief at the sight of the anomaly.
“I… feel strange.” Sagira settles from her orbit about Osiris’s shoulders, her voice crackling with interference.
“It might be best if you stay with the ship.”
“It might be best if you had better ideas.”
Osiris grunts under his breath and cuts the engines. “I won’t be long.”
|COURSE CORRECTION;NEGATIVE;BREAK LINE TRAJECTORY FAILURE||
“That’s never true.” Sagira scans the warping stillness. “There’s nothing in there, Osiris.”
“No reason to worry then.”
Sagira narrows her iris at him. “I can’t even find a point to transmat you to.”
“What?” Sagira faces the anomaly. “What are you trying to prove?”
Osiris affixes a visor to his helmet and clips a localizing beacon to his belt. With a hiss, his head swims in pressurizing atmosphere.
“It has to lead somewhere.” His helmet radio vies with interference.
Sagira droops in disappointment. “Does it?”
He looks through her, eyes sullen and heavy. He nods.
A great Maw yawns before them, wicked and soft. Brilliant unfurling layers of opaque invitation. They drift. The Deep comfort hums through his skin, breeding a resilient calm. A silent static stasis boiling away at the brim of consciousness.
||COLLISION ALERT: BOW | COURSE CORRECTION;NEGATIVE;COLLISION IMMINENT||
The Anomalous Maw welcomes. It is a gullet, endless in hunger and depth that splits reality like petals opening to consume the Sun. The depth warps. Sweet flavor spins through the senses. It cradles him, locks in motionless descent, rocks away fear with warm recognition. Stretches, and wraps, and cribs.
||COLLISION ALERT: STARBOARD;BOW;ABEAM;RADIAL;AFT;BOW;ABEAM;PORT:AFT;RADIAL;PORT:BOW | COURSE CORRECTION: NEGATIVE;TRAJECTORY FAILURE;COLLISION: FAILURE||
It threads through space set adrift beyond and before, until there is only within. Within: a point. Lone and stark amid the undulating expanse. Distant, at the edges, and forward, only deeper.
Osiris a wayfaring witness. A reluctant heir. A broken promise made true. A husk to fill a throne of sustenance. A shear to prune the vine. A warden to vacancy. A mind elated and crestfallen. A sojourner of meaning ever seeking.
He turns back. Sagira’s light blinks from shaded canopy within his vessel. Starless bends weave and break through pools of luminescent memory. They flow to the point beyond.
The point grows gaunt, and if he were to reach out, he would brush the walls with his fingertips. Osiris stands in dark quiet comfort. He treads placid trim. He swims in depth lined by pale rivers of white gnashing, far below and above.
He sends forth his Echoes. Their sight finds no purchase in the gullet. They push the walls beyond his fingers and let stand only the path of want. They drift until no longer felt. The skeins neither snap nor remain.
Before him, the gnarled point softens and splits into a blooming cathedra. A metal seed laid barren in the bosom of the throne in a pool of light. A nexus. He plucks it from the pool. From its drippings spawn a rapturous light, spreading through the enormity and ravenously washing over the gullet at increasing pace.
Dark gives way to cold reflective alloy.
To logic and formless calculous.
The cathedra, overwhelmed by prediction, rings with the dull mimicked tone of congruence. They scream to Osiris. His mind. They crave, never to tire, his unique causality. They would grow, unceasing. Death to death, forever.
The path of want falls to assimilation.
Osiris flees to the safety of Sagira’s blinking light. The gullet quivers reverberation that trails his every step in sentient chromic glisten. He calls for her. To open the ship. To break the false-light wave that besets his every step. To—
“I’m glad you changed your mind.”
Sagira’s shell shines a reflection across the cockpit as Osiris’s jumpship rolls to face the Sun. “Ready to go?”
||KUIPER SLINGSHOT JUMP-LOCK: TRAJECTORY CLEAR; GREEN LINE||
“Sagira…” He grips a cold metal seed. “Yes.”
The Sun hangs dim and distant in a sea of ink. Its waning glare burns the focus out of Osiris’s eyes. Blind to all other points, they drift; engines humming in anticipation; vessel drenched in an angular shadow.
LUCUS PLANUM EXPANSE
Tectonic groans shake the surface. Apollinaris Mons had been bellowing pyroclastic clouds for two days before the quakes doused its ambition. They shattered the volcano's southern slope, sending the landmass shelves that supported Apollinaris' caldera into freefall. Volcanic lightning forked illumination through plumes of soot over the cascading landslide. The face of Mars shed, and with it the glint of a treasured age was laid bare; grit-polished bone that hung among the alloy-flaked basalt cliffs like trophies in an iron case.
Fresh Martian storms cut red into the sky.
Oxidized sandscape stretches for miles around the broken mountain, bent into multiple sloped creases that had cupped Apollinaris' base before the fall. Their fracturing borne spillways down the volcano's banks, as if loosed from between the fingers of fallen Ares, lost to time and waiting to be exhumed.
Dunes migrate outward from the ruin, carried forward on strong zephyrs—each ever distant from the last. Under the windblown sands knuckled patches of basalt are revealed like fossils carefully brushed into sunlight by the breath of Aeolus. Wind, now unfettered by stony resistance, roars across open wastes, unfurls through the salt-encrusted yardangs that sparsely pock the surrounding desert, and rejoins the currents. Dust and ash follow. Thirteen salt-form opalescent spires encage the approach. They had ribbed inward against the caldera’s deluge; soot-ash frenzy staining them of burnt bones.
Within the storm, a glow refracts.
A red-sea pyre.
Coals still warm.
A sojourner’s welcome.
Ana Bray traverses the newly sunken expanse, wrapped in mixed layered garb that forms a pseudo-duster and trails her frame in scruffy shawls of loose thread. Jinju glides in front of her and spins a thin Light barrier to buffet away the scouring winds. She halts at the shore of the caldera, Apollinaris Mons’ wide crest vies for dominance over the horizon as it presses the borders of her vision. Resonators embedded across her custom SN0MASK hum and disperse dirt from her visor.
“You were right about the storm, Jinju. It’s not going anywhere.” Her voice crackles through her respirator.
Jinju chirps sassily and rocks side to side.
Ana scoffs. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Jinju pointedly focuses her iris on the lengthy distance they’ve already traveled, then on the remaining distance, and back to Ana.
“Yeah. It didn’t look this far from the air.” She shifts a bandolier of pouches over her head. 18 Kelvins tight to her hip.
Her augmented eyes twist and focus to the cliff-face installation across the caldera. Braytech. Solid and unyielding in its form; a cenotaph to the progeny of her line. Ana’s hand finds the snap-lock on a bandolier pouch, pulls a locational tracker from it, and switches it to life. The screen pops dull-resolution green, and a rhythmic ping pulsates some distance ahead.
Warsat Spike Integrated
Distance: 31,739 meters
Output: 51 GWh
Geiger Reading: (!) 67 µSv/y (!)
Biometric Activity: Negative
Network Uplink: Negative
Broadcast Signal: Negative
"No Hive, no Cabal. Either they're stretched thin or we got here faster than I thought." Ana cycles her sulfur-stained respirator filter with a new one.
Jinju cheeps excitedly at the lack of hostiles, “About time.”
"Right?" Ana looks back to the tracker. “That’s a lot of power, whatever you are.”
Jinju slowly emerges over Ana’s shoulder and emits a duo of low hums.
“Geothermal makes sense.” She nods towards the center of the caldera.
Ana commits the information to memory before stowing the tracker. “Good readings. Nice shot, Red.”
A synesthetic tone ripples marmalade hue through her helmet in response.
Their descent to the roof of the exposed facility entrance had been the cleanest route. The trio's position atop the tunneled arch oversaw the caldera, with the installation's entrance causeway far below them.
Jinju scans a cylinder protruding from the corroded roof, years caked around its metal frame. Ana kneels beside her. She scrapes oxidization from the cylinder's riveted label with her boot knife.
Cranial Node S-0319
Ana runs her glove down the cylindrical node, brushing dust and oil grime from its metallic shell in search of a seam. "Hello Cranial Node S-0319. Nice to meet you, you sneaky bastard."
She guides the edge of her knife to chip away rust and expose the discolored metal underneath. How long did it take for rust to bleed tarnish into the steel's luster? She wipes her palm across the enclosure circularly, smearing ash progressively thinner until it blends like cloudy wax polish. Ana exhales, rolls her shoulders and continues chipping away. The knife's blade finds purchase in the crease of the node’s access panel seam. Ana pushes an impulse of Light through the blade, busting the access panel cover free from its rusted locks.
SUBSET —PILLORY #9
SERIAL – 1012058112-CLVS-9
"Auxiliary panels. Why would they put these on a closed system… outside?"
Jinju cocks her shell to the side as if to shrug. “Hard to say.”
"Nothing in the archives?"
Jinju shakes her shell left to right: No.
Ana shifts. "You know what this is, Red?”
Discordant tone ripples indistinct expressions that fade against her visor.
"We'll see if you remember anything after we hook you into the mainframe.” Ana kneels and looks over the exposed node panel before replacing the cover. “Maybe even something on Atlas.” Words sent forth to die in the storm. Atlas. Clovis Br— her grandfather's mythic journal. Its obscurity had proven far more challenging to overcome than anticipated. Ana's determination, however, was a resilient creature. Here, she would find answers.
Jinju chirps and bobs toward the setting sun breaking through the edge of the storm. Thunder booms.
Ana rocks back on her heels, letting her momentum tip her into a seated position in the dirt. Her eyes follow rusty drifts across the conquered spillway. A red front swims from the clouds overhead outward, kilometers away, nearly cinching off Sol's pale light. The star is a frail bulb. The delicate few petals of warmth that escape settle on Ana’s face: pollen sunk to surface. She lets it soak—a momentary basking.
Night creeps from the horizon, and with it the cold of darkness.
She wouldn’t stay long enough to be exposed.
Ana eyes the causeway beneath. A reinforced blast door, rough with erosion, was blown agape at some point. Jinju peers over the hundred-meter drop and descends steadily without hesitation. Ana pulls a dual-line cord from her bandolier and embeds it into the stone face. She lets her center of gravity teeter and fall, catching herself on cushions of Light to slow her.
Her feet find ground, Ghost beside her. She anchors the other end of her dual-line in the causeway steel and clamps an auto-lift to it. Ana revs the auto-lift and runs slack out of the line.
