304691679Paradrome CubeMithrax sat on a carpet in his meager quarters, held the Paradrome Cube in his hand, and concentrated. Hours passed before Eido, concerned, sat beside him. She touched his arm. "What do you see?" she whispered. He saw the Endless Night split open. He saw fluid falling like white rain on the City. Massive Minotaurs rising from the shallow seas. He saw the gunfire of the Guardians in the Tower, but it did not reflect on the rippling liquid, and he dismissed the vision. A hundred more illusions took its place, then a thousand, then a thousand lifetimes' worth: —a shape frozen inside a crystal prison a towering figure in white recognition flooding bloodshot eyes a city of voices speaking at once shadow taking form the realization they had always been watched tears on metal— A choice, and its consequences. "Lies," he answered plainly.
3977120719Splicer GauntletThe Sacred Splicers of the House of Light believe they have cultivated a mystical connection to the Traveler. They say they can refocus Light "through the prism of their will." While we at the Cryptarchy have nothing but respect for Eliksni culture, we wished to explore the truth behind these claims. After studying one of the few Splicer Gauntlets that fit non-Eliksni hands (graciously created by Mithrax, Kell of the House of Light, for select residents of the Last City), we have determined that the wrist-mounted Gauntlet is little more than a converter that can be used to focus trace amounts of residual Light already present in the environment. A trained Splicer can use their Gauntlet to interface with any latent data networks in the vicinity. This allows the bearer to access technological mundanities as well as deeper, infinitely more protected networks, including the Vex domain itself. Once connected, access to these networks is severely limited for the Eliksni Sacred Splicers, though Guardians, due to their unique relationship with the Light, are able to manifest corporeally within the network for short periods of time. They can then alter the data found therein with focused percussive energy—including gunfire—in a baffling scientific process the Cryptarchy does not yet fully understand. The Gauntlet seems capable of powering itself by transmuting unbound energy into Ether. Traditionally, Sacred Splicers would undertake great journeys to charge their Gauntlets with naturally occurring residual energy, but Guardians can use their martial prowess to convert their foes into bountiful energy sources. In closing, the Sacred Splicers merely exploit a tool that induces Light to resonate at frequencies approaching that of the Vex Nexus, enabling them to access to certain low-security Vex systems. The Eliksni falsely believe that a deep spiritual connection allows them to bend the Light to their every whim, but this can be ea5ily dismissed as myth—the regre7able bypr0duc7 of [email protected]|| | | | | It is disappointing to hear such condescending generalizations from a species who so recently found themselves in the graces of the Great Machine. The Light is more complex than even our greatest Sacred Splicers understand, and yet even those of us without formal training can call upon the grace of the Great Machine to refocus the world around us—even something as insignificant as the writings of a self-important Cryptarch. The Light provides. ~Eido, House Light Scribe
603721696Cryosthesia 77KShe crouched behind a sandstone boulder in the canyon basin and tried desperately to focus. She clasped her lower hands together and squeezed. The feeling of pressure grounded her, made it possible to ignore the blood that flowed from the wound in her thorax. She could hear the Vex coming closer, their metal feet screeching against stone. She raised her dominant hand and the thin spindles of her Splicer Gauntlet clacked into place and began to spin. She envisioned the Light surrounding— She winced as weapons fire impacted the boulder at her back. Turned as it split apart, and for a moment, through the hot blowing sand and choking dust, she faced down an army. She closed her eyes. She saw the Vex targeting field sweep over her, flashing crimson and white. She shifted it with a wave of her hand and a hundred shots flew wide. She felt dozens of Vex-shaped gaps appear in the air behind her and consolidated them. The Vex materialized in the same location and the fused metal mass fell heavily to the ground. She looked over the gleaming field of enemies. The Light provides, she thought, and the next volley of Vex fire curved around her. The Gauntlet on her wrist thrummed as a small portal opened in the air in front of her. She reached inside, felt the familiar shape of a short-term cortical conflux cube, and visualized crushing it in her hand. A flash of light played over the red eyepieces of the Vex and they marched forward in lockstep, searching for a target they could not see. She stepped to the side as they passed her. As the last Minotaur stomped out of the canyon, she reached again into the portal. She willed their knowledge of Misraaks to her fingertips. She saw an image of his Skiff, flying low over the ice, framed in the minds of the Europan Vex. She pictured their awareness as a glass plane and envisioned it cracking, splintering into fragments of— Inside the portal, dark threads wrapped around her wrist. She visualized them snapping as she struggled to withdraw her hand, but they stuck to her like pitch. She saw them crumbling under harsh Light, but the dust wet itself with her blood and dried around her hand. She saw the Light, but all she felt was the cold dark, freezing around her, holding her fast. In the distance, the Vex turned as one.
