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3624870834Hammer of ProvingCurrently, our crypto-archaeologists cannot pinpoint the date of Calus's rise to power within the Cabal Empire. Like much of the Cabal Empire's ancient history, many dates and facts were altered to cast a favorable light upon the former emperor and his rise to power. Most of the Cryptarchy's information comes from post-Calus records, scoured from archival remnants on Red Legion vessels and forays into the Leviathan. As such, this record's historic context must be marked with an asterisk for questionable accuracy. According to excerpts from the Cabal legal record known as the Codex of Lawful Transgressions, the Hammer of Proving dates back to the Foundation Age of Emperor Calus's reign. During this era, Cabal society was dominated by militaristic ambition centered around conquest and imperial expansion. As Calus took control of the empire, he sought to steer the Cabal people toward a society of art and philosophy (though this degenerated into decadence and debauchery). In the early Foundation Age, the Rite of Proving was the primary means by which disputes were settled among free Cabal (much like how the Crucible was formed among the Guardians of the Last City). During the Proving, two Cabal or their appointed representatives would air their grievances in a public forum and one or both Cabal would declare a challenge. These Cabal would battle one another to submission or to the death—often the latter—and the winner would be seen as the right and lawful party in the dispute. Calus disapproved, but knew that overturning a centuries-old tradition would be an unpopular decision. Instead, the emperor introduced incrementally draconian and byzantine bylaws into the Proving. One of these stated that if a battle ended with a tie or double-submission, an "impartial" imperial arbiter would decide the outcome. This arbiter would carry a symbol of Imperial office: a gold-plated hammer etched with strange runes drawn from Calus's own personal occult obsessions. The Hammer of Proving. Whereas an impartial arbiter was a widely accepted change to the tradition, Calus abused it to push his own agenda. Over time, the Proving arbiter was granted more and more autonomy to settle battles, eventually gaining the right to enter a battle on their own under a number of flimsy justifications such as balancing "unfair" matches, ending matches that went "overly long," or punishing a Proving participant who owed a financial debt to the empire. The Proving arbiter became such a disruptive force that within a century, the Rite of Proving had fallen out of common usage, as the law and restrictions around the Rite made it an untenable solution. Ultimately, the role of Proving arbiter was retired and the hammer returned to Calus's vaults. During Caiatl's rise to power, she sought to win over those who had been put off by her father's cynical interpretations of Cabal tradition. Her regime reinstated the Rite of Proving as a simple combat challenge without arbiters or other superfluous trappings, and her adherence to custom gained her the steadfast loyalty of many influential warriors and politicians. This small army of dedicated followers is credited with easing her transition to a place of authority where her self-chosen honorific "empress" seems reasonable. It is unknown how the Red Legion came into possession of the Hammer of Proving, but the weapon carries a significant historic weight to the Cabal people, one that can be leveraged as both an olive branch and—perhaps most fittingly—a bludgeon, depending on the wielder.
2633186522Shadow Price[RECORDED VIA [REDACTED] SURVEILLANCE NET: TS-04, [REDACTED]] HLS: Come, hatchlings. Hear the story of the Ether-blood Lightbearer. The one who wields Ethraaks's blades. She wandered a troubled Shore with vengeance in her heart, searching for the one who had wronged her: the devil-turned-spiderling, Dryksis. Food and Ether we shared. The House of Light once again found peace with a Guardian, yes? HLS: We know of Dryksis. One who always thirsted for power, cursed machines, Dark flows of energy, it made no difference. This time, he sought power through Cabal; Legion-rumors of vile splinters from Europa filled his mind with temptations. HLS: Cabal roamed the Shore, battering against one another in displays of might. Like the Kells of old, they fought for the claim to supremacy… to serve Caiatl of the dead-world fleet. Dryksis saw many Kells come and go. Dryksis understood fragile loyalties. Understood importance of strength seen. Dryksis offered Legion use of his ring for their challenges, and from Cabal blood, he drew profit. HLS: I stood with Dryksis before the House of Light. This one saw him weave truthless words to collect promises. Contacts on Europa. Introductions. Shipments. Brought to Spider, entire ring would have died… many Eliksni lose. When the Ether-blood Lightbearer spoke Dryksis's name, we imagined another way forward. She did not wish harm on innocent Eliksni, only the Fallen fiend: Dryksis… and so this House granted shimmer-cloak to conceal, and passage to find her prey. HLS: Old friends traded for information, access, codes. Dryksis oversaw new ring, made for Cabal battle-trials. Challengers from across the Reef fought to lead the Shore's Cabal. The Lightbearer withheld her rage and made her way beneath the stands. To the overlook, where Dryksis watched a champion preparing for challengers… in the ring below. HLS: Trihn, the Lightbearer, drew blades of Ethraaks and burst into the overlook. To confront Dryksis, her heart full with vengeance, her mind set on war. But he was not alone. An emissary of the new empress had come to see the challenges. Receiving this emissary, Cabal Blood Guard. The Lightbearer charged Dryksis, and a savage battle ensued. HLS: She was thrown from the overlook, into the ring of challengers… before a great Cabal Gladiator who spoke to her. The Lightbearer, unbeknownst to her, had issued a challenge by entering his ring. If she did not fight, all Cabal would descend upon her. Her victory must be earned with strength and blade alone. No other weapons. No other powers. A proving she accepted to again clear a path to her prey. HLS: The Gladiator bellowed laughter at the small Awoken Lightbearer. Their blades met, and over many clashes her speed proved superior to the Cabal's might. The blades of Ethraaks are strong—sliced through Cabal armor, left blood and oil in their wake. HLS: She had found victory, but as her Ghost tended to her wounds, Dryksis-coward fled to safety through transmat. Though, all was not lost. The Lightbearer's battle had drawn eyes of the emissary, who lavished praise on her for her prowess, and issued an invitation to speak with Cabal Empress herself. When the Lightbearer returns to us, the House of Light will be ready to assist her in hunting Dryksis again.