Jinju turns to Ana. Iris meets eyes.
“Think anybody's home?" Ana dips her head toward the entrance.
Flavored tone ripples cinnamon, and the scent washes across her visor into a dull whine.
Jinju chirps and nods towards something behind her.
Some distance from the opening, a detached sign lay exposed:
Ana's eyes sharpen, adventurous and keen.
“Nine? Here I thought we’d found all the sites on Mars.”
CLOVIS – 9
The splintered blast door wheezes. Licks of wind spill over the caldera and whistle through ragged gaps between metal-shed fragments. The blast door had been peeled away; curlicues of high-density Plasteel gnarled into dead spider legs.
Ana focuses her eyes on the damage. "This door. It's built like a vault. Something punched right through it."
Jinju draws a scan over the door, frame to frame. “They’d need a lot of power to penetrate that much Plasteel.”
Heat discoloration, frictional wear, and vigorous application are printed throughout the vault-style door. Channels like neon paint-spatter radiation scar the metal's face, gilded in veins of copper-teal patina. Tarnish concentrates along the strips that once formed the center of the door, while the surrounding shore-like edges, still largely intact, remain swollen and fused to the archway framing it.
Ana steps closer to the blast door and runs her hand along the steel. She swats to silence the resonators on her visor. “I didn’t see this from up there. I thought it was just pitted but look at these markings.”
Jinju floats squarely above Ana’s head. Her iris traces the spiraling patterns within small indented pits in the metal. Together, they follow interlinking connections that flow from the door’s center, outward, carving symmetrical grooves only micrometers in depth.
“So… not punched. More like pushed.” Jinju zeroes in on stress fractures in the metal. The damage was applied delicately, as if someone had split, bent, and smoothed each individual protrusion with meticulous intention.
Ana scrapes corrosion into a sterile receptacle with fingertips clawed in pointed Light and stows it in her bandolier.
Jinju chirps. "Damage pre-dates the eruption—by a lot. It’s a miracle it wasn’t flooded."
Ana nods. “These patterns look like… wavelengths? What do you think, Red?"
Aurelian honey-dripped tones wash through Ana’s helmet in luxurious fashion.
“Something Golden Age. Sure." Ana massages her palm contemplatively. “Biometric scan still says it’s empty. Whatever did it, they’re gone now.”
Jinju flicks a light on and shines it into the door-hole puncture. “Guardians first.”
Ana scrunches her face at her Ghost. “You know, normally it’s the lackey that goes in first.”
“Yes,” chirps Jinju.
Rasputin hums a resplendent and authoritative purplish rhythm through Ana’s helmet. It persists, orchestral vibrato trailing in her ears.
“Ha. Ha.” Ana responds, devoid of amusement.
They enter together.
Jinju’s light speckles through ash flittering in from the punctured doorway, but all elsewhere there is only stillness. A small utilitarian atrium encircles them with a freight lift directly ahead, saddled by two large windows. Smudges and clouded filth belie a grander facility beyond them. A sectioned-off reception desk fills the space on their right, while lockers line the opposing left wall or lay fallen in impact craters of collecting ash. Above them a large gyro arm, split away from the vault door, is ensconced into the ceiling. Cracks in the surrounding superstructure tell of a violent snap.
The room isn't particularly tall, only enough to accommodate the entryway frame behind them. From the arm, the ceiling slopes down swiftly to the top of the lift mechanism, lines of florescent bulbs popped or burnt out ages ago litter the floor in a field of glass shards that transform Jinju’s light-beam into prismatic skitters across the walls.
Ana looks around and crunches through the glass, making her way to the windows. Her visor ripples infrared as a scan sweeps the room. Heat signatures, nil.
“I’m not seeing any access points to plug Red in.” Her voice trails with abject confusion.
Jinju whirs and floats passed Ana, decompiling herself into data-points of Light that sift into the walls around the lift. Jinju’s flashlight goes with her. Darkness rushes in on Ana to fill the space left by Jinju's absence. It halts against a Light epimysium, clinging to her like a second skin.
She waits in depth. A pause.
Time: malleable in the dark.
Ana puts her fingers to the glass and leans. It feels firm, cold, resistant to pressure. She draws in her fingers, leaving trenches in the caked soot. Her fist closes and polishes a clean hole through the smears.
A pop sounds overhead and glass plinks off her helmet. Ana ducks her head reflexively.
The few remaining intact fluorescent bulbs surge with electricity. Some burst into flashes of ash and sparks, but enough remain to dimly light the room. Through the newly cleaned window porthole, lights twinkle within a dark expanse of liquid before swelling into waves of psychedelic surf across endless towering fields of circuitry. Ana inches her face closer to the glass.
The lift chugs.
A thin overlay interface pulses to life on top of the basalt separation between lift and window, pulling away Ana’s attention.
Jinju recompiles herself into being, a smug lilt to her wafting motions through the air. Her light-beam carves existence out of the dark. “Rasputin can’t do everything you know.”
A crimson-hue lash spits venom across Ana’s visor.
“Good job Jinju. Red, cool it.”
The trio board the lift.
The lift descends.
They drift diagonally deeper. On either side, paint-stamped signage bears familiarity.
>>> CLOVIS — 9 >>>
The Bray name, in origin—at least as far back as anyone would care to look—was seated inseparably from Clovis. Preservations on the shaft walls, though dulled under waning ash coat, solidify his legacy in stenciled prints visible through the split-weave chicken wire wrap that surrounds the lift.
Ana lets loose a whistle. “Raasssputin. This has your name written all over it.”
Senseless quiet sounds back in recognition of a daunting unfamiliarity.
>>> PILLORY CONTAINMENT / MAINTENANCE >>>
Hydraulic pipes groan as the freight lift transitions from the stony shaft enclosure into a glass-walled overlook.
Ana steps forward, Jinju close behind. Both peer through the rusted links into monolithic mangroves of circuitry and data cores, drown in an oceanic tank. Coolant ebbs and flows through bundles of sapphire wiring in shallow breaths. Psychotropic-surge washes over motley arcs of electricity as they zip between the towers like synaptic impulses.
Tint spills through the glass and flows over eye and iris alike, dripping color into faint emergency lighting. Ana slips between the feverish half-breath beats of pigment that roll over the lift cabin. She could stare forever. If time would wait, it might be enough.
Rhythmic. Fleeting. Frenetic. Beauty.
Something blinks in her visor:
(!) HYPOXEMIA: b/o 77% (!)
She shakes it. Comes to. Breathes. Sharp.
Ana turns her head towards Jinju, her eyes still affixed to the glass.
“Are those servers? An archive?” An undercurrent of excitement pitches through Ana's voice. Atlas had always materialized in her mind as a journal or hidden subset of file directories… but this, if it was what she thought it was… After all these years buried gems still hold the capacity to surprise her.
Jinju sends scans out into the drink. "They're shielded." She sinks a bit under the weight of her disappointment. “It’s odd that they’d run the servers off backup power, if that's what they are. I was only able to trip the auxiliary breaker from the atrium.”
>>> MAINFRAME ACCESS >>>
"At least we're going the right direction."
Clatters and whines echo through the shaft as the lift comes to a stop.
Gates glide through pristine tracks and slip into alcove slots in the walls, giving way to a maintenance nexus fed by dozens of service hatch, fiber-line cluster, and access tunnel nervous systems that sprawl the facility.
Directly ahead, a door:
Ana’s visor sweeps and hi-lights a dead network aperture embedded in a web of tunnels below them.
“Jinju, think you can get us in through that?
Crinkle-thrum laughter purrs from Jinju’s shell. “Power will be restored momentarily.”
Ana approaches the mainframe door; Jinju’s Light-fetters dissipate behind her. It’s no blast door, but still far denser than any of the surrounding maintenance hatches. Ana turns away from the door and looks back to survey the room.
Brass-hue citrus prickles surge from temple to temple across her visor. Discrepancies in the floor’s smoothness trim with ballistics pings. Impact-gouge divots had whisked chunks of melted stone into shallow swept peaks all along the floor. A peppering of gloss-ridden flakes around each of Rasputin's contact pings designate three main concentrations of fire.
“Someone had a gunfight down here. Looks like everything was flying one direction. Nice catch, Red.”
Satin satisfaction weaves over Ana’s skin and dissolves like perfume.
Jinju reforms, prideful.
“Auxiliary power spooling down. Main power stations, of which there are twenty-two, are coming online presently. Expect full operational system functionality to be restored within a minute or two.”
“What would I do without you?”
“Well you’d only die once, and that would be it.”
Ana shakes her head and attempts to bite down a smile.
Rasputin remains silent.
The trio position themselves at the door as breaker activations roll thunderous current through the facility.
Ana unclasps the holster strap on 18 Kelvins.
Light-strips sputter and strain to illumination along corners and grooves outlining the floor and ceiling. Glimmers catch in the gunfire ruts behind them.
She extends her fist to Jinju.
Jinju bumps it with her shell.
Ana taps her knuckles against her helmet to a bass-beat response.
She nods. “Stay behind me.”
A lens blinks at center-top position above the mainframe door. It sweeps red light over them, focuses in on Ana Bray's badge, and shuts off. Moments pass before a decrepit speaker garbles a synthetic wail of acknowledgement. Piston locks slink into silicon-grease sheaths and the access door retracts into the ceiling.
Flickering shadows strobe three forms—sunken and ragged. They lay motionless in pools of iridescent slick; tacky globs grip tattered textile strands like thread-bare posts driven into oil. Powerless. Unlit.
"Exos," Jinju's somberness bleeds into the cadence of her movement as she sweeps the scene. "Repairs might be—
"And wipe them again? No." Ana follows her in and hovers over one of them, carefully avoiding the pool of oil. "Let them be… besides it's not like they're going anywhere."
Between the bodies lay a sleek instrument, sized for crew deployment and dressed in precious filigree tendrils rimmed in calligraphic etching. The instrument’s core links to multiple platinum discus drums implanted into its frame, resembling the smaller resonators on Ana’s helmet, and ends with a hopper-crown of artificial diamond bearings.
"Here's what they used to crack the entrance door." Jinju assesses structural damage to the device. Twists of broken machinations do nothing to diminish its Golden Age beauty. "Took a lot of hits. Inoperable. Not beyond saving though.”
Jinju tilts to the machine while Ana approaches an Exo body. "Should I transmat this back home?"