4289226715Vex MythoclastSome legends live forever. Others are overwritten—reshaped by the sheer will of those who believe that any ordeal can be conquered, any foe vanquished, any god cast down. The Mythoclast is a Vex instrument from some far-flung corner of time and space, mysteriously fit for Human hands. Its origins, mechanism of action, and ultimate purpose remain unknown. Perhaps it will reveal itself to you, in time…
310708513Survivor's EpitaphTo be the first Eliksni to bask in the presence of the Traveler since the Whirlwind was an honor that Mithrax, Kell of House Light, never imagined for himself. As he stood on the Tower walkway below the scar left in the wake of the Almighty, he meditated on the choices in his life that had led to this point. He wondered if there was a unifying thread binding all those events together. But he would have no time to ponder such things. A shadow crept over Mithrax: broad shoulders, a curling horn. Seeing the stark outline of Lord Shaxx looming on the stairs elicited centuries-old instincts, and it was temperance that kept Mithrax's hands from his weapon. "I didn't expect to actually find you here," Shaxx said as he continued down the stairs with slow, plodding steps. "Were you there?" "What?" Shaxx came to stand beside Mithrax at the railing. "Were you there?" he asked again. This time, he pointed, without looking, to a place on the horizon beyond the Traveler. Mithrax followed Shaxx's gesture with his eyes. He did not understand. "The Battle of Six Fronts," Shaxx insisted, with uncharacteristic softness. "Do you know how many Fallen I killed there?" Mithrax bristled at the question, and he felt that instinctual urge to reach for his weapons again. But the presence of the Traveler and the question that nagged at the back of his mind stayed his hands. "How many?" he asked, not wanting to know the answer. Shaxx deflated, folded his arms over the railing, and rested his considerable weight against it. "Hundreds," he said quietly. "All of them died afraid." Mithrax felt Ether mixing with bile in the back of his throat. His limbs trembled, rage burned in his gut, demanding manifestation. But he tempered his anger, sighed so deep that the Ether on his breath was briefly visible as an iridescent cloud. "How many Humans have you killed?" Shaxx wondered. "Too many," Mithrax answered, and even that felt insufficient on his tongue; the thought of it twisted his insides around. He sighed again, deeper this time, and Shaxx watched the sublimated Ether glitter in the dim light. "When I heard you were in the Tower," Shaxx said, "I thought I'd just throw you over the edge of the wall. I thought about the people I watched die at the hands of your Houses over the years. The Lightless torn limb from limb during the Dark Age." He snorted out a rueful laugh. "Then I started to think about them." Silence hung in the air for a moment, long enough for Mithrax to ask: "Who?" "Three scavengers. Huddled together in a collapsed storm drain. They had stolen food during a… a time of famine. Maybe it was for themselves, maybe another settlement, maybe family…" Shaxx shrugged. "I killed them. All three, with my bare hands." "My victims were Humans too," Shaxx clarified, and the Kell felt his anger twist into confusion. "I was a Warlord in the Dark Ages. Convinced myself of the necessity of my own barbarism by painting it with noble colors. Those loyal to me built a legend that masked the blood and the rot. But it's still there." He tapped his fingers against his breastplate. "Deep down." The shadows had become long, stars now visible in the sky, and the Traveler was cast in half shadow. "There was a ship," Mithrax eventually replied. "It may have been soldiers. Civilians. I do not know." He looked away from the Traveler as he spoke. "I led a boarding party onto it. We slaughtered any who resisted and rounded up those who surrendered." Shaxx turned to look at Mithrax, a wordless question in his faceless mask. "We argued what to do with the prisoners. Some suggested we keep them as warning-trophies. Others said to barter with them." Mithrax looked away, shoulders sagged. "But I was young. Impatient." He closed his eyes. "I opened the airlock. It seemed the simplest solution." Both soldiers sank into silence again and remained so as the last glimpse of sunlight descended beyond the horizon. Shaxx sullenly took his leave, and Mithrax was left with the remnants of anger and confusion, and paradoxically—an answer. He saw then the thread of choices leading to this moment. The choices that led to the Great Machine and away from a fate like Eramis had suffered. It was something both he and Shaxx learned to accept in spite of a lifetime of experience telling them otherwise. Mercy.