432476743The PalindromeYirix waited. She watched her prey cut slaughter through the EDZ. She watched every weapon and muscle break against their Light. She watched her prey's little Ghost snicker with glee at the death of dozens. Bleak humor to the undying. They had exercised the same nonchalance as the Almighty bore down to exterminate their parasitic City: Guardians huddled in droves, their eyes trained skyward to watch the destruction of Amtec's vengeance, as if it were some celebratory spectacle. Yirix and her conclave would not let that revenge be swept aside so easily. They remembered Amtec's words. They remembered the brief hope the Sundial had shown them, and they remembered the name trailed in curses and woe. Although she and her sisters could not hope to destroy a city, they could kill the man who commanded it. She refocused her eye on the Guardian as it loaded a new cylinder into a crude metal cannon. Her trigger finger twitched in contempt as she looked upon the bodies of the Cabal she had used to lure this Guardian into the open. Yirix had once thought of Human strategies like hidden blades: cowardly and unwilling to engage in anything but guerilla warfare and decapitations of leadership. Watching the Legion disintegrate after Ghaul's death had revealed truer interpretations. Victory cares not for honor, and headless foes cannot resist. Yirix fired and the Guardian dropped. "Well placed." The words rippled through her mind as another Psion stepped from concealment behind Yirix. The Psion handed Yirix a new firearm—different from her longbore headhunter. It was lined in silver-colored magnetic rails that hissed with Arc charge. "The carrion Light will reveal itself in time." "We will wait," Yirix rippled back. In time, a small Ghost compiled into existence. Yirix waited as the Ghost circled its Guardian. She waited for the Light to build within it. She waited until her target was sure that its actions could lead to nothing but resurrection, and then she fired. The stunned Ghost fell. Joy filled her mind. "It is effective," she thought. "Ghaul was no fool," her subordinate rippled in response. Yirix snorted at the name. "This is not his credit. Ghaul did not invent this technology, but we will learn from his failure." "Dispose of them. Use its primitive gun. We cannot leave any trace that may lead them back to us." "It is done," her subordinate thought, acting on Yirix's orders. "We are Amtec's vengeance." Yirix finished her sister's sentiment. "…and while she struck from the sun, we strike from the shadow."
47772649THE SWARMThe Cosmodrome quakes under a killing wind: fire sent roaring from entrenched Cabal gunlines across the Mothyards. A Cabal advance threatens to encircle a defensive line held by crimson frames and one lone Light. Shaw Han dips his head beneath a swivel of Machine Gun rounds and dives for the trench line. He slams his back against an earthen wall next to a few shot-to-pieces Redjacks. His eyes focus on the gaping bullet holes perforating their thin plating as he runs a shaky hand over his own chest. At least they were just frames. He had bled out from open wounds before and was in no rush to relive the experience. Shaw peers down to the end of his trench where a detachment of Gladiators crash through their flanks. "Just a little farther…" A Solar explosion vaporizes the leading Gladiator and scatters their charge. A surviving Cabal recoils from the explosion in confusion. He stumbles backward into another of Shaw's trip mines and obliterates the rest of his comrades in a chain of explosions. Shaw exhales the tension in his chest and makes a mental note of the frames lost in the blast. He could take a verbal lashing from Shaxx if it meant no more blood on his hands. He glances back to the flank. Through the settling dust of a crisis averted, Shaw sees faint silhouettes of a second Cabal charge incoming. "Damn it!" Commander Zavala had tasked him with holding this sector. Had called him by name directly, imbued Shaw with his trust. He couldn't go back having lost a fertile ground for new Lights. Old Russia was his to protect, and no Cabal conqueror would claim it while he still drew breath. Slugs slap hard into the earthen trench wall at his back, sending reverberations through his ribs. He shifts to plot a safe path to defend the flank. Shaw readies to move as a heavy metal boot slams out of transmat in front of him, followed by a solid Light barricade erected to deflect the incoming metallurgic hail. "Get up, Han. That ditch isn't going to save you." Machine Gun fire thunders off the barricade as Lord Saladin grabs him and raises Shaw to his feet. "That's for your Light to do." "Saladin?" Shaw closes his mouth and tries again. "Lord Saladin." "Zavala forwarded your support request." Saladin ignores Shaw's surprised expression and eyes the Cabal fortifications. "You're with me now." "Sir." Shaw nods with a steady confidence. "What's the plan?" Saladin peers through the cracking barricade, slugs crashing finger-lengths from his face. "Holliday is en route to deploy our heavy ordnance, but she needs their attention off the skies." Saladin looks at him for the first time and smiles. "Take out their flak guns, and give them no choice but to focus those Machine Gun nests on us." "Oh…" Shaw wasn't sure if he'd call this a plan—maybe a Titan plan. "You're fast on your feet, son. You'll be fine." Saladin motions the advance; "JACKS, SUPPRESSING FIRE!" Lord Saladin strides into the no-man's-land surrounded by advancing