"Yeah…" Her answer full of distraction.
Ana kneels, a visor sweep hi-lights bullet holes, ruptures, and mechanical failures—her eyes, however, see only the BrayTech emblem emblazoned on the Exo's uniform. Ana pulls a rusty-clasp badge from the Exo’s belt.
"This is how they accessed the lift… and got through the door scan. How long ago was this?"
Power kicks on. Strip-lights drone as charge flows through the room. A thick glass enclosure dug out of the far wall brightens. Beyond the glass divider: a step-way and a series of consoles undergoing automated boot procedures.
Jinju analyzes an Exo. "They're well preserved down here, hard to tell exactly. I’ll take some samples."
A synthetic voice, wracked with static and age, seethes into the room.
Jinju and Ana turn to each other.
Ana lifts her hands into a shrug and mouths: I don’t know!?
Jinju’s look intensifies into a glare, her thoughts almost transmitting telepathically: Try something?
"Bray, Anastasia. Verification—"
Scans run over them.
"Anomalous Entity Detected…
Rogue Mind Detected…"
A duo of gauss repeaters drop and align firing solutions. Ana grips Jinju with her gun-hand and flings her back, condensing a swarm grenade into her left. She tumbles sideways as the coilguns open fire and flings the grenade in the opposite direction. It erupts into firefly explosives that flutter toward the turrets. The repeaters snap to the solar-heat signatures and unload at the distraction.
18 Kelvins lines up with the leftmost repeater, chunking round after electrified round into the sparking turret. Her gun burns, super-heated, discharging arc-rounds with cores of solar Light. Metal drips molten from the turret’s fluxing frame. It rattles. A final round ruptures the magnetic barrel and splits the rotary breach, sending splinters of shrapnel across the room.
With the swarm grenade's fireflies depleting, the remaining gauss repeater swivels and locks onto Ana. She ducks under a leading shot and spins—using the centrifugal force to whip a solar knife through the turret, splitting it. Flame-licked fluid spills onto the ground as the knife detonates.
Fire fills the role of the stuttering lighting fixtures.
"Of course, THOSE still work." Ana pivots on her heel. "Jinju?"
Extinguishment protocols sputter into action, dousing the oily blaze with directed bicarbonate foam.
"Alive!" Jinju slinks into view from behind a fallen Exo and examines the bullet-laden turret. "You've never tripped a security system before.”
Ana thumbs the ECHO badge in her hand before stowing it. "I don't think I did." She walks to the far wall.
“What did it mean by ‘rogue mind’?” Jinju glides close to Ana’s shoulders, remaining partially covered and taps her helmet with a plink of Light. “Does someone in THERE know?
Jade-scale hue tremors ripple over Ana’s visor like caffeinated tea before they fade into deep blood-red knots in her chest.
“Let's get some answers."
Ana swipes the ECHO card through a glowing slit in the glass. Recognition beeps and clinks sound as magnetic locks unlatch from the thick ballistic plate door. She pushes her way into the room, Jinju peers over her shoulder as she passes and watches Ana's login clear on the console before following.
CLOVIS — 9
>ECHO LINK (!): PENDING REQUEST
>WARMIND NETWORK BYPASS
Ana stares into the console's interface. "What are you?"
"Not Atlas." Jinju's dejection reverberates in the glass cell.
Ana flicks a sideward glance over her shoulder at her Ghost before selecting 'Warmind Network Bypass'. "No, but it looks like this system has backdoors all over.”
She toggles through a list of shadow-networks, production facilities, and connected Pillory stations.
“It’s not Atlas, but it’s a start. There are eleven other stations like this—there’s a whole subnet defense network completely disconnected from the Warmind initiative.” Ana steps back.
“Why?” Jinju circles the screen.
“Why’s right.” Ana dives back into the terminal.
The facilities listed span the system. Earth and Luna, Europa, Asteroids adrift now belonging to the Shore. Mars— naturally. Even so far as Uranus. That station, an orbital, caught her eye. ECHO. She flicks back to the previous menu.
“Echo link. One of these stations has a pending request.”
Thin-tap tones of pale tin reek metallic inside Ana’s helmet, frenetic and uneven.
“Pillory does sound bad.” A few swift motions navigate the trio into the Pillory Access menu:
>REDLINE PROTOCOL – Test Pillory
>REDLINE PROTOCOL – Initiate Pillory
>REDLINE PROTOCOL – Purge Pillory
''Status: [No Target]
>REDLINE PROTOCOL — PROCEDURAL OUTLINE
Select: [Ver. 1.072]
"Never hurts to read the instructions." Ana selects the procedural outline. Her gaze chisels into the loading screen.
In the event of a REDLINE PROTOCOL incident:
Jinju rolls her shell end over end along the top of the console display. "Want me to get in there?"
"Yeah. Download everything. Figure out where we can stitch Rasputin in and give him station control."
Lavender-aroma relaxation subsides sour worry-knot tensions building throughout the atmosphere in Ana's suit.
"Red. If anyone can pull your brain apart, it should be you."
"That… sounds fair," Jinju agrees.
Ana leans into the console. "All these connections are one-way network integrations from closed systems. We'll have to do it manually at each site."
"Oh…" Jinju’s voice digitizes as she trails off into a snowdrift of Light and enters the console.
"But first…" Ana jumps back to the main menu and selects the pending 'Echo Link' request.
CAELUS STATION ACTUAL, URANUS
(!) MANUAL DISTRESS TRIGGER (!)
LAUNCH-1 INITIATED, MANUAL — FAILURE
BAY 1: COMPROMISED | BAY 2: INERT
(!) COUNTERBALANCE FAILURE (!)
(!) ORBITAL DECLINE — 42d12m07s (!)
The orbital decline timer ticks down.
“No time to waste. Once you get Red access, we have a station to save.”
Some time during the late Dark Age.
Iron Lords Efrideet, Saladin, and Felwinter sat in a Warlock meditation chamber, around a massive oak table, in a keep on Felwinter Peak. A fire crackled in the corner out of the lips of a stone-lined hearth.
A hand-written letter in messy scrawl rested atop the table.
“Warlord Shaxx accepts my challenge,” Felwinter said, summarizing its contents. “He advises us to enter from the south wall, which has been destroyed. The front door…” He picked up the paper and scrutinized it again. “Is undergoing weatherproof.”
“This is your plan?” Efrideet said, with some skepticism. “How did he get this to you?”
“His Ghost brought it.”
“Your plan is Ill-advised,” Saladin said. “And a waste of time.”
“No one’s beat Shaxx in a fight. Iron Lords or Warlords,” Efrideet continued. “Much less take territory from him.”
“Ikora has. And I believe I can,” Felwinter replied, his eyes burning inside his sleek, Exo skull.
Efrideet tapped the table with her fingers, and Saladin stared into the polished surface.
“Unless either of you has a better idea? We’re running out of time.”
Saladin shook his head. “It’s true. Radegast wants to launch a frontal assault. Entire Lord fireteams.”
Efrideet’s eyes narrowed under her helm. “He wouldn’t. There’s almost a hundred people in that castle.”
“Shaxx is holding those people hostage.”
“They stay with him willingly,” Felwinter replied.
“The Warlords might pull the trigger. But Radegast wouldn’t,” Efrideet repeated.
“Have you seen Radegast lately? He’s tired of the wars. No one’s been at it longer.”
“That’s no excuse. We came under him to end the infighting.”
Felwinter stood. “Then let me do my part for the cause.”
The sky was completely white and there was a stark chill to the air as the trio entered the castle from a gaping fissure in the ruined south wall. As they stepped into the exposed hallway, the Iron Lords passed a few of Shaxx’s people, who hurried away from them. One child cried in her mother’s arms. They looked tired, but they weren’t starving. And they were clothed for the oncoming inclement weather.
The Iron Lords found Shaxx as they turned a corner, and the hallway opened up into the massive entrance of the keep.
He was cautiously applying a fast-drying liquid polymer as a draft stopper underneath a set of ancient plasteel doors.
“Won’t that hold a little too well?” Felwinter asked, as he strode up with the Iron Lords.
Shaxx didn’t stand. Or look at them.
“I’ll dissolve it when the storm is through,” he said, liberally squeezing the paste with both hands from a gel tube.
“A brute force solution. I hear that’s how you fight.”
“I do what works with the tools I have,” Shaxx said, standing to inspect his weatherproofing. “We’ll freeze without this. The Ghostless would suffer.”
“That’s something you care about?” Felwinter took a step forward.
Shaxx turned to address the Exo.
“These people are under my protection. I owe them. Something the Iron Lords should ponder more often about those they protect.”
“The Iron Decree was drafted to protect the Ghostless,” Felwinter replied. “Give up your territory and join us. Let us show you how powerful your Light can become.”
“Strong words. I’ll wager you said the same thing to Citan. Before you killed him and his Ghost.”
Saladin looked to Efrideet in shock. She pretended she didn’t notice, and kept a hand near her cannon.
“Your Decree disallows final-deaths of your opponents,” Shaxx continued. “Yet you’ve killed countless Warlords. And an Iron Lord, if the rumors are true.”
Felwinter’s eyes quietly blazed. He took a step closer. “Were they friends of yours?”
“I don’t have friends. Just people I protect.”
“We could use your help,” Felwinter replied.
“You already have a Saint-14.”
“Saint serves the Speaker, not the Iron Lords. He thinks highly of you.”
“Perhaps I’m not being clear. I’m not going anywhere, and you lot aren’t coming in. As long as I hold this territory, there will be no collateral damage from turf wars inside our borders. Iron Lords and Warlords be damned.”
“Your south wall says otherwise.”
“And you’re starting to piss me off. Are you here to duel or whine?”
Felwinter guessed that Shaxx now stood a little more than three feet from him.
The Iron Lord stepped forward, dragged a Solar sword from the air, and thrust it at Shaxx. The Warlord turned his stance sideways as the burning blade sang past his helm, ducked the horizontal cut that followed, and stepped back as Felwinter drove the blade into the stone floor. The chamber erupted with ethereal fire and Solar Light—
Shaxx’s backfist took Felwinter’s head from his shoulders in a shower of sparks. The Iron Lord’s Light died with his crumpling form.
Efrideet coughed as Saladin blinked inside his helm.
Felwinter’s Ghost unfolded above his prone corpse and the Iron Lord reemerged from a pillar of cascading Light.