4255586669Empty VesselArmored boots clang down metal stairs as Lord Saladin descends the catwalks between the central tower. The Bazaar is otherwise quiet, giving him time to contemplate the strategy needed for his impending diplomatic liaison. "I demand a place in the decision making for…" Saladin trails off in thought as he walks. "I request addition to your council for…" He grunts, shaking his head. "Commander, I'm concerned about your inclusion of Future War Cult in…" A grumble. None of it sounds right. Saladin pauses to look out over the City, where the streets are hidden behind a shimmering pall of digital fog. He closes his eyes, shakes his head, and takes a moment to compose himself. There are no sounds of fighting here, no gunshots, no screams. Those exist only in his mind. "Zavala. I would like to speak to you as a friend," Saladin tries again, then opens his eyes to the Traveler with an affirming nod. "You'll have to speak a little louder if you'd like the commander to hear you." The sudden intrusion of a voice not his own wheels Saladin around, catching Osiris uncomfortably close behind him. Saladin's expression shifts from shock to embarrassment concealed behind a mask of frustration. "It is unbecoming of you to eavesdrop, Warlock." "Please," Osiris dismisses, slowly approaching Saladin. "Anyone with an ear could hear you mumbling to yourself. I just happened to comment on it." He gestures with an open hand, then clasps both behind his back. "I have a meeting to attend," Saladin insists, turning to make an abrupt exit. Osiris sidesteps, getting between Saladin and the stairs, and elicits an immediate look of challenge from the Iron Lord. Osiris, mindfully, raises both his hands. "Please, Lord Saladin. A moment?" Saladin crosses his arms over his chest. Impatience shows in a crease of his brow. "Now may not be the best time if you're hoping to find an ally in the commander," Osiris explains as he places a guiding hand on Saladin's elbow, drawing him away from the main walkway. "Commander Zavala is under considerable stress at the moment," Osiris continues. "While you might see your presence as a reinforcing one…" He raises his brows, glancing sidelong at Saladin. "You may not be correct in that assertion." "Stop talking in circles." Saladin plants his feet. "What is it you're getting at?" "When was the last time you—to put it as you did earlier—eavesdropped?" Saladin rankles. "I do not eavesdrop," he growls. "Then perhaps that is why you do not realize what the overall opinion of your actions are in the eyes of other Guardians." Osiris's tone is gentle, apologetic, measured. It conveys an obvious tone: this news is bad, and he hates to be the bearer of bad news. Saladin is quiet; Osiris sees the lack of outward defiance as a foothold. He digs in. "Many without our shared convictions have questioned your leadership decisions during the recent crisis with Empress Caiatl." Osiris dips his head in close to Saladin, voice hushed as if to share a secret. "Others suggest that it was you who ordered the assassination attempt on the commander." "An Iron Lord would never," Saladin says with a quaver in his voice. "I am not—" "I know," Osiris is quick to softly interject. "But not everyone knows you like I do. They make well-articulated and convincing arguments based off of your very vocal stance against an armistice with the Cabal." Closing his eyes, Saladin draws in a slow and calming breath. The sounds of gunfire, shouts, and screams are louder now than ever before. Or maybe it's the blood pounding in his ears. "All the more reason for me to set the record straight." "Is that what you came to the City for? To set a record straight?" Osiris presses. "Just a minute ago, it sounded to me like you wished to ask for a place in Zavala's inner circle. How do you think that might look?" Saladin looks in the direction of Zavala's office, hands curling into fists. "Lakshmi-2 is—" "Let me handle Lakshmi," Osiris insists, once more reaching out a hand for Saladin's arm. This time, the Iron Lord doesn't pull away. "Fight the battles you know you can win, Lord Saladin. I know how to handle her. There may come a time when your strength will be needed again, but that time is not now." Saladin looks sharply to Osiris. A rebuttal forms behind his lips, but is never spoken aloud. He lets his head hang. "Thank you, Osiris," Saladin says with a heavy heart, conviction flagging. "You are a true friend."
875848769Borrowed TimeThe Drifter smelled trouble the moment he entered the bar. His first instinct was to turn around and leave, but he noticed the hooded figure standing nervously nearby, conspicuously inconspicuous. Their hooded cloak was pulled low over their face, but they leaned to the side, intent on catching every angry shout from the crowd of locals in the corner. "Tell what's-his-name to take it easy," Drifter grumbled as he walked by. "I'll handle this." "Take it easy," parroted a polite voice from somewhere under the figure's cloak. "I heard him," sighed the figure, but there was relief in his voice. As Drifter pushed into the crowd, he noted who was armed, who was shouting, and who was doing both. Most seemed to fit into the final category. He smiled; history had taught him the quiet ones were always the most dangerous. He reached the center of the tight knot and found three Eliksni sitting at a table, trying to ignore the