Redjacks and a billowing aura of searing refraction. He hurls a fusion grenade across the expanse without breaking pace and demolishes one of the dozens of machinegun nests outright. Shaw moves behind him. Flame licks down the Ahamkara spine lashed to his arm until it meets the hammer of his weapon and ignites his Golden Gun. He singles out several enemy flak cannons and skewers them with Solar points, incinerating nearby Cabal. Hot barrels realign on the Guardians as a magnificent flare emblazons Lord Saladin's armor in Solar Light. From his palms erupts a mighty maul that clinks into his gauntlets. Heavy slugs clang as they shrug off his immolated plate. He does not flinch or falter. Saladin charges the line, heat intensifying and melting slugs into slag droplets that ping and sizzle against him. He slams his maul into the dirt, driving a sweeping inferno toward the Cabal gunline. It hits like a bursting artillery shell, catching oil alight and spreading hot panic through the Cabal ranks. Shaw dodges around incoming fire and reloads his weapon. He snaps off two more golden rays into the remaining enemy flak cannons. Frames push forward alongside them, absorbing slugs for the Guardians and keeping pressure on the gunline. Shaw spots several Gladiator detachments redirecting to confront them. He pushes the bulk of his Light into his weapon, spreads its influence to reach the nearby Redjacks, and reignites his gun before touching the barrel to the ground and firing. The ground bubbles with hot magmatic Light; a warmth envelops the Redjacks as Solar flame imbues and empowers their rifles with golden power. Shaw directs the firestorm of golden Redjack rifles to incinerate every last charging foe. Saladin bears down on the Cabal, almost in their ranks now. He is a wildfire of Light and death. Legionaries flee their nests rather than challenge him. Frantic Cabal radio transmissions crackle across the battleground. All remaining guns turn to stop the Iron Lord's advance, but only succeed in slowing it. Saladin's voice bellows above the gunline. "Now, Siegfried!" A Vanguard vulture-class battle carrier shrieks through the sky above, just long enough for a lone Guardian to drop from the clouds, a meteor wreathed in lightning, bringing down havoc from the skies.
1593620971Cobra's HoodPrak'kesh sat on his Gray Hornet, parked in his usual spot at the base of the Tower. The former Guardian was watching bootleg transmissions of the latest Cabal death matches when one of his runners tugged on his sleeve. Prak'kesh jumped in surprise. "Son-of-a-dreg! Don't sneak up like that!" He smoothed his fur vest in self-placation. "Sorry, sir." The kid scuffed his feet sheepishly. "Just that some guys wanna make a bet." Prak'kesh sucked his teeth in annoyance. "So take the bet! What the hell you hassling me for?" The kid ran his grubby fingers along the sharp black lines of the bookie's ride. "They won't gimme the chip. They say they gotta talk to you direct." Prak'kesh swatted the runner's hand away. "I just had that detailed." He sighed in exasperation. "Fine. Send 'em over. But if they end up making some lame prop on the new Hunter Vanguard or something, I'm gonna run you over with this thing." The kid nodded and scampered off. A few minutes later, a fireteam of three Hunters sauntered over. Prak'kesh slouched further onto his Sparrow in a dramatic display of nonchalance. His ex-Corsair enforcer, Tulnik, cracked his knuckles. The Hunters posed coolly in front of the bookie. The team leader, a Gunslinger, casually flicked a knife between his fingers. "I guess you've probably heard of us." Prak'kesh glanced at Tulnik, who shook his head. "Uh, not really," the bookie said. "Now what's this about?" The Arcstrider stepped forward menacingly. "Show respect! You're talking to the Death Dealers." Prak'kesh raised an eyebrow. "Cool name. I once had a cat called 'Death Dealer.'" Behind him, he heard Tulnik guffaw. The Arcstrider snarled and sent a crackle of Arc energy rippling through his arm. But before he could strike, the Nightstalker blinked in front of him and put her hand on his chest. "Whoa. Cool it, Gene. He's not worth it. Remember your breathing exercises." The Arcstrider nodded. "You're right, you're right. He's not worth it." He retreated, put his hands on his head, and walked in circles around the plaza, exhaling loudly. Prak'kesh cleared his throat cautiously. "So, you wanna make a bet, or…?" "You're damn right we do," the Gunslinger replied. "We're betting on Hunters to win the Guardian Games." "Hunters rule!" shouted Gene from across the plaza. "Is that all?" Prak'kesh asked with confusion. "That's stock standard. Why didn't you just put in a chip like everyone else?" The Nightstalker leaned in conspiratorially. "Because of what we're wagering," she said and opened her pack to reveal a single, curling horn. Prak'kesh's eyes went wide. "Is that whose I think it is?" The Gunslinger crossed his arms smugly. "You tell us." "How did you even get this?" "Never question the Death Dealers. Now, what's it worth to you?" the Gunslinger said. Prak'kesh shrugged. "Hunters win gold, you get one legendary Hand Cannon each. If not, I get…" he dropped his voice to a whisper, "the horn." "Throw in a couple Umbral Engrams," the Nightstalker countered, "and you got a deal." Prak'kesh pretended to consider. "It's a deal," he finally said and recorded the transaction in his datapad. "Good luck in the Guardian Games, Hunters." "Hunters rule!" shouted Gene, to nobody in particular.