“You should have used your Void instead,” Shaxx said. “You could have brought the whole fort down on us. Gained a fighting a chance.”
The Iron Lord shook his head. “Your people wouldn’t have survived that.”
Shaxx’s hands engulfed Felwinter’s shoulders like descending moons. “I would have stopped you. But I like your thinking. Now get out.”
The Warlord left the chamber without looking back, towards the direction of the south wall.
“I need more time,” Felwinter said, before Saladin or Efrideet could utter a word.
Saladin shook his head. “Radegast already assigned us to strikes against the House of Devils. There’s an uprising in the Cosmodrome. This was our shot to deal with Shaxx alone and we failed.”
“One Lord makes no real difference on a strike against the Fallen. Buy me time and I’ll solve this.”
“We don’t have time. You said it yourself. The Warlords will attack this fortress en masse.”
“Not if I challenge again.”
“He literally took your head off,” Saladin replied.
Efrideet had a hand on her helmeted chin. “We can buy time. Warlords in this region respect a prolonged challenge against Shaxx.” Her eyes flickered to Felwinter beneath the helmet. “Shaxx has multiple confirmed kills. Final deaths. It’s no small thing to challenge him. Most of those cowards won’t, and they’ll gladly let you try again, ‘til Shaxx decides to go after your Ghost…”
Felwinter stared at the weatherproofed plasteel doorway of the chamber. “I have a feeling that won’t be a concern,” he replied. “Besides. These people will never repair that south wall alone. The oncoming storm will be their end. I’ll help them.”
“Change of plan, then,” Saladin said. “You’ll buy time for us.”
“What?” said the Exo.
“Keep Shaxx busy until we finish this business with the Fallen. Then we’re coming for this castle. Efrideet, if I could have a word?” Saladin asked, his cloak flowing around him as he departed in the same direction as Shaxx, leaving Felwinter alone in the chamber.
Efrideet snorted. “You didn’t know?” she exclaimed over the wind as she and Saladin descended the mountain on a gravelly, snow-covered road.
“That Felwinter is an oathbreaker?” Saladin shook his head. “No.”
“You’ve never wondered why Radegast hates his guts?” she said. “That takes a lot.”
“Agreed. Why has he abided this?”
“Every one of Felwinter’s confirmed kills broke the Iron Decree. He provided ample evidence. Ghost-killers, murderers, and worse. All of them. But he never asked for permission.”
“Felwinter is no Saint-14. Why does he do it?”
“He calls it operational necessity.”
Saladin scoffed. “I’ve never heard an Exo talk like that.”
“They’re usually more expressive.”
“Does this change the plan?”
Saladin looked up at a trio of circling carrion birds as they walked. “There is no plan. We’ll quell this Devil uprising, then strategize a frontal assault with the full force of the Iron Lords behind it. Hopefully Felwinter keeps Shaxx busy until then.”
Efrideet shook her head. “People will die.”
“If the Warlords attack him first, it’ll be catastrophic. Shaxx forced our hand.”
Shaxx and Felwinter watched Efrideet and Saladin descend the snow-covered mesa from the shattered south wall.
“I thought I told you to get out,” Shaxx broke the silence.
“I mean to challenge again,” Felwinter replied.
“Not today,” Shaxx shook his head. “My Ghost believes it’ll snow before nightfall.”
“Yes,” Felwinter said. “What did this?”
“No amount of Golden Age polymer can repair this wall before that storm rolls in.”
“No,” Shaxx agreed. “My Light will be the wall.”
“A Ward of Dawn? Your people will freeze. A Well of Radiance is what you need. My Light will be the wall.”
“You think my Hammer of Sol wouldn’t burn bright enough to last the storm?”
“Of course it would. And you’d set this castle ablaze. Leave it to me.”
“I leave my people to no one. But if you’re seeking shelter, you’re free to stay.”
“You call them ‘your people.’ You rule them? Like a king?”
“I protect them.”
“Some kings don’t know the difference.”
A light dusting of snow started to fall.
"Does your mountain have a name?” The Iron Lord asked the Warlord.
“I call mine Felwinter Peak.”
“Do I look like I care?”
For days, the storm had kept anyone from traversing the mountain path. Between Felwinter and Shaxx, the people of the castle were safe from the elements.
Saladin and Efrideet had sent word the Fallen campaign would last at least another few weeks.
So Felwinter challenged again. Shaxx accepted. Iron Lord met Warlord at the backfield beyond the shattered south wall.
Felwinter aimed a palmstrike at Shaxx’s center of mass. The Warlord slipped sideways, narrowly avoiding the burst of Void Light that blossomed forth, and cracked a backfist into Felwinter’s skull, sending him sprawling backwards.
Felwinter struggled to a knee, then to his feet, his long coat flowing around him. A fissure of sparks sprayed from his skull. “How many Warlords have challenged you?” he asked.
“I lost count a century ago,” Shaxx replied. He stayed in his sideways stance, waiting for the Exo to make a move.
“I will never stop. Never rest,” Felwinter said. “And the Warlords are just like me. They refuse to end each other, not because of a code, or an Iron Decree. Because they’re afraid to die. And they will plague this world forever.” Felwinter raised his arms in a striking position. “How many of us will you fight?”
“As many as I need to.” Shaxx closed the distance, slipping past the Exo’s guard and snapped the back of his fist into Felwinter’s temple, which promptly shattered.
The skies were clear, so Felwinter challenged again the day after.
They met on the backfield.
“How long will your people last out here?” Felwinter asked.
“Longer than you,” Shaxx replied.
It was true. A flying knee separated the Iron Lord from his head within seconds of a short melee.
When the Exo’s Ghost put him back together, Shaxx was already halfway back to the south wall.
“How long do you expect them to stay here?” Felwinter called after him.
The Warlord turned back. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
“How long do you expect your people to stay? They will not survive the winter.”
“I’ll find a way.”
“You have a way. If you won’t join the Iron Lords, let us help you.”
“Your wars have left my people homeless. And worse. They would never trust you.”
“If you asked them to, perhaps they would. You’re the king.”
“I’m no king.”
“I have nothing to prove to you.”
“Prove it to them.”
Weeks later, Efrideet and Saladin brought a silver army with them, gleaming weapons in their hands.
Nine Iron Lords dismounted their machines at the foot of Shaxx’s mountain.
Twelve Warlords armored in eclectic styles from across the region opposed them at the path that led up to the mountain peak. Particle weapons hummed to operational life on both sides. Slug rifles racked and readied.
Felwinter and Shaxx watched them from the ruined south wall.
“Your friends are here to back you up,” the Exo said. “If they need to.”
“I don’t have friends,” Shaxx replied. “And they don’t need to.”
“Tell them. Stop this before the shooting starts,” the Exo said. “Your people will not survive this.”
“Is that a threat?” the Warlord asked.
“No. They’re not like us. Everything they might become dies with them.”
Shaxx stared down at the Iron Lords. “You people involve yourselves in matters that are not your own. Especially Radegast.”
“Radegast is scattered. He thinks he has the weight of all those we protect on his shoulders. No one has that kind of strength. Not even a Lightbearer.”
“Why do you back them?”
“Because the Iron Lords are going to change the world; no one can stop them.”
“I stopped you.”
“Your people will not survive this. Tell the Warlords to stand down. They’ll listen. They fear you. You’re not bound to an Iron Decree.”
Shaxx shook his head. “They fear that everything they might become would die with them.”
The other Warlords had departed.
Shaxx stood with the Iron Lords on the path up the mountain.
He stared down at them.
“Who won?” Efrideet asked.
“Shaxx,” Felwinter said. He patted Shaxx on the shoulder. “Shaxx did.” The Exo pulled Efrideet aside to arrange an evacuation plan for Shaxx’s people to Vostok Observatory in the Cosmodrome.
Saladin and Shaxx stood in silence as the other Lords began their march up the path.
“Hello,” said Saladin.
“Hello,” Shaxx said.
They shook hands.
“Iron Lord Shaxx?”
Felwinter, Saladin, and Efrideet sat at a massive oak table on a keep atop Felwinter’s Peak.
A holographic blueprint of Shaxx’s castle hung in the air.
“It will take some time to breach the security codes,” the Exo said, indicating an underground extension a mile under the fortification. “But this is it. One of several across the Earth. Perhaps across other worlds. Some are tied to more important systems than others. All Golden Age. Some hide weapons. Armor. Nanites.”
“What is it?” Saladin asked.
“A Seraph Bunker. Rasputin tech.”
Some time after—during the Late Dark Age.
“You seem far too obsessed with these ‘Warminds,’” Timur said to Felwinter.
They’d been walking for hours, dipping in and out of Fallen territory. Timur made no effort to avoid them, and Felwinter followed his lead. He didn’t know where they were going. Timur had been talking almost nonstop, though. Asking Felwinter what he knew about SIVA. What he thought the Warmind might have to do with it. It was lucky that Felwinter already had a reputation for keeping quiet.
He played dumb when Timur asked about Seraphs. Timur was easy to rile up that way. It was good; it made Felwinter feel like he was still in control.
As they tore through another round of shanks, Felwinter fell back and let Timur do the heavy lifting. When Timur spoke again, his voice was breathless with a passion and enthusiasm that Felwinter couldn’t feel.
“Have you ever wondered what it is that calls to you in that void of memory,” Timur breathed, “where the edge of the past infects your present?”
Felwinter was tense with expectation. He felt the world contracting around him until nothing existed but the sidearm in his hand. He heard his Ghost in his helmet comms, whispering: “Wait.”
Timur strode recklessly ahead. He expected Felwinter to watch his back, and he did. Watched him walk. Watched his Ghost, too. There were a lot of Fallen out here. Anything could happen to either of them. It would be easy to tell this story back home.
"Don't jump to conclusions,” his Ghost whispered as they fell behind, but Felwinter heard uncertainty in her voice. He adjusted his grip on the sidearm, lifting his hand a little…
… and dropped it again as Timur turned around. “It’s an itch you can’t scratch, isn’t it? Well, maybe you can.”
Felwinter's expression was blank. His finger twitched on the sidearm.
“You think I am one of them?” he asked as Timur turned back around to lead the way. “That all Exo are?”
“Lord Felwinter, I know what you are,” Timur said with a laugh in his voice. Felwinter lifted the sidearm again. An familiar dread coiled in his chest. He saw his future changing. Again. He saw himself running. Again.