crowd around them. Undaunted, he pushed his way onto the chair arm of the biggest Eliksni like a feral cat. The Eliksni growled, but Drifter tossed Trust into the center of the table with a heavy thud. Drifter turned toward the crowd. "What's got you fine folk all riled up tonight?" "Take it you don't listen to the radio much," someone said, and the crowd laughed. "Places I like tend to have bad reception," Drifter replied. "Tell me what I missed." The group all spoke at once, a cacophony of accusations. "Whoa!" cried the Drifter. "Seems like some of you been spendin' too much time starin' at that fake night." He turned to the Eliksni. "Now somewhere in this commotion, I think I heard shoutin' of missing equipment. So, I've gotta ask," he said. "You fellas been takin' what don't belong to you?" The big Eliksni spoke. His voice was deep and steady. "We had confusions with your people. Where was self-supply and where was all-supply." He shrugged. "We learned, and we compensated." Drifter nodded. "Makes sense for settlin' into a new place. Ain't a soul here who hasn't checked their neighbor's toolshed for spare SMG parts." A voice spoke, "Hey, I'm missing an SMG—" But Drifter held up a hand. "And I don't wanna hear they caught any blame for the big night. I swear, it's like some folk's brains just wilt in the dark. I know Mithrax is workin' with the Vanguard to figure out this whole Vex thing," he said. The Eliksni seemed to relax a bit, but Drifter held up a finger. "I do have one question of my own," he said. "We've been fightin' for a long time, your folk and mine. That's no secret. Plenty of blood spilled on both sides over the years. But I hear stories some of you fellas from the old days caught the hunger." The big Eliksni shifted tensely in his seat as the crowd pressed in. Drifter leaned in closer, his voice gravelly. "Nasty rumor even says you guys chomped on the occasional toddler." The Eliksni pushed his chair back and lunged to his feet as the crowd gasped. Drifter stood his ground, somehow staring down the Eliksni that was a full meter taller than him. "Never your young!" the Eliksni boomed. "Never." Drifter nodded. "But the rest?" The Eliksni looked at the crowd, then brought his massive head close to Drifter. His voice was steady. "We old ones, we who have been fighting since the beginning… yes. We sometimes took your dead fighters so that we could live." "It was war," he said, and poked at Drifter's chest with a clawed finger. "And you are made of meat." Drifter smiled. "I hear you, brother," he said, and looked at the Eliksni's claw. "Hell, you point that thing at me, all I can think is how good it'd taste with garlic butter. Mm-mmm!" He leaned toward the looming creature and ran his tongue over his chapped lips. The Eliksni sized up the tiny man, then dropped his shoulders. "But as I say, that was long ago," he said. "We are House Light now, and forever more. We have peace with your people." Drifter reached up and patted the Eliksni's chest. "That's right," he said, and the Eliksni sat down. "And though it don't erase the bad old days," he said as he turned to the crowd, "that don't mean it's time to bring 'em back." A dissatisfied grumble rose from the crowd. The fight had gone out of them. The Eliksni shrugged. "Misraaks says we are never to eat people again," he said quietly. Drifter nodded. "Yeah, Zavala tells me the same damn thing." The Eliksni burst into coughing laughter. The Drifter laughed back, picked up his gun from the table, and waved the crowd away as he pulled over an empty seat. "Now make room," he said. "These fellas were just about to lose at cards."
3682803680Shayura's Wrath//NS66CE _LOG-C //VENUS-L2 -GEOSYNC// A powerless Warsat drifts lifelessly through the void of space, traversing the brilliant yellow-green silhouette of Venus. From the dimly lit cockpit of an NS66 Cloud Errant jumpship in geosynchronous orbit, Venus looks like an unblinking eye staring up from the dark of space, and the Warsat an unwelcome grain of sand within it. A Ghost reduced to little more than a bare sphere of metal, deprived of a shell, hovers in the corner of the cockpit, watching the Warsat track its path across lonely Venus. "There are no sanctioned Vanguard operations on Venus at present," the Ghost clarifies, pivoting its cold blue eye up to its Guardian. "Why do you think he's down there?" The Warlock Shayura reclines against her seat, the old leather creaking. Her attention is not on her Ghost, but rather the Human skull sitting in the middle of her command console. Its hollow eye sockets stare back at her. "It hardly matters why he's there," Shayura indicates listlessly as she examines the skull's cheekbones. Her fingers graze the microfractures—an artifact of Shotgun pellet impact. "All that matters is we find him." Shayura's Ghost looks away from her and focuses on Venus's soft glow in the dark. "When will you be returning to Earth?" he asks. Shayura doesn't vocalize a response, but instead blinks and reorients her glowing-eyed stare on the Ghost. It beeps softly, reconsidering the question. "Will you?" the Ghost still wonders. "No," Shayura answers flatly. "There is nothing to go back to. Everyone has either abandoned me or betrayed me. All I have left is the Traveler. And I do not need to be in the City to feel the Light." As she says that, Shayura lifts her hand and calls up a rolling curtain of