787709112Phoenix's FirePrak'kesh sat on his Gray Hornet, parked in his usual spot at the base of the Tower. The former Guardian read dispatches from Spider's Associates with one eye and watched his runners scurry about with the other. The younger kids took bets from all over the City and delivered them to Prak'kesh at appointed intervals. Once the action paid off, the bookie would send the older kids to settle up. Any incalcitrant debtors were dealt with by Tulnik, his enormous ex-Corsair bodyguard, who was currently leaning against the Tower, scratching himself. Prak'kesh chirped a low call to Tulnik, who snapped to attention. A fireteam was gliding toward them from across the courtyard. The Guardians' cloaks billowed in a non-existent wind, and their feet barely touched the paving stones. Prak'kesh rolled his eyes. Warlocks. Prak'kesh called out, "Looking sharp. I love the… bird… hat." "This is Felwinter's Helm, jackass," the Voidwalker fired back. "Prolly costs more than your Sparrow." "Good," Prak'kesh retorted, "then you've got the cash to pay your debts. Val Guscu wasn't quite the mad dog you thought she was." The Warlocks glanced at each other surreptitiously. "About that," said the Sunsinger, "we don't have the Motes… yet." Tulnik, sensing his moment, stepped forward with a menacing flex. Prak'kesh stayed his enforcer with a manicured hand. "Steady, Tully. These are learned scholars. I'm sure they have a needlessly complex plan to make things right." "We do," said the Stormcaller through gritted teeth. "Double or nothing on the Guardian Games Crucible this week." Prak'kesh gave a low whistle. "That's some heavy action. Who you backing?" "Us," the Sunsinger responded. "Against Meliorea's Titans." Prak'kesh's eyebrows shot up. "Meliorea's at the top of the leaderboards. She's dangerous. And you guys are… stylish. It's a bad bet. Unless," the bookie tapped the side of his nose, "you know something I don't." The Voidwalker tossed her head, as if flicking her hair. Then, realizing she was still wearing her helmet, awkwardly put her hands on her hips. "Let's just say she's about to have a bad case of existential dread the night before the match." The Warlocks snickered. "Little trick I picked up from the Psions," the Voidwalker finished. "Titans put all their armor on their chests," the Sunsinger opined, "and none between their ears. Like a castle with no roof." The Voidwalker guffawed. "Is that why they always look like they're getting rained on?" The Stormcaller dropped his voice an octave, puffed out his chest, and lumbered around on bowed legs. "When the only tool you have is a Titan, every hammer is a nail!" "Indeed!" the Warlocks chortled and high fived. "It's settled, then!" Prak'kesh pulled out his datapad. "You guys beat Meliorea this week, and the slate's clean. Otherwise, I get the Motes," he said and winked at the Voidwalker, "and that fancy hat." The Voidwalker was suddenly serious. "Guys. No. Come on," she implored her teammates. "You know how many engrams I had to—" "Deal," the Sunsinger interrupted. He removed his gauntlet and pressed his finger to the datapad. "Deal!" Prak'kesh smiled broadly. "Good luck in the Guardian Games. Not that you'll need it."
3469703959Lion's PridePrak'kesh sat on his Gray Hornet, parked in his usual spot at the base of the Tower. The former Guardian was holding a kimchi burrito purchased from a food cart with one hand while scrolling through Crucible results with the other. Guardian Games always brought an influx of bettors, and he needed to know which fireteams had the hot hands. It was shaping up as a banner year for gambling. The bookie's hulking bodyguard, Tulnik, was leaning against the Tower, looking at Cabal pinups. The ex-Corsair clicked his tongue in warning. Prak'kesh's attention shifted from the burrito to a trio of enormous Titans lumbering toward them. A glob of kimchi plopped onto his fur vest. The fireteam leader, a Sunbreaker, loomed over the bookie. "You, uh… you got something on your hair-shirt." Prak'kesh tossed the remainder of the burrito over his shoulder, splattering the side of the Tower. "Yup. That's… alpaca." He crossed his arms over the stain. "What can I do for you?" The Sentinel stepped forward. "We wanna bet on the Hunters to win the Games." Prak'kesh's eyebrows shot up. "Really? Do I smell a fix coming in? This is huge." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Zavala's not in on it… is he?" The Titans glanced at each other in confusion. The Striker spoke up, "No. We want to bet on the Hunters." The bookie frowned. "Yeah. You're betting on the Hunters because you're going to throw the matches." Their blank, helmeted stares prompted him to clarify, "I mean, your plan is to lose on purpose… right?" The Sunbreaker looked taken aback. "Titans never lose to Hunters." "Yeah, we're much better at fighting," the Sentinel affirmed. "Hunters are always jumping around with their little knives, or hiding in smoke." He waved his arms around frantically. "But I just put up my wall, and then Tanishe punches them. Like, really hard." "It's true," the Striker proclaimed earnestly. "I can punch super hard." "So, your plan is to win," Prak'kesh clarified. The trio nodded emphatically. "Then why," the bookie asked slowly, "are you betting on the Hunters?" The Sentinel scoffed. "Element of surprise, my man. They'll never see it coming." He and the Sunbreaker fist-bumped. "But all bets are confidential," Prak'kesh explained. "We wouldn't be here if we weren't confident," the Sunbreaker bragged. Prak'kesh pinched the bridge of his nose. He was developing a headache. "I mean, all bets are secret. Nobody will know what you wagered." "Obviously," the Sunbreaker condescended. "Wouldn't be a surprise if everybody knew." The Sentinel tapped his massive finger to his temple. "See? Warlocks aren't the only ones who come up with clever centrifuges." Prak'kesh threw his hands up in capitulation. "Fine, I'll take your bet." He pulled out his datapad. "But I want to be really clear: if the Titans win the Guardian Games, you're never gonna see this Glimmer again." "There's more to life than Glimmer," said the Sunbreaker. "I can't wait to see the look on their stupid faces when they find out." The bookie shrugged. "Then it's a deal. Good luck in the Games… I think."