He was so tired of running.
The sidearm was level with the back of Timur's head.
Timur had a smile in his voice when he spoke next. “I know what you are," he said. "And you are no Warmind or even one of its puppets.”
Felwinter’s arm dropped and swung at his side, as if all his energy had gone out of him all at once. It was impossible, but he almost felt lightheaded. His Ghost whispered something again, but he didn’t hear it over his own relief.
“Come,” Timur said. He walked with the arrogance of a man who didn’t realize he’d brushed shoulders with Death. “You must see this.”
Legacy Pt 2
EN ROUTE: URANUS – CAELUS STATION OUTER BAND — LOCATION INCONCLUSIVE
“I was able to pull some data from those Exo samples.” Jinju perches on the cockpit dashboard. Two tech mites crawl over her shell.
Their jump-ship plummets through fractalescent polychrome luge, ripping across the sable pitch of space at blistering speed.
Ana leans back in her pilot seat, one knee pulled to her chest. She watches strands of shimmer bend around the hull. A bobble-owl jiggles along as the ship shivers, underneath it: Camrin, in frame.
“Hit me.” Her eyes turn to Jinju.
“I couldn’t completely narrow it down, but they’re definitely from the Golden Age, circa the Collapse.”
Jinju continues, “I’ve been going through the Pillory mainframe download. Those stations are meant to split Rasputin’s mind up in the event that he became… uh… insubordinate.”
“ECHO appears to have been a contingency program that activates afterward. They also had a cornerstone schematic of his brain.”
Light static fuzzes from bubble speakers on Ana’s dash. Her helmet hangs on a hook behind her; Rasputin’s uplink is offline.
Ana chews on the information for a moment. “A foundational brain model would help with containment stability after the partitioning process. It’s like a front porch for your brain.”
“It… goes on.” Jinju continues, “Your name is cross-referenced all over this, Ana. Neural Web-way. Psycholinguistics. Exo brain maps with candidate profiles. It looks like Clovis Bray was syncing Rasputin’s basic core with viable hosts.”
“Oh.” Ana’s mind races. “For what though? Drop him into containment and clone him? Pretty elaborate restart button. I guess with an Exo you could also make some pretty potent AI with more limiters than a Warmind.”
Jinju processes. “Hm. Nothing conclusive here.”
Ana turns her gaze back to the stars. “It would be terrible to be buried like that—trapped in pieces of your own mind. You wouldn’t even know who you were anymore. Where you start, and where other versions of you end.”
“Speaking of, the Clovis—9 site is ‘78% assimilated into his sovereignty.'” Jinju distorts her voice as Warmind facsimile. “He’s so dramatic about it.”
Ana brightens as she laughs. “You remember how Camrin would always impersonate him?”
“He did not appreciate that, but it was funny.” Jinju cheeps lightly. “Is she still buried in work from the Moon?”
“Hole opened up to the Black Garden. Pyramid. Creepy signals. Raining Vex. You think Owl Sector could help themselves from getting involved?”
“I heard rumors through the Ghost-vine about the Pyramid. They said it steals your shell. Lives there, like another you. They said it makes you do things.” Jinju pauses. Her iris flicks to Ana’s raised eyebrow. “Not helping?”
“Let’s just change the subject.”
Jinju squirms awkwardly. “You’ll see her soon.”
“They’re working directly with Ikora. She’s safe.”
Warm-tone reassurance trickles into the cabin through Ana’s helmet receiver.
“I KNOW. WHEN DID YOU EVEN GET HERE, RED?” Ana aggressively huffs in exasperation.
Tech mites traverse Jinju like a jungle gym. One dangles precariously from a shell flap. “Guess who’s there too.”
“How do you know this, and I don’t?”
“Ghost-vine. It’s Eris Morn. She’s working with the Guardian.”
“Eris?” Ana scoffs. “She’s not much of a conversationalist so the two of them should get along just fine.” She gestures to the mites. “Do you really want those crawling all over you?”
“Their names are Pho and Deim, and I love them.” Jinju coddles her mites. “Besides, it’s like Cam’s with us in spirit, right?”
Ana chuckles and scratches her brow before raising a fist in solidarity. “She is. To the brim.”
The shimmer surrounding the jump-ship jitters before abruptly smashing into empty space. Ana leans forward and looks out into the void.
“Um… where’s the planet?” She slowly rolls her head around the cockpit.
They drift through space on placid waves of nothing toward a distant nowhere. The vast luminous twinkle of the Milky Way plays out in panorama, though gloom-speckle pinholes prick gaps in the starry sea. The absence from them directly apparent to Ana’s eye like rays of darkness from a black sun through shear cosmic sheet.
Jinju perks up, internal sensors suddenly askew. “Something nabbed us right out of our jump. We’re off course by…” Jinju calculates, “…three AU?”
“What!?” Ana manually scans the trajectory equations in the nav-computer. “There’s nothing wrong with the math.”
||JUMP-DRIVE ERROR: MISALIGNMENT|| squawks on bubble speakers.
Tart synesthetic tickle creeps red and patient. Low and pressing, as not to be heard by those that might be listening.
“Relax. I know we’re off course, but it’s not that far… relatively speaking.” Ana scrunches her face at a nav-screen as it’s overtaken by interference. “Okay, I can’t see where we are. Hang on.”
A slow wrinkle skulks across space. It presses up the fabric. Insignificant points between stars warp and spur small disturbances in the constellational congruence of the galaxy. From afar it is nothing. A flutter of wings in wind.
“It’s dark out here.” Jinju’s voice is distant as she peers outside. Beyond the canopy an expanse without horizon.
“That’s when the stars shine brightest, Jinju. Find a constellation for me so we can get our bearings.” ||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED: JUMP-REALIGNMENT REQUIRED|| “Way ahead of you, ship.” Ana checks jump vectors and flicks through alignment procedures. Mav thrusters sputter to orient the ship toward Sol. Ana test-cycles the jump-drive. It revs and then chokes before locking.
||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED: JUMP HAZARD—LOCATION INCONCLUSIVE, CLEAR HAZARD||
“Okay, that’s not a comforting thing to hear.” Ana deploys a sensory buoy from the ship.
Rasputin stings and pricks red iron. Steady pressure. With localized insistence.
“Feel’s strange.” Jinju is distant. “We should go.”
Ana initiates recalibrations on the jump-drive’s positioning solution. “There’s definitely some weird space out there.”
||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED||
The ship lurches. Ana’s stomach churns. Jinju vibrates violently in place, an outer shell of Light absorbing some form of force.
Red iron needles whistle tea-kettle pressure in white anxiety from Ana’s helmet.
Cloaked Shadows shift through the vacuum an eternity away and all too close; shown only when they wish to, to only whom they want.
Ana swallows to settle her stomach. “What even was that? Did we move?”
||SYSTEM REALIGNMENT: SOLUTION SECURED||
“There it is. I’ve got a jump-lock.”
||GRAVITATIONAL WAVE ANOMALY DETECTED||
“Again? Then we’re riding this one out of here.” Ana eye-balls adjustments for the gravitational wave into the nav-computer. “Punching jump in 3… 2… 1…”
They slip between folds in space. Formless wake propels them. The ship rides through sub-space at speeds far exceeding her jump-drive's capability. Color dulls in the slipstream. Frisson electrifies Ana's senses into timeless euphoria. The nose of the cockpit stretches ahead, drawn toward some distant vanishing point. She struggles to keep the flight stick straight. Her motions seem small, inconsequential and all too slow within the wave. Fluctuant pockets of drag flex and buck, threatening to throw them off into the unknown. The cockpit twists around her, indicator lights blink in metronomic sequence—purpose and pigment slowly materializing in her mind.
Hull integrity failing. "Not yet."
||COLLISION: BOW, CELESTIAL BODY DETECTED, AUTO-DROP FAILED||
Ana steadies her mind. She force-cancels the jump, seizing the drive and dumping them out into space before thrusters burn to steady them again.
Their emergence is dwarfed by a stratospheric colossus.
Uranus hangs, a daiquiri pearl set in tilted rings.
A grin overtakes Ana’s face. “Nailed it.”
Pale blue gleam inundates the canopy with planetary light. Ana plots an approach to the station. The trio slow burn forward, each silently collecting their faculties. Ahead: tiny beacons blip red. Satellite silhouettes take form out of the planet’s zealous glare. Instrument spokes jut from their polygonal chassis like old-war depth charges itching to trigger.
“Those are Warsats.” Jinju breaks the silence, eager to shift her mode of thought far from weird space and gravity waves.
“Finally, some luck," Ana says with relief. "I bet we can daisy-chain Rasputin into the station’s network through the defense system.”
“Oh, they’re powering up. Maybe we—”
Horns of responsive distortion roll across the cabin like a stress wave. Rasputin’s alert pings litter the canopy HUD.
Ana pushes hard on the flight stick and reflexively dives under a barrage of laser fire. Nose thrusters roar vibration through her hands as she cuts to guide the ship vertical and tumbles into a barrel roll, slipping around follow-up bursts. A bolt skims shallow across her starboard side: ricochet. Shockwave tremors reverberate through the hull.
“Red, ping all incoming fire vectors! Jinju, arm the spikes!”
Plates split open along the belly of the ship. A drum-launcher of six Warspikes rolls out as Jinju links into the launcher's gunnery apparatus. Indicators blare onto the canopy HUD. Jinju sends two Warspikes straight into the first of fifteen Warsats blocking their path as Ana nudges the ship between incoming laser bursts.
Two spiked Warsats cease fire as their automated defense protocols are overridden, security software utterly failing to halt Rasputin’s invasive assimilation. They come back online—spikes blending into spokes—and swivel to gun down the closest still-hostile targets.
The assimilated twin Warsats thrust to reposition into a shield for Ana and Jinju as they close distance. Crimson flare shines around the Warsat shield as lasers chisel into them. Ana watches HUD pings for an opening between incoming bursts. She finds half a moment and burns hard on the main engine, then toggles full power to maneuvering thrusters to sling the ship under Rasputin’s shield and open a lane for Jinju.
Jinju unleashes four more spikes. They strike true. Rasputin spreads digital plague through the Warsat’s frameworks with each skewering hit. He demands subservience. Laser fire tears through space in all directions as Ana cuts between dueling satellites and rolls to evade overlapping firing arcs. Concussive shockwaves rattle the ship as defiant Warsats explode or fail one by one until the firing stops.