flame from her palm. "Praxic Fire guides me," Shayura says with the blaze reflecting in her eyes. //NS66CE_LOG-D// VENUS-IS -IA // "You see? Still protected. Valuable." Hurrying up a shallow set of rubble-strewn steps, a short Eliksni bearing the crest of the House of Light pauses, gazing back at the chrome-armored Guardian moving up the steps behind him. The Eliksni looks the Guardian up and down, then motions to the stark silhouette of a gray concrete-block building rising up from the Venusian overgrowth. "This ain't the academy proper," the Guardian says on ascent, watching the hazy sky for signs of danger. Moisture clings in glistening beads to his reflective mask; his dark hood shields him from the rest of the elements. "The hell was this place?" The Eliksni tilts his head to the side, four eyes blinking independently from one another. "Not Human, don't know. But machine inside." "Why aren't your people bringing it back? Don't you folks get promotions for finding good salvage or something?" the Guardian asks, gesturing to the crumbling building. The Eliksni once again tilts his head, expression opaque. "You listen to the Spider's sneak-words too eagerly. Come, we have a long walk to—" The Eliksni's words are cut off, garbled in a wet scream as he is perforated by a barrage of Submachine Gun fire. The Guardian turns, cloak swirling behind him and Hand Cannon at the ready. But it isn't Vex or Fallen descending from the high cliffs—it's a Guardian in black and gold armor gliding to the ground, smoke issuing from the muzzle of her SMG. Shayura's boots lightly touch the leaf-strewn plaza, her eyeless mask fixed on the chrome-clad Hunter. "He wasn't a combatant!" the Hunter shouts. Shayura slowly approaches the Guardian. "Did you find him within the hem of Eramis's skirt? Or did you swear yourself to the Darkness after her passing?" The Hunter backs away, up the stairs, Hand Cannon trained on Shayura. He recognizes her armor for what it is—a reward of the Trials. "I know you…" His voice quavers. "You shouldn't be here. When did the Vanguard let you out?" "They didn't. I let myself out since they were too busy opening the gates for our enemies," Shayura indicates, motioning with the barrel of her SMG to the dead Eliksni. "But, you know why I'm here ." "I know you're a few rounds short of a full clip," the Guardian quips back, making a flippant gesture with his Hand Cannon. In that moment of distraction, Shayura shoots him six times in two short bursts. The Guardian collapses, his gun tumbling down the steps. A moment later, his Ghost materializes, shell flared in anger. "What are you doing?! We—" Shayura moves like a lightning bolt, materializing beside the Ghost with an upward flourish of a sword of raw Praxic Fire. The Ghost looses a howling scream of horror as he shatters into a flurry of glittering pieces. Crumpled on the stairs, the Hunter coughs, his throat damp with blood. Shayura pulls her attention away from the shattered Ghost, training her SMG down at her quarry. "Traitor," she says in a shaky, gasping breath fueled by adrenaline. The Hunter laughs, gagging on his own blood as he does. "You're no better than the Dredgen ," he says, in pain. Then, even quieter, "…or Malphur ." "I killed an agent of the Darkness," Shayura says, and the Hunter has no rebuttal this time. He is still. Bile rises in the back of Shayura's throat. "They come in many forms."
541188001FarewellFLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-221 HG01: —took heavy fire! Jax and Klaid are gone! Cabal dropped out of nowhere; they must have our transponder signals! VSYS: Vanguard ship, ID code is scrambled. Please reauthenticate. HG01: We need to make an emergency landing at Venus FOB! VSYS: Please reauthenticate. HG01: Five times! I tried reauth five times! Look, I have a damaged jumpship, and I'm escorting a frigate of civilians! Clear me for landing! VSYS: Clearance denied. Venus Forward Operating Base automated orbital defenses now online. HG01: No! Turn 'em off! VSYS: I cannot comply. HG01: Worthless piece of scrap! HG01: New plan! Captain Hennek, you still with us? CC03: Reading you loud and clear, Guardian! What's the plan? Those Cabal cruisers are right behind us! HG01: I'm sending you new coordinates! We'll make a few short jumps; try to lose them in the Re— FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-236 HG01: —still work. Ah, see! Green blinking light means power. UNK1: This ship will never fly again, Human. What value is there in a flight recorder? HG01: You never write a journal before? UNK1: I have. But I fail to see the value. HG01: Well my options here are to talk to you—and no offense, but you Reefborn are an acquired taste—or talk to that one, and I don't speak Fallen. UNK2: [untranslated] HG01: You see what I mean? UNK1: So you would rather… talk to yourself. HG01: Now you got it. C'mon, help me disconnect the primary power coupli— FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-238 HG01: Been trying to figure out how to word this. Don't know if I'll ever make it back to Earth. The thought of not saying goodbye to you keeps eating away at me. HG01: I don't know if you're safe. Don't know if you made it out of the City. HG01: Comms are down, Cabal control the channels. Been trying to get the Awoken to help, but after the whoopin' Oryx gave them, they're reluctant to get between us and the Cabal. HG01: I miss you so damn much. HG01: If we see each other again, none of this will matter. I'll complain about Reef cuisine, you'll criticize all my tactical choices, and I'll fall asleep in your arms… None of this'll matter. HG01: But in case it does, I just—I want you to know I love you. That, even out here beyond the light, I never forgot you. FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-239 HG01: We got the old Dead Orbit ship set up as a shelter. Atmospheric controls are still working, heat, radiation shielding seems good. The friendly Fallen out here are real helpful. I thought they were slaves of the Awoken at first, but it's… not like that at all. HG01: Captain Hennek finally succumbed to his injuries. I was with him when he went. Last thing he said to me was, "I guess, right now, we're not all that different." HG01: [long silence] HG01: I wish you were here. FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-240 [ENTRY DELETED] FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-241 [ENTRY DELETED] FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-242 HG01: A Fallen named Kesk is helping me hardwire a linguistic modulator his people built into the flight recorder. Should translate their speech back to me in something I can understand, and then I can run it through the vocal processing heuristics onboard my jumpship to speak back. HG01: Faster than learning a language I don't have the mouth parts to speak. FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-243 HG01: Today was our anniversary. I hope we were looking at the same stars. FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-244 HG01: Traveler. UNK2: <<Great Machine.>> HG01: Huh. Okay. HG01: Family. UNK2: <<Ketch.>> HG01: Okay, that's where we're hitting a wall. Can we try some root words? We need to build the Fallen database. UNK2: <<Eliksni.>> HG01: Right, sorry. Eliksni. FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-245 [ENTRY DELETED] FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-246 HG01: I had this dream… like a memory of a memory, you know? But I swear, I heard your laugh when I woke up. HG01: Being Lightless is hard, but it's… it's these little phantom pains that are the hardest. HG01: I feel like my whole life is a phantom limb. FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-247 HG01: Light. UNK2: Light. HG01: I'm not sure why I'm surprised by that. UNK2: <<We are all forged in the Light. It is what we lost.>> HG01: Yeah. UNK2: <<We are not all that different now, you and I.>> HG01: W-why do you say that? UNK2: <<When we live, it is in the shadow of the life we once had. When we die, it is the end of our story.>> [Long Silence] HG01: That… makes sense. UNK2: <<Many things do, when you take the time to stop and listen. To hear.>> [Long Silence] HG01: Dig. UNK2: <<Dig.>> FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-248 [ENTRY DELETED] FLIGHT_RECORDER_LOG // VG777-T // L-250 HG01: I'm heading back to Earth. The locals agreed to take care of the civilians. HG01: I don't know if I'll find you, but I can't sit here anymore. HG01: If I find you, you'll never hear this. But if I don't, and I live… Being here has opened my eyes to a lot of things and I just—I can't fight like this anymore. Not without you. There's an enclave out past the Jovians; pacifists. You'll find me there. HG01: Kesk will have my Sidearm. I told him to give it to you if you come looking for me. Or… if he finds out you're—gone—to send it to the Vanguard. HG01: I won't need it anymore. HG01: All I need is you. // End Logs
1119734784Chroma RushThe Eliksni awkwardly shouldered its way onto the empty stool at the ramen shop and rested its four elbows on the bar. Maurice looked up over the huge pot of broth and, thinking a Titan in one of their ridiculous helmets had arrived for lunch, called out "Irasshaimase!" It wasn't until he absently stepped to the bar that he realized who his customer was. Metal plating covered the creature's forehead and the side of its face, ending in a nozzle that hissed a stream of blueish mist. A haphazard collision of heavy canvas and metallic weave draped over its shoulders. A Vanguard lanyard dangled absurdly from its neck. It was small for an Eliksni, but its angular head still towered above Maurice as it hunched over the bar. Four blue eyes looked back at him from above a lipless mouth. It opened, revealing rows of thin, sharp teeth. "One item ramen soup," the Eliksni croaked stiltedly. "Please." Maurice held his breath, tightened his grip on his pencil, and grinned. He grinned when he was nervous, and this seemed like as good a time as any. The Eliksni grinned back, nodded, and then opened its horrible mouth again. "I smelled it, and the smell was good," it said. Maurice scanned the bar. His other customers sat frozen, their bowls of ramen steaming silently in front of them. He realized his mouth had apparently decided to talk on its own, as if nothing were wrong. He heard himself ask, "How spicy, zero to five stars?" The Eliksni had anticipated this question. "Spicy five stars," it said, holding up one hand with three claws splayed, and another with two. "May I receive additional dead flesh, please?" "You got it," Maurice said, his even voice betraying none of his tension, and he turned back to the bubbling pot of broth. Muscle memory took over, and he soon found himself placing a steaming