3525313139Shell of Gilgamesh"I don't want to do this," Katabasis said flatly. His legs hung over the precipice of a towering Vex pillar on Nessus. Calus's pleasure barge whirred as engines fired to life in the distance. "A job every now and then's one thing…" Katabasis thumbed the small royal jewel seated in his newly gifted imperial coin. He didn't know if this was an invitation one could refuse, and operating outside of the City's jurisdiction had become more and more lucrative in a time when Consensus resources felt taxed beyond their limit. Without a Hunter Vanguard soliciting reports of his activities, it had become all too easy to slip away on illicit solo missions. Gilgamesh, Katabasis's Ghost, leered at the Guardian before pivoting to bask in the shadow of the Leviathan. "The trust of an emperor isn't something to squander." It was a trust Kata and Gilly had fought hard to obtain. Tracking game through the jungles of Venus. Poaching strange quantum jellyfish in the storms of Saturn. Putting down Red Legion traitors—anyone seeking to corral Calus and his loyalists into a paddock for Caiatl's judgment. Katabasis's hunts had always been painted against the grand planet-scape of a wild frontier. He wasn't a fan of fish in a barrel, and he didn't want to become one. Something about sitting in a Cabal cruiser in empty space felt awfully like a sealed barrel surrounded by ocean. Locked in with nowhere to run. "More like I'm the only one left listening to his ranting." Katabasis pocketed the imperial. "His kid is making him antsy. Probably reckless too. I swear the Reddies we're gunning down are just anyone Calus can find with a name worth taking," he stated nonchalantly. "Is that so bad?" "Used to be the only difference between Reddies and Calus's boys was politics. I don't mind throwing some political lead downrange so long as it's isolated, but this is the Dark, little buddy. Feels wrong. Feels like something we shouldn't mess with on our own." "You can accept his offer and crew up, or take your sorry self back to the City and wait for orders from an empty chair," Gilly sneered. "Think of what we could learn. Those wannabe god-slayers chasing Stasis on Europa had one thing right. Power decides the future. We should have been there to take it with them." "A voyage to the Darkness isn't the story I was hoping to retire on." Katabasis chuckled before continuing. "Or maybe it is… I've been tired lately." "The Light is getting thinner, Katabasis. I can feel it, sharing space with something else we've yet to tap." Gilly swung around to face his Guardian. "We need something to fall back on, friend. We've been around for a long time. We've always been told to mind our step, stay in the sun, right? But what happened the second we started to choose our own path out in the shadows?" The Hunter looked to his Ghost. "We got stronger; richer." Gilly had a nose for this sort of thing. Every time Katabasis had listened to him, Gilly had led him to a new discovery: a new power, taught him to wield the Arc staff, taught him to dance through the shadows. These discoveries had their prices, their scars, their lessons… But what are scars to an immortal?