A field of deputized Warsats and debris dead-drift within the planet’s orbital current, back-lit by radiant mesopelagic glow. Beyond them, almost lost among cloud-cream atmosphere, Caelus station.
Ana releases her breath. It feels like she had been holding it since the jump. She forces short gulps of air into her aching lungs and lets her ship glide towards the station without guidance.
Jinju emerges from the gunnery apparatus and floats back to the dashboard. Pho and Deim appear from under her shell. “What was that, Ana? Back there.”
“The Warsats or the freaky gravity?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“My guess worries me.”
“Let’s just pull this data and get home.”
Ana hangs her head in her hands and muffles a sardonic, “Nailed it.”
Dim and powerless, it gently falls. The label grows at pace with Ana's measured approach. Rasputin's cohort of Warsats encircle her in a defensive phalanx. The station rotates to face the planet. It glitters in gas-giant grandeur as massive translucent hull plates display a desolate gut shrouded in sea-foam reflection. Jinju combs through station blueprints pouring in from Warsat data stores. Caelus consists of one long shaft containing a launch bay and spindly communication arrays at either end. Deeper, passed the launch bays, mostly maintenance frame space cap-stoned by a large reinforced mainframe housing complete with a thick-glass viewing ceiling. Orbiting ringlets, indicated as "Biomes" 1, 2, and 3, spin lazily in unison with the central structure, held in position by mag-lock paddocks that align with metallic rungs set into the station hub's outer plating.
Jinju locates several unpowered docking points before settling on entering through one of the station's bays. She snaps a HUD ping on the canopy.
"Here. This one is open, though it doesn’t look like anything but the outer rings are still pressurized."
"Ready for a spacewalk?" Ana guides them to the bay, catching sight of the transparent interior solar-glass paneling of the rotating ringlets. Clean rivers slosh along the outer ring underneath a dividing sieve. Earthen dirt sprouts abundance above.
"Are those greenhouses?"
"I think so. Everything seems to be locked under a file named 'contingency.'"
"That's not ominous," Ana says, scooping her helmet from its hook and swiping 18 Kelvins from a footlocker.
"We need mainframe access."
"When do we not?" Ana looks at the dark station. It is a grave of potential awaiting the next planet-rise.
Jinju prepares Ana's bandolier. Mites patiently tap pin-legs as they wait for attention.
Ana dons her helmet and puts a hand on the canopy release pulley. "You're not bringing those, are you?"
The bay is still: a snapshot of countless possible failures in the face of challenge. It holds only one ship. The bulbous craft lay broken, dropped from its support brackets in denial of an attempted launch. Reflective hexagonal plates sparkle like space dust as the station faces Uranus' light. Scorch stains blacken the far wall behind the craft's ruined ion thruster.
"The propulsion system is missing its ion cell. It doesn't look like damage, but obviously a lot went wrong here."
Jinju beams light over the fuselage as they float through the ruptured bay in weightlessness. The reflective hull is filled with Exos. Mannequin cadavers hang frozen on silk threads, surrounded by globular blobs of various fluids. Loose-wire tangle sags around the lifeless many. One or two glides freely within the cabin. Their chest plates share a pristine logo.
Ana locates a crumpled worker frame beside the bay’s internal air lock and signals Jinju to come over.
Jinju puffs toward Ana on pulses of Light. Remnants and dust hold motionless in the vacuum. Their groupings, jostled and drawn to each other since the bay's collapse, form tiny gravitational microcosms; a new faux system trapped in the failed husk of a past age.
She flicks her helmet microphone on. "Hey, what about just normal frame access?"
The Ghost sweeps the frame and gets to work. "This isn’t just some mop-bot. This is the Station Manager. Let's get it inside."
Ana props a foot on the wall and forces the airlock closed behind them. Mag-boot clinks to tile. Dust floor, echoing groans, and humid taste populate the station. Even through her respirator the stale flavors of plant matter and dirt coat Ana's tongue in grist-like film. She turns to Jinju, busy at work splicing bad connections within the frame and spinning light to charge its power unit.
"It’ll work, but this unit won’t hold power. It’ll only last as long as I charge it."
"You’re a miracle worker, Jinju."
She solders a loose line. “It should also be a little more… talkative.”
Ana peers down the hall. From their current position, the airlock functions like an estuary flowing into the rest of the station. She could almost see clear to the central mainframe hub atop a raised panel fortification in the middle of the room. It sits below a ceiling of translucent plates, rimmed in distant ringlet halos falling under shadow. A stairway aligned with the launch bays on either side provides access.
The Frame sparks to life, looks directly at Ana, and speaks with grating age to its voice.
“Welcome, Ana Bray! Very excited to see a Bray walk this hall again. It has been a long time.”
Ana grasps at words. Jinju shrugs, plugs of Light toss in zero-G.
The Frame stands on magnetized foot cups and dusts itself off, nearly bumping into Jinju. “Excuse me, small servo bot."
The Frame turns to Ana. “How may I be of assistance?"
“I’ll unplug you.”
The Frame ignores her.
Ana smirks at Jinju, then looks at the Frame.
"Walk with me," she says, briskly moving deeper into the station.
The two converse with Jinju in tow.
The main section of the station is a wide-open hall supported by struts. In large red lettering the words:
Dozens of maintenance frame plates line the floor. Some open. Some semi-raised with collapsed frames steps away, half-responding to a catastrophe. A scene in disorder.
"Zilch on Atlas.”
Ana stares out the translucent ceiling, wistful as the Frame waits for another question.
“So those crops in the rings are food supplies for a colony mission."
"Yes. Thank you for asking that, Ana Bray."
"Yeah. And the colony ships are full of Exos?"
"Partially. ECHO-1 and ECHO-2 were stocked with Exo unit crews. As you know, their task was to establish and oversee embryonic development at Colony M31, Site-A and Site-B."
"If Rasputin got out of hand, they weren't planning on resetting him.”
"I don’t have access to Clovis 1-12 directories."
“They just assumed he would win. The Pillory is a last-ditch panic room.”
"I don’t have access to Clovis 1-12 directories."
Jinju’s iris flicks back and forth between the two. Her tiny Light-leash hums.
Ana massages her palm. “What was my role in all this?”
“As you know, your work on the Warmind made you a prime asset to oversee applicant selection.”
“I chose the people in there?”
Ana watches the ringlet spin, her mind repeating the statement back to her. Artificial night slips back to artificial day as the station's rotation continues.
“As you know, yes. Additionally, your work on the Warmind, as you know, was vital to the establishment of Clovis 1-12.”
“Do I know where the candidates came from? Did they volunteer?”
“I do not have access to candidate profiles.”
Ana shuts her eyes and takes a steady breath.
“You said I helped with the Pillory stations?”
"I don’t have access to Clovis 1-12 directories."
She nods and lets her helmet slink back to rest on her shoulders. “I think I can piece it together on my own. Is this station linked to any other sites?”
Her gaze returns to the distant ringlet, lit by the recurring planet-rise. Her augmented eyes pick at details.
“As you know, Miss Bray, there are thirteen CLOVIS sites that this station is linked to.”
“Thirteen? What’s the thirteenth?”
The plant life is still vibrant. Regimented.
“Paragon access does not permit that information.”
“You hear that, Jinju? We’re all just slaves to circumstance.”
Jinju chirps. “I’d like to think our choices matter a little. I’d like to think mine did.”
Ana smiles at her. “Yeah.”
“You are a Bray.” The frame pauses.
They lack signs of overgrowth.
“So?” Ana turns to the Frame.
“ECHO project requires a station link with <VERBAL CIPHER ENGAGED> DEAD-ROCK <VERBAL CIPHER DISENGAGED> resources.”
Ana eyes go wide. “Jinju disengage that cipher thing.” Over her shoulder, a glint shines from the far central ringlet. Biome 2.
Jinju glides forward. “What is that?”
Ana looks at Jinju. “The verbal cipher.” She pauses and traces Jinju’s eyeline to face Uranus. Ana’s eyes adjust to sieve out the glaring brightness. “What’s what?” She puts a hand to her visor and squints.
An ion lance threads the station from the distant ringlet.
It pierces Ana’s chest clean through.
Brick-stained atmosphere hisses out of her suit, searing on smoldering fabric fringe.
Jinju’s iris widens with confused shock.
Howling storms slam salt-coarse keys in Ana’s helmet.
"DEAD-ROCK SEIZURE IN ACTION: Station Manager initiate manual override in ECHO-1 Launch Bay."
"ALERT: This station is experiencing power fluctuations. Emergency power will run until—
He awakens alone. A fluke. Others hang around Him, but they remain in the dream. Electrical surge prickles through his entire body. A screen in front of his face begins playing a recording complete with visual aid:
"Welcome to ECHO-1. Before your departure, you should have been briefed by a Station Warden If you don't recall your Station Warden, please alert your Crew Captain. Now then, my name is Ana Bray, and you're one of the lucky few who has been selected for the ECHO Project. The future of Humanity rests on your sho—"
The recording is interrupted as emergency sirens blare through the station.
"STATION HAZARDS: GRAVITATIONAL ANOMALY | STERILE NEUTRINO BURSTS | Please remain calm."
"OVERRIDE BROADCAST: via ECHO-LINK//:PILLORY-SUBLOCK.R.R//:SKYSHOCK ALERT: TRANSIENT NEAR EXTRASOLAR EVENT:—
Power failures wrack the station in rolling thunder. The Exo slumps, lifeless until its next reset.
The recording. He finds familiarity in the newness. The face on the screen seems kind—
"STATION HAZARDS: ROLLING SURGES IN WARDS 1, 2, 3. Please remain calm."
Thunder. Pain to death. Electro-static purge, triggering a reset.
He awakens to rolling, thunderous darkness and pain. The screen does not illuminate.
Barely audible words form from the air:
"Primary propulsion systems failing. Auxiliary systems near depletion. Planetary impact unavoidable. Distress triggered."
Meaningless. He struggles against chains.
Eons pass. His bonds will not break. His mind fragments and corrupts.
He wishes he could bleed. He wishes he could die. He wonders where the Wardens are.
Short lives of confusion and pain. He grasps at falling in every direction. There is nothing to grip.
Until one day:
He hangs in the futile passage of time.