bowl of ramen in front of the creature, who clucked cheerfully. Maurice took a half-step back. A small crowd was forming in the walkway in front of the restaurant. Some of the customers leaned in as their curiosity overcame their terror. Maurice noticed the woman in seat 2 needed more water, but it could wait. The Eliksni raised its arms tentatively, then looked to Maurice again. "What is the protocol?" Maurice found himself unsure of which pair of the Eliksni's eyes to look into and focused on the ramen instead. "Well, you eat the noodles and pork and egg with—" "Egg," repeated the Eliksni, enjoying the unfamiliar word. "—yeah, egg. You eat all that with the chopsticks, and you get the broth with the spoon." Maurice saw how the Eliksni's claws dwarfed the ceramic spoon. "Or you can just lift the whole bowl and drink it." Maurice mimed lifting a bowl to his lips. The Eliksni nodded. Its claws tapped the metal on its face and the hissing blue mist ceased. The Eliksni held the chopsticks, tested their weight, and respectfully placed them back on the bar before bringing the bowl to its mouth with its upper arms. Above the ramen bowl, Maurice saw all four of the Eliksni's eyes close. A long moment of tension fell over the shop, the silence broken only by a staccato series of hissing slurps. Finally, the Eliksni lowered the empty bowl. It breathed in as the blue mist resumed its thin spray. It looked toward Maurice. "I tasted all of it," it said with deep satisfaction. "I am very thankful." Maurice's grin turned into a tentative smile. "Glad you enjoyed it." The Eliksni stood and held out what looked like a small model of the Traveler. It glowed as it floated in the Eliksni's palm. "Compensation," it said. Maurice reached to take the treasure, then drew his hand back. "For new customers, there is no charge," he said. "No compensation. Thank you for coming in." The Eliksni cocked its head, then clucked and the model vanished beneath the folds of its cloak. It smiled at Maurice. "You," it said, then cleared its throat with a rumble, "you are a—" and the five spirited words that followed were replete with hard consonants. In the confused silence that followed, the Eliksni nodded graciously, then walked through the crowd outside and deeper into the City.
1621558458GridskipperHe heard something and snapped awake. There it was again: the skittering of clawed feet above him. In a moment, he had grabbed the Pulse Rifle from near the door and was outside. He saw nothing but the lip of the tar paper roof against the undulating night sky. That didn't mean anything—they could turn invisible. Everyone knew that. They could just be standing there, one or two, or a dozen, staring down at him. He looked for shimmering outlines, but his vision was filled by the swaying grid of the dark purple night. He squinted as a ripple rolled high overhead, and the grid seemed to move closer, like an enormous sheet settling over the City. A wave of pressure pushed down, building in his sinuses. He pressed a hand to his eyes. A deep thrum filled his head, and he heard their claws on the walls all around him, their hissing laughter. He turned toward the street, weapon raised. He felt his heart thudding in his chest and sweat beading on his back. Another noise: someone pounding on glass behind him. He spun and one of them was in his house, looking out at him through the window. His sweaty fingers fumbled to turn the safety off as it opened its mouth— "Dad," the Fallen shouted, "you're standing in the garden!" He looked down dumbly. Cherry tomatoes were crushed beneath his bare feet. His son yelled again, no longer a Fallen, merely irritated and half asleep. "Come back inside!" Hands shaking, he stepped out of the garden. He fought the urge to look into the sky as he walked back to the house.
304659313Ignition CodeAhrrha hauled a metal crate from the drop ship toward the haphazard Eliksni settlement. He moved slowly, matching the pace of his malnourished workmates. Though he had fasted during his trip, Ahrrha knew that his solid frame still made him stand out. He feared it would reveal him as the imposter and infiltrator he was, even while dressed as a House Salvation deserter. During the approach to Earth, Ahrrha had been overawed. The Last City looked like a perfect ripple of Light from above, dropped from the impassive form of the Great Machine. Ahrrha wondered for the first time in his life if the Spider was wrong about the Guardians. But his misgivings evaporated as soon as he emerged from the drop ship. Rather than living in a gleaming city of crystal, the Eliksni were packed into the bombed-out ruins of a former war zone. The area they'd been "given" appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Ahrrha sneered inwardly. Did the Guardians really believe that the Eliksni could be pacified so cheaply? That they were content to live under the boots of the Vanguard, gnawing at scraps? Perhaps it was true for fools like Misraaks, his Awoken-raised hatchling, and cowards like the Empty Weaver. But the Spider's acquiescence would not be so easily bought. In fact, Ahrrha thought, the Spider could probably own this settlement within a year. The generosity and goodwill of House Light would soon crumble to greed and hubris, as they all did. And once Spider's syndicate had a foothold, they would make the Vanguard pay. In Glimmer, weapons, Ether, and blood.