1305996499In Memoriam ShellThe Tower Hangar had never been a particularly quiet space, but today's din seemed to set record levels. The whoosh of jumpships had been near-constant as fireteam after fireteam rolled through on their way to one of many battlegrounds . Luckily, Saint-14 had a voice that could carry over it all: "Welcome, Guardians!" Standing in his usual spot by the Gray Pigeon , he bellowed jubilantly to Trial-seekers, greeting each and every one as if they were old friends. Underneath his cheer, however, there was an unease. Some internal wire pulled taut by the arrival of the Pyramids. Ever since the latest incident in the Trials, his tension had increased daily, steadily ratcheting towards an inevitable breaking point. There had been incidents before—that was to be expected when Guardians clashed. The point was to limit those altercations to a controlled environment. Yet lately, Saint wondered whether he really was in control after all… But just as the clouds of doubt began to settle, they lifted when the crowd parted to reveal a familiar gold-hooded figure in their midst. His shoulders seemed a little more stooped without Sagira zipping around them, but his purposeful stride, his furrowed brow… these remained the same. "Osiris!" Saint called out. Several heads swiveled in his direction, startled by the sudden shout. Osiris, for his part, merely looked bemused as he changed course. "What is it?" Osiris asked as he drew closer. "Did something happen?" "No," Saint responded quickly. Too quickly. "Well, yes… A small something. Under control, but…" He was stumbling, unsure how to explain himself. "I sent a message. You didn't get it?" Osiris frowned, impatient. "I've received a lot of messages lately. Was it urgent?" Saint flinched. He didn't know it had to be urgent. "It's about the Trials. They are named for you and… now that you're here, I thought it was time you…" "Ah. You want me to take over the Trials." Osiris shrugged. "It's not a good time. Shut them down if you're tired of it." "What? No!" Saint hadn't expected this. "Not tired. I am worried! There have been—" He stopped, suddenly aware of the passersby. He gestured for Osiris to follow him into his ship. Osiris crossed his arms. "I'm keeping Lord Saladin waiting. The issue of the Cabal is somewhat urgent. As you can see." "I know, but…" Saint lowered his voice, "But there is a kind of war brewing in the Trials too. Guardians going too far. Wielding Darkness." "Really?" Osiris' eyes glinted with renewed interest. "To what effect?" Saint stared at him. Inside, the wire tightened one more impossible inch. At last, he said, "It varies." "Interesting." Osiris rubbed his chin, thinking. A datapad at his hip dinged with a reminder. He groaned at it, then turned back to Saint. "If it happens again, take notes, will you?" Without waiting for a response, he turned away. Saint's iron arm shot out and grabbed him by the elbow. "Is that all this is to you? An experiment?" Saint spat, trying and failing to keep his voice down. He couldn't contain himself any longer. He'd waited for days for a response. Fretting over the silence, but forcing himself to give his comrade space. "So what am I then? Your assistant? Just because Sagira is gone—" "Enough," Osiris snarled, yanking his arm back. "Never speak of her to me again. Understand?" Saint stepped back, immediately awash in regret. His mind raced. He should say something, anything, to make it better. To put things to rights. But what? Before he could come up with an answer, Osiris spoke: "Continue the Trials or don't. But if you don't have the stomach to collect that data, someone should. It could be key to our survival. All of ours." And with that, he strode off. Saint watched as Osiris disappeared into the throng. The tension in him was gone. All he felt now was the agonizing wound left by the wire's snap. Ikora's words from not so long ago echoed in the back of his mind: "…You know Osiris better than anyone else." Not true. Saint knew him well, but not better than Sagira. And without her around… He wasn't sure he knew Osiris at all.
3869616855High GravitasTime slowed for Amanda Holliday as she saw a squadron of Cabal fighters break through the atmosphere high above her. Muscle memory kicked in, and she sent the ship screaming down to the hard deck. She buzzed the treetops and cranked her ship around the Cosmodrome's rugged mesas. If they wanted to chase her down, they'd have to prove they had the chops. She blazed a tight circuit around a spire of rock, weapons hot, expecting to light up the pursuing squadron. Instead, she watched the fighters continue off into the distance. Likely on a bombing run to soften up known Hive nests. They probably hadn't even noticed her. Holliday throttled down, gained altitude, and slowed her breathing to counteract the adrenaline still coursing through her veins. She realized with sick amazement that she was actually disappointed. It's better this way, she thought. Let someone with lives to spare clean up the Cabal. Despite Amanda's self-reassurance, her disappointment lingered. Since becoming the Tower shipwright, her combat sorties had become less and less frequent. She hadn't realized how much she missed them. They made her feel like she was doing her part. But even after all she had achieved, after all she'd survived, she still felt like she was missing out. Not doing enough. Falling behind. The people of the Tower saw her as an engineer and a pilot. But in her dreams, she was still a malnourished little girl, trudging toward the Last City as jumpships shrieked overhead. That's what happens when your best friends are immortal, she thought. My life is just a blip on the radar compared to the Guardians and Hive gods. Hell, even this ship will probably outlast me. Her brooding was interrupted by a small flashing indicator on her dash. Huh. She must have overloaded a plasma converter during her evasive maneuvers. Something else to fix. It was always something. Amanda smiled and set course for the Tower. If I only have one life to live, she thought, then I'd better get on with it.