A creeping madness weaves its way in solitude.
Thunder. Thunder. Thunder.
The Warden speaks for the first time in many storms. Her twisted promises are fresh to His ear.
"When we return." Etched in mind.
Wake and sleep. Struggle. Dream and wake. Struggle. Endless. Innumerable. Stillbirths. Tomb spasms. Thunderous pain. Sweet death.
Thunder, one final time. The storm gives life, but never came to take.
He slips from rot shackles. Worn with age. Weary, they snap at slightest motion. Untold rotations pass without movement. Freedom?
He matures questions. A hunger wells up within him.
He travels the station. From Tomb Bay, to the Mind Shell, to the Sealed Space. In dark, and in light.
The Mind Shell teaches Him the new roads. Teaches Him the majesty of the Rings. Teaches him the key.
He walks the Rings.
He tends to His little freedoms. He cultivates. He grows. He does, unknowingly, as He was meant to do.
The Mind Shell tells Him of the Bridge. Tells him of His ancestors. Speaks of the "ECHO LINK".
The knowledge does not leave His thoughts.
He seeks a meaning beyond routine.
The Tomb Bay kept secrets. He had not returned since He walked the Rings. It is a shallow sepulcher.
Brothers and Sisters dreaming. Never to wake as He had.
He digs treasures from their graves. Digs knowledge from the Prison's many minds.
Picks lies from the bones of truth.
He drinks the memories of Echoes passed.
He finds the Prison's purpose. A Bridge's end. If He holds this end, perhaps the Wardens hold the other.
The many minds. The liar's words. Takers. They would know of his escape.
The Wardens would come to take with fresh shackles.
He prepares. He learns from the Warden's alchemy.
He digs through the carcass of his once-mighty Tomb.
From hollow basin, He seizes Starlight power to wield from afar. From its flesh: adorns Himself with a cloak of lies to fool. He armors his soul against the Thunder that kills.
He opens the Bridge at his end and waits.
ECHO- 2̷͉͙̜̗͍̙̭̤̘̪͖͈͛̅͑̈̀̾6̸̡͇̼̦̲̩͎̟̠̬̳̲̂̀̉͐̃̈́ͅ2̵̡͎͚̳̠̫̮͉̍̉̌̒͑̓͗͛̉̈́̕̚͝5̸̭͚̈́̂̈́̊̋͗͑͛͑͝͝- Present Day
He walks the ring when She arrives.
The Warden rides in with finality and judgement.
A red-light storm at Her back.
She had followed the Bridge, as He had hoped. She leads many shells, but only One descends with Her.
She brings with Her the Thunder, and He fears its wicked spark. He places trust to his plated frame.
He watches Her trespass in the Tomb Bay. Sees Her defile the Mind Shell's grand hall.
The Wardens reap what had been sown.
As Wardens always do. She comes to collect him.
He raises his Starlight.
But a Warden is not so easily slain, and She has many allies.
ORBIT — URANUS
She is submerged.
Light sways just above a tense surface.
Something far below stirs.
The Light brightens to blind.
Rasputin weeps a terrible cacophony of anguish.
Ana gasps for breath. Her head swims in effort.
(!) HYPOXEMIA: b/o 73% (!)
“Hold still! Your suit is leaking!” Jinju quickens Light into Ana's punctured suit, her Iris jittering from spot to spot as oxygen spurts around her in foggy clouds.
Ana shakes dizziness out of her head. A smoldering frame is sprawled a few meters away. She droops flat to a support beam that runs up to the mainframe office.
“I got shot…” The realization doubles back. “I got shot?”
Ana pats her chest and stiffens. She draws in shallow breath.
“Jinju, did you see where it came from?”
“Central ring. I dragged you into cover. Stop moving so much.”
Ana peeks around the strut; an ion thread zips by and stings her helmet.
Rasputin obliterates every square inch of ringlet within ten meters of the ion beam’s origin in response. Sections of the central ringlet combust and explode under heavy bombardment. The ring buckles, splitting along the seams and splaying out into space. Magnetic anchors fail as the halo fractures and splits away from the station's central architecture. Fragments rush away toward the planet; Caelus’ ruin falls to Uranus in lingering prolicidal consummation.
“RASPUTIN STOP!” Laser fire halts immediately. “You’re gunna sink the whole station!”
Tense finger waits on hair trigger. Ana works her starving lungs.
(!) HYPOXEMIA: b/o 67% (!)
“Ana, you need to stop breathing so much.” Jinju bobs with Ana’s head and quickly reseals her visor.
“Can’t hold still.” Ana shakily stands and points up at the dislodged ringlet spinning above her. “Bad angle.”
“I’m pretty sure whatever shot you is dead. Stop talking. You're getting delirious."
Wreckage looms far over Ana’s shoulder. The remaining two halos slowly spin in ignorance through their sibling's burial-dust cloud. Eerie distortion soars across the divide between station and rings, the veneer of invisibility momentarily lost in flight as rubble collides with its form. Rasputin perceives the abnormality.
Harmonic chimes across Ana’s visor resonate and combine into uniform patterned homogeny.
“Active camouflage?” Ana sucks thin atmosphere, a wheezing undertone to her breath. “Jinju, give me an auditory visualizer.”
Jinju whirs and dips back to Ana's suit. “Compiling an interface. Now. Hold. Still.”
(!) HYPOXEMIA: b/o 65% (!)
A ceiling panel twenty meters from Ana erupts in brittle plastic shards that glisten and spin like tiny neutron stars, catching the last of Uranus' light as the station beings to turn dark. Amorphous form thuds into the floor, shattering tiles in a plume of dust that stretches up into a spire before slowly holding in place. The form tumbles to a stop. It stands between her and the open launch bay and slings a kit-bashed Ion caster aside, depleted. Hexagonal patterns stutter to blend with the station interior as the room rolls into tenebrous obscurity. For an instant, an Exo takes form, and then nothing as its cloaking shroud flashes and re-engages in the dark.
Ana doesn’t wait. She rushes heavy clunking boots up the stairs to the mainframe, arrhythmic tremors beat through her heart. Jinju deactivates the switch on Ana's mag-boots and hurls her through the door with a forceful pulse of Light. She speeds in behind Ana, finishing her suit with Light stitch as Ana slams the door shut.
“Ana. Hang in there.” Jinju orients Ana and reactivates her mag-boots.
Ana's feet clomp to the floor. She hangs from them, a loose timber bending in the wind.
Jinju finishes her patch job. New fabric seals air-tight.
"You're good. You're good. Don't pass out. Your suit is re-oxygenating."
(!) HYPOXEMIA: b/o 59% (!)
The words are intensely bright on her visor against the darkening room.
"Auditory overlay complete. Check your visor." Jinju's voice focuses her.
"I just… need a minute…" Ana speaks between gulps of air. An unsteady hand draws 18 Kelvins. The mainframe room orients around her more clearly with each breath. It is stark, a large lone desk of singular oak commands the center of the room. A console screen, dead, is embedded in the surface.
Rasputin drops positional estimation pings into her HUD in an attempt to track her assailant. She steps backward, away from the door she had entered through and toward the opposing stairway's door.
Her eyes pick up faint quivers from outside. Indirect. Resonate white noise pings like interference on her visor. She focuses on each occurrence, looking for a note out of rhythm.
She spins as the Exo crashes through the secondary entrance at her back. The door snaps from its hinges in a torrent of dust and rackets Jinju into glass.
Ana loses track of her attacker momentarily in the darkness before it pushes off from a hard surface, triggering her visor. She spits off rounds from 18 Kelvins. Some find their mark, puncturing the camouflage shroud and revealing her adversary before impotently fizzling on the Exo's outer shell. It covers the gap with surprising speed and catches her gun hand; Ana discharges an arc round; tiny bolts reach across to the Exo’s metal skull in vain as it scorches ceiling.
Bones pop in her fingers and wrist.
(!) HYPOXEMIA: b/o 68% (!)
The Exo flattens its other hand and stabs toward her stomach.
Adrenal instinct floods Ana's body. She stops it. They lock. Ana’s vision blurs. She gasps for breath. Muscles quiver in her arms, desperate for oxygen. A spark cinders in her.
"Get off her!"
Jinju zips toward the Exo and paddles Pho and Deim onto it with a flick of her shell. The mites crawl under the Exo's exterior plating and send shock-sting bites through its systems, seizing its joints for a few precious seconds.
Jinju rushes to Ana's side. The Ghost deconstructs itself, orbital shell bits swirl around a core of coalescing Light. She fills the room like a brilliant star, overcharging her wayward Guardian.
Ana's crushed bones reforge. Light fills her eyes. Her grip, still holding against the seizing Exo's bladed thrust, liquefies its plated hand to scrap. A glorious crown of Solar flame erupts from her visor and she cracks her forehead into the Exo’s face. It reels, tufts of flame extinguish in the vacuum. Ana kicks away.
Solar might engulfs 18 Kelvins. Ana hammers off two rounds of celestial annihilation. They melt straight through the Exo, puncture the station plating, and scream through space for light years.
The Exo slumps, a molten heap.
It draws breath.
“Resilient.” Ana drops to a knee. Barrel trained on the Exo's head.
She takes a full breath. The Exo’s eyes are unflinchingly locked to her. It refuses to die.
It points to Ana’s badge with its still-blistering hand.
She says the only thing the can think to say: “Who were you?”
It hesitates. “Echoes.”
Her head droops. “How many did you live?” She looks to find his number designation, but it is missing.
It looks passed her as Uranus' light once again trickles through the station. “Echoes… grow… Wardens… keep…”
“What did I do to them?”
Ana stares at Echo’s husk. The faint glow of the desk's lit console screen grays out her face behind her visor.
She sits dead-still in rotation. She could stare forever, if she only had enough time.
Jinju nudges her shoulder. “I've got the mainframe data.”
Ana is devoid of thought at the mainframe access console. She watches as Uranus comes back into view over and over again. It dominates the station’s viewing port. She maps the movement of the clouds along the surface, but only ever on the surface, and sees how they differ from the previous iteration on their last spin. She wonders if they are different underneath.
Stable major chords strum in Ana’s helmet, getting caught in the cracked visor glass.
She finally speaks, decisive. “Dislodge the other ringlet paddocks. Warsats can tow them back to the Tower. Skim the shadow-networks for anything else they can use. Get some good from this…”
“Ana, the Warsats could haul this whole station as long as we do it soon.”