108221785RiiswalkerA hurled bottle strikes an Eliksni in the head, sending him staggering to the side in a crowded street. Glass glitters on the ground. People gathered in a semicircle around him shout invectives and slurs, as he bleeds midnight blue from a deep cut in his brow. He has nowhere to run, cornered between a neon-lit club pulsing with the bass beats of rhythmic music and an alley blocked off by rubble left over from the Red War. "Please, no harm. Vriiksis friend!" he cries, two hands clutching his head, another held out flat as if it would ward the crowd off. "Looking for brother—missing. Please!" The crowd does not care, and they continue to work themselves up into a fervor. Lakshmi-2's words fill their mouths, many of them too young or too naïve to realize it. Vriiksis can't understand so many unfamiliar languages shouted at him at once, but he understands the tone of violence well. His posture says everything—the fear in his eyes carries additional nuance. He fears what happened to his brother. Hate begins to take root in his heart. A foundry worker steps out of the crowd, threateningly racking a round into a Shotgun. He aims down at the Eliksni, hands trembling. "You want to ask about family?!" the Human yells. Vriiksis does not know what he's talking about. "Your people kidnapped my sister! She was running supplies from Earth to Titan. You raided it!" "Vriiksis does not—" He is cut off by a blast from the Shotgun that pulverizes the street beside him. Vriiksis crumples to his knees and cowers. "Please," he says, and in the same motion, picks up a broken piece of the bottle he'd been hit with earlier to defend himself. The crowd screams in outrage. When the foundry worker advances on Vriiksis and racks another round into the Shotgun, there is a sudden cold snap that fills the air with mist. The Shotgun flash freezes, shatters like glass, and scatters into pieces of blue-black Stasis. The worker recoils, clutching his half-frozen arm, screaming. Vriiksis sees the crowd part behind his attacker, and a Hunter clad in black and gold with luminous markings on her armor strides toward them both. Darkness coalesces around her hand. Stasis crystals drift like tiny moons around her. "That's enough!" Aisha shouts. "You should all be ashamed of yourselves! Look at you!" Aisha grabs the injured foundry worker by the collar with her free hand and shoves him back into the crowd. "Clear out of here before I clear you out! Now!" Wind swirls around Aisha's feet, kicking up crystalline debris in whirling threads of Darkness. The crowd recedes like a violent tide, some tripping over others in their haste to flee. As the crowd disperses, Aisha dismisses the sickle of Stasis, and the swirling wind at her feet fades as well. She turns, looking at Vriiksis and offers a hand out to him. "I'm sorry," she says with a tightness in her voice. He cannot see her expression behind the façade of her helmet. Vriiksis does not take the offered hand. His eyes show the same fear. The same hate. "It's okay," Aisha says slowly, offering her hand again. "You're safe now, they're—" "Not safe," Vriiksis snaps at Aisha, his eyes dipping down to her hand and then back up to her helm. "You are just like Eramis. Mind-poisoned." Aisha's breath hitches in the back of her throat, and she slowly lowers the offered hand, closing gloved fingers into a briefly formed fist. "You're hurt. At least let me escort you to a medical…" Her voice trails off. Vriiksis is already backing down an alley, blue eyes locked on her. She feels a weight on her shoulders, in her heart. The Eliksni disappears into the shadows, leaving Aisha alone under an endless night's sky.
599895591Sojourner's TaleThe pipes are silent. Ether production is paused during batch loading, and in that interstitial time, Spider's lair feels like a tomb. Every creak and groan of his throne becomes excruciatingly pronounced. Spider reclines against one arm, rolling a dead Ghost's shell in one hand, scraping a clawed finger across its gray, lifeless eye. The arrival of a trusted associate pulls Spider from his thoughts. "Avrok," Spider bellows, turning his attention to the armored Eliksni striding through the doorway, "what did you find?" Avrok approaches Spider's throne, wringing his hands together anxiously. "Our thief, my lord." Spider leans forward with a groan of the cables suspending his throne. "And what did you do to them?" he asks in greedy anticipation. That, however, is where Avrok falters. "I did not… catch them, my lord," Avrok humbly answers, his much smaller frame eclipsed in Spider's shadow. "But I have a name." "Out with it," Spider grouses, falling back against his throne with deflated interest. "The Crow." Spider's blood turns to fire. His grip tightens on that dead Ghost so hard its shell cracks. Spider continues squeezing it until the glass eye completely pops. Then he takes a moment to compose himself. "Our little bird, come home to the nest so soon? Tell me everything." "He was able to infiltrate the storehouse," Avrok explains, "and coerced a team of laborers to offload cargo promised to the empress onto a Skiff, which he then… stole. Along with a cache of your more—ah—personal belongings, among which was the quantum opal." Avrok shrinks lower, lower, lower. "The supplies were delivered to Mithrax. In your name. As a gift." "And the workers?" Spider growls. "They are gone?" Avrok doesn't mean to make it sound like a question, and regrets taking the tone immediately. "To where, exactly?" "They…" Avrok takes a small step back from Spider's throne. "Left." He clenches his jaws. "With the Crow." Spider slowly leans forward