2072535760Winds of Change"Home again, home again, jiggity jig," Amanda sang out as she guided the jumpship through the heavy air traffic and into the Tower. Over in the copilot's seat, Crow shot her a confused look. She shrugged, eyes scanning the Hangar for a spot to land. "Just something my dad used to sing." All that was available was a tiny space, next to Saint-14's Gray Pigeon. "It was his way of letting us know we were home, back when home was a moving target for us." Crow whistled as she expertly wedged the landing. "It's a nice ritual," he said while she cut the engine. "Did he make it up?" "I don't think so." She released the air lock , leading the way down the stairs. "Musta been from a song or something from the Dark Ages or pre-Col—Hey!" she yelped as Crow yanked her under the landing gear. "Look," he whispered, pointing. In her distraction, Amanda hadn't noticed Saint and Osiris a dozen yards away. Judging by Osiris's scowl and Saint's stance, they were arguing. She leaned in their direction, straining to catch a few of Osiris's words: "Never speak of her to me again…" "Damn," Amanda murmured. Crow looked at her. "I'll tell you later," she whispered, stepping out towards Saint. The Titan, still staring at the point where Osiris disappeared into the crowd, didn't notice her until she put a hand on his shoulder. He flinched, then chuckled sheepishly, "Miss Holliday! Your battle-bird returns you safely. Good… good. You were victorious, yes?" "You know it. How about yourself? Seems like you had a battle of your own going on just now." "Battle?" He glanced back at the crowd. "Ah. No. This is… a rebuilding. Takes time." "I gotcha. You'll let me know if I can haul a few bricks ?" "I will. Thank you, Miss Holliday." Saint motioned to Crow as he appeared behind Amanda. "And who is this? You are skinny, but you move with power. You must be a Hunter." Crow nodded, bewildered. Amanda let out a laugh. "This is Crow," she said, giving him a good-natured slap on the back. "He's our intel guy on this whole Cabal thing. And Crow, this is Saint-14. He's… well, he's lots of things, but his main gig is running the Trials of Osiris." "Really? That's interesting," Crow said as he and Saint grasped forearms . "I've only ever heard them referred to as the Trials. I had no idea Osiris was involved." The Titan rubbed the back of his helmet . "He is involved with many important tasks. I help where I can." "You do more than just help," Amanda corrected. "I hope the old man knows he owes you." "Help carries no debt, friend. We must uplift each other without expecting a return. Except Banshee, who owes me Glimmer." "Well, sure," Amanda replied, "I'm not saying you should tally every nice thing you do, but things gotta be equitable. Don't you think?" He looked at her, suddenly very serious. "I do not think so. In battle, when your comrade stumbles, you carry them until they are strong again. Even if you, too, become wounded. This is only way to move forward." Amanda looked at Crow, then back to Saint. "Well, when you put it that way…" she said at last. Saint nodded, satisfied by her answer. He leaned down, placing both hands on her shoulders. "I must meet with Ikora now. Always nice to talk, Miss Holliday. You too, skinny Crow." He then strode off without waiting for a goodbye. "Nice to meet you," Crow said, a moment too late.
4018473527Vita Brevis"What if it's a trap?" Glint drifts in a shaky 360 around Crow as he strides into a grassy corridor between two rusted-out warehouses. "This is old Devils' territory. Our friend may have freed us, fair and square, but if the Spider wanted to nab you…" "He would've done it long ago." Crow's voice is steady as his eyes dart from shadow to shadow. "Besides, how could it be a trap if they don't know I'm com—" A laser shot zips past his nose. Above on one of the rooftops, a gravelly voice shouts in Eliksni. Crow obeys, raising his hands in the air while Glint transmats out of the way. "I'm looking for some fine yaviirsi figs," Crow calls out over the electric hum of multiple sniper-sights settling on his body. Did they hear him? "Figs!" he shouts louder. One by one, the sights vanish. Then, to his right, metal scrapes as a makeshift door is pulled aside to reveal a familiar insect-like face. "Avrok," Crow says and lowers his hands. "You've been promoted." In no mood for pleasantries, the Eliksni grunts and steps back into the warehouse. Crow follows him in, pulling the door shut behind him. "What are the odds on the newly arrived empress?" he asks, blinking rapidly. It's dark; all he can see is Avrok's outline, sitting on a crate, surrounded by massive motionless shapes. "Surely there's an outright on her getting Commander Zavala to bend the knee." "Prying bird," Avrok growls, "Information costs." "Don't worry, I've brought you something shiny from my nest." Crow holds up a cube of Glimmer, its blue light illuminating piles of collateral stacked along the walls. "As have your friends from the former Red Legion, I see." Avrok grins, spreading his long arms in a showman-like gesture. Energy shields, open crates of planet crackers , magma launchers… Cabal paraphernalia of all kinds fill the room. One particularly pretty prize gleams in the corner: a Sparrow, svelte and burnished bronze. Crow strolls over to admire it. "Beautiful machine," his associate agrees out loud. "Val Ma'rag wagers he will be first on the empress's War Council." There's a small flash of light as Glint reemerges for a closer look. "Betting on himself," Glint says. "That's the Cabal for you." Crow crouches to examine the fringe lining the Sparrow's snout. "Never hurts to have a little extra motivation," he murmurs. He stands and turns to Avrok. "I'll follow his lead. If Val Ma'rag lands himself a seat, he can have my bucket of bolts too. But if we disrupt his Rite of Proving, well, naturally…" The Fallen barks out a laugh. "A bold bet! The Spider was wrong to let you go. Vigorish is seven percent." "Seven!" Glint blinks indignantly. "The Spider is taking an awfully big cut, don't you think?" Ignoring him, Avrok gestures to an empty space. "Leave your little transport there. Now, we discuss the book ." "I can't believe you're gambling your Sparrow," Glint mutters once Avrok is out of earshot. "You hate walking long distances." Crow shrugs. "I like winning more."