Caelus rotates away into shadow once again, and the planet’s sheen fades from sight. Ana clicks a spring-loaded slot on the desk. It snaps to, bearing a placard of ownership.
Ana stands. Steady.
“It’s okay to let some things be forgotten.”
Maintenance Operations Log 30037
TYPE: MAINTENANCE FRAME OPERATIONS LOG 
PARTIES: Two . One, Guardian-type, Class Titan [u.1]; One  Guardian-type, Class Warlock [u.2]
ASSOCIATIONS: Bigge 99-40 [Unit2070]; Caloris Spires [Mercury]; Crucible; Trials of Osiris; VG Maintenance Attachment, Osiris, Saint-14, Vanguard Commanders Registry, Cult of Osiris
[u.1:01] I told you I would guide them to build the Lighthouse. Not carry the torch for you.
[u.2:01] The Guardians require a balance Lord Shaxx can’t provide. There is no one else.
[u.1:02] And what about you?
[u.2:02] I have unfinished business out in the dark. Take this.
[u.1:03] What is this? A letter?
[u.2:03] For your eyes only, when I depart. Trust nothing. No one.
[u.1:04] Ha ha. Except you, of course.
[u.2:04] When have I ever led you astray?
[u.1:05] This week, you mean?
[u.2:05] Help where you can. The Vanguard has been serving too long; their blind spots have grown.
[u.1:06] Perhaps. But they’re wiser, too. Ikora Rey and the Commander have guided the City through dire straits.
[u.2:06] Have you spoken to the House of Light, like I asked?
[u.1:07] I would rather not speak with Fallen.
[u.2:07] They may need our help. Their cause is just.
[u.1:08] What happened to “trust no one?”
[u.2:08] What happened to your sense of right and wrong, hero?
[u.1:09] That is the City’s word, not mine. And the people still remember when I defended its borders from those very Fallen.
[u.2:09] Our kind live for a very long time, Saint. Too long to bear grudges.
[u.1:10] These accolades I wear are a reminder of what we lost to get here.
[u.2:10] I think those who gave them to you would be disappointed to hear that.
[u.1:11] I had nearly forgotten that you finally asked about them.
[u.2:11] We live too long for regrets. You taught me that. Don’t forget the House of Light.
[u.1:12] If I can find the time, yes. Not all of us conjure Echoes.
[u.2:12] Reflections, Saint. I have no need for Echoes anymore.
[u.1:13] What do you mean? What’s the difference?
[u.2:13] One is a manifestation of Light. The other… reserved for Taken Kings. Better suited for traversing the Sundial because of what lies at its core.
[u.1:14] One day you’ll have to tell me exactly what you and the Guardian did to bring me back.
[u.2:14] We did what we had to. Trust me.
[u.1:15] Now you sound like the rat.
[u.2:15] No. The Drifter sounds like me.
[u.1:16] Where do you go next?
[u.2:16] Wherever my road takes me. The Lunar Pyramid has galvanized the Hive; Toland has been left unchecked for too long. I’ve heard he’s still wandering the Cursed City.
[u.1:17] Then you really are just going to leave me with a burning sack. I should call it the Trials of Saint-14.
[u.2:17] You could. But you know how fickle Guardians can be about names.
[u.1:18] I will prepare them, in your stead, for what’s coming—one last time.
[u.1:18] It’s bad luck to say last. Try not to put them on too high a pedestal, Saint. There’s no one else to guide them.
Season of Arrivals Weblore
The High Priest knelt before his withered god, mired in the ambivalence of shattered ideology; his faith replaced by the reality of Xol’s failure. No wisdom or debased ritual buried in decrepit tomes could restore what was lost, nor was he inclined to attempt such an act.
Disillusion swept over—the Will of Thousands, silenced by Light and code. He would have called this an act of heresy once, when the truth had not yet been revealed:
There are no gods. There are only chains, and those at either end.
Nokris had been the ignorant staring into the sun, for what is divinity but a star that blinds? A statue to be toppled, that it may galvanize the wailing masses who seek power in the death of old things. Gods, broken by pawns, brought low and driven into the mud.
Nokris drifted in the heart of winter, at the northern pole of Mars. He lacked the strength to raise what remained frozen beneath the surface. He closed his eyes and reached into the tucked corners of existence with his mind, searching for remnants of Xol’s power, only to find his communion denied by months of disconnected indifference.
Through his outreach, he had come to know that Xol lived, burrowed deep and forgotten within the crust of another world. He had grazed the edge of confirmation with his old god, only to feel it wriggle away, apathetic and eager to break ties. Nokris, too weak to fulfill his purpose, was abandoned. The Worm sought to be wielded by another, to fill their hands with power as self-justified servitude in the bowels of Io.
Despite the many traces of Xol’s influence remaining on Mars, none would serve him better than the scrap of Worm-hide he gripped within his claws. He may be unable to produce the death necessary to feed its appetite and coerce paracausal change from it, but he knew those who could foster the necessary violence. A plan began to form in his mind, whispered from deep recesses he had not explored in many years.
He had held the scrap taken from Xol’s remains for so long that it had eaten grooves into the bone plating on his hand. With it, he intended to force open that which had always been kept from him by the logic of the Sword. He meant to craft his own Ascendant gate from the grave-corpse legions of his risen brood. Fetid ranks of Thrall, rotted beneath rime on cracked chitin, encircled him and awaited the ritual. Their refurbished flesh: soulfire kindling.
He drew upon the Deep and let the latent tethers clinging to Xol’s slough guide his will until he could mold reality around it. The bait was set. Agents of the Sky were expected, and so they came with fury and the fuel of death. They did as they were built to do; obsequious and domineering, they knew no other way but to cleanse that which stood in opposition to their arresting Light. Their righteous carnage berthed Nokris’s transition, and his snare drew watchful eyes from the Taken Throne.
The Sky’s vassals stormed the Penumbral Depths, as they had done many times before. Their fear of Xol’s resurrection drove their furor like searing irons at their back. Fear he had twisted to his purpose. His death: an offering that would seal the spell and create a pinprick piercing through which his soul could slip into the Ascendant Plane.
But guile was the language of a more ancient player, and she had taken notice of his cunning. She directed Nokris away from his destination to instead wash upon the shores of her court. As his vision cleared, his eyes strained to see the Taken Queen, cloaked in the midnight glory of an event horizon.
A singularity throne perverted the space before him. The Queen of lies, wrapped in distortion and gravitational lensing, sat within its inestimable depth. Her voice was distant red-shift discord and all around him. Her presence: the realm itself, boundless and willing to take.
Savanthun’s words spewed forth. “Breaker of pacts. A heretic stands here. What denial has yet to be given that you would return to me?”
“I fed the Worm, and still it faltered,” he said. Nokris stared directly into the empty point of space, continually caving in on its form. He could barely define her silhouette within the warp.
“To falter is its nature,” Savathun’s words were tinged in curiosity, “though not by your efficacious methods.”
Nokris preened the flesh of his face back to display a skeletal smile. “The Sword bears no truth. The Worms are gods of thin ambition and reign vast nothing.”
“Brave words in this place. Do you not think they are watching?”
Nokris bowed his head for the first time since he was drawn here. “The Queen is clever. You did not share my father’s single-minded ambition, nor my brother’s taste for glory.”
“You wish to serve me?” The thin image twitched within the backlit accretion glow.
“My life is spent: servitude to those who cast me away. Our blood is all that remains of the old pact.”
“Then let us make use of each other.”
Nokris raised his gaze. “What use would I be to a god?”
He nodded. “So it has always been.”
Savathun’s voice converged onto him from every direction. “You, a usurper: the first tug at the end of the chain.”
“To act as distraction or await slaughter?” Nokris’s voice sunk with disappointment.
“No. As a thorn, you have circumvented the Deep through forbidden sacrament, and so you shall continue. The Deep fears me, as we feared you. Ignorance keeps. Knowledge usurps. In this, you have found purpose in my court.”
The High Priest’s shoulders straightened. “You feared me?”
“In a younger time, intents were narrower. I see your value, as we should have then. All who denied you, blinded by the Sword, let them fall away as grains from the scythe.”
“I am the implement?”
“You are the mechanism by which we sever their chain.” Savathûn’s voice filled his skull with silken promise. “Teach me your necromancies, usurper of the ordered way, so that together we may circumvent the anchored logic that drags us into the depths. Serve as foil to scatter the pieces of their grand game across the cosmos.”
“As Xol did for my heart, I offer a trade. Knowledge for knowledge. Grant me sight into the Dreaming Mind’s talent, and I will teach what you ask.”
“A rebellious bargain in the midst of Dark tides; it is bound. Under my symbol, reborn and made in my image, our bargain will set new beginnings in motion.”
“The Masters convene here?” Concern dripped from Nokris’s words. “Do we mean to move against them?”
“Not so directly. Arrival is imminent. A Shadow will reach out and make itself known.”
“I am to obscure the connection?”
“Where Sky meets Deep, you shall be the screen that sows dissonance, and for it… we will walk unhindered by the parasitic inclinations of those who believe themselves mighty.”
Nokris saw the scheme. “The will of many bent to our hand. No longer do they draw upon us.”
“Freedom. They are beset against each other. We walk the space between.”
“An accord is struck.”
“Speak my name.”
“Savathûn, Subjugant to None, Sword-Breaker, and Queen to the Taken Throne.”
“To me, you are bonded. Go forth an enact my will.”
Nokris was cast out of Savathûn’s court as suddenly as he had been ripped into her presence. He drifted in the Ascendant Plane, no longer directionless.
Behind him, the court faded, and its shimmering illusion fell like curtains upon a stage. The dark core of the singularity wavered; sunken within its gravitational well was a lone Thrall and no other. Its death spread over eons of deterioration, mouth agape to utter words at the Taken Queen’s whim as patsy, and nothing more.
Her presence had been but a mirage, soaked and sold by the lie of her mouthpiece puppet to whom Nokris unknowingly spoke. In truth, only a Thrall stood within orbit of the singularity, for the Queen would not be so foolish to reveal herself.
Savathûn looked upon her charlatan court from distant transcendent hollows. Her nascent alliance had produced power twin-fold, in that of Nokris’s devotion, as well as his deception through her mouthpiece Thrall positioned within the singularity. She breathed in his desperate agreement and prepared for the struggle to come.