2046708063Color of SpeedEva Levante threads a needle with fine white silk. A lone lamp lights the wood grain of her table and the length of handsome black cloth in front of her. She only touches this garment at night, when her small flat in the Last City is shrouded in secrecy. With each stitch, she recalls the strange encounter some months ago that prompted her clandestine work: It was late that evening. She had been walking back from the Tower, nearly home, when she heard a smooth voice quietly assert, "Eva. It's been too long. You look as bright as ever." Osiris melted out of the shadows near her doorway. The ex-outfitter snorted. "That's faint praise coming from someone who's been fifty for several centuries." "My age shows in other ways. May I come in?" "Of course." She opened the door and noticed how he looked over both shoulders before crossing the threshold. "It's good to see you back in the Tower, Osiris." Eva watched him out of the corner of her eye as she put the kettle on. "I take it you're not here on official Vanguard business." "No, I'm not. I'm here to ask a favor, or contract your services. Whichever you'd prefer." Osiris perched uncomfortably on the edge of her couch. Eva smiled. His regalia looked a bit absurd set against the mundanity of her cozy apartment. "I'm always happy to grant a favor to an old friend. Even if I'm the old one now." She examined her self-serious visitor with a gentle gaze. "What do you need?" "A custom Hunter cloak. Something that resembles feathers of a crow." "I'm sure there are plenty of outfitters in the Tower that would do a fine job. I gave up on custom outfits years ago, after my fingers started to go." She massaged her knuckles reflexively. "I need someone I trust. Someone who can keep a secret." Osiris fixed her with his inscrutable gaze. "If you agree, a Ghost called Glint will come by later to help choose the fabric." "A secret cloak? This is just the type of thing Cayde used to come to me for. In fact, the last Hunter cloak I sewed was for him…" She drifted off sorrowfully, and poured the tea. Now, months later, she puts the finishing touches on the requested garment. The black fabric soaks in the meager light, highlighting the delicate white silk. It's as fine a work as she's ever done. Eva can't help but wonder who the new cloak is for. Who could warrant such secrecy? She just hopes it will be worn by as worthy a Hunter as her last.
2017068592Paradigm Shift"Never bring her up to me again," Osiris hissed to the Exo Titan, his words carrying over the din of the bustling Hangar. A dozen yards away, in the shadow of a jumpship, Crow and Holliday winced in unison. They had only just disembarked and would've stumbled directly into the dispute, if it hadn't been for Crow's reflexes. Thanks to his espionage work, his sixth sense for private conversations was beyond compare. It was nice to know that skill was just as useful at home as it was in the field. Damn," Holliday murmured as they watched Osiris storm off. Crow looked at her, hoping for an explanation. Who was this Exo? Who was the "her" never to be mentioned? "I'll tell you later," she whispered, stepping out from their hiding spot. "Holliday!" Crow sputtered. But it was too late. She was already at the Exo's side, placing a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. He shuffled his feet, weighing his options. Even in the smoothest of circumstances, every new introduction was an occasion for anxiety. Not many Guardians wore masks in the Tower, and much as he wished he could join them, he knew what could happen if he showed his face. Still, the longer he wore the mask, the more conspicuous he felt. He was bound to raise someone's suspicions eventually. Or perhaps not. The Exo was wearing a helmet, and Holliday seemed to accept it without question, as she had Crow's not too long ago. Besides, what was more suspect: perpetually wearing a mask or skulking in the shadows? Crow ducked out from under the step, attempting to look casual. He approached just as Holliday was saying, "You'll let me know if I can haul a few bricks?" He barely had time to wonder what they had been discussing when the Exo turned to him, thundering, "And who is this? You are skinny, but you move with power. You must be a Hunter." Whatever perfectly innocuous greeting Crow had cued up flew right out of his head. Throat tight, he nodded mutely as Holliday slapped him on the back with a laugh. "This is Crow. He's our intel guy on this whole Cabal thing," she said. "And Crow, this is Saint-14. He's… well, he's lots of things, but his main gig is running the Trials of Osiris." For once, he was grateful for the mask. Otherwise, they might have noticed his surprise at the name. He'd heard before, of course—both here, where it was uttered in tones of admiration, and on the Tangled Shore, where it was spat in loathing. Neither seemed to fit the jovial Titan grasping his forearm. His spy instincts saved him again. "Really? That's interesting," Crow remarked, returning the gesture with a little extra muscle. "I've only ever heard them referred to as the Trials. I had no idea Osiris was involved." Saint pulled back with a chagrined chuckle. "He is involved with many important tasks. I help where I can." "You do more than just help," Holliday corrected. "I hope the old man knows he owes you." Crow looked to Saint. He'd never imagined that Osiris would owe anyone anything. "Help carries no debt, friend. We must uplift each other without expecting a return. Except Banshee," he added, almost seeming to wink at them. "Who owes me Glimmer." Crow laughed, utterly disarmed. He was surprised at how much he liked Saint. And how much he wanted to be liked in return. What could this affable character possibly have in common with an intimidating figure like Osiris? Outside of his thoughts, he realized Holliday was talking. He tuned back in just as she said, "…things gotta be equitable. Don't you think?" Suddenly, Saint's demeanor shifted. "I do not think so," he said soberly. "In battle, when your comrade stumbles, you carry them until they are strong again. Even if you, too, become wounded. This is only way to move forward…" Something about his tone struck a chord in Crow. It occurred to him that Saint and Osiris must've known each other for a long time. What was it like, the assurance and ease of having someone else to watch your back like that? To fight side by side for the same cause? He ached to know. "Always nice to talk, Miss Holliday. You too, skinny Crow," Saint quipped as he strode off. Crow watched as the broad-shouldered Titan parted the crowd with ease. "Nice to meet you," he replied lamely, too late to be heard. Holliday chuckled. Crow shot her a look. Now would she explain what was going on? She shook her head. "It's a long story," she said, slinging her arm around his shoulder. "Which I will only tell over a round of drinks. On you this time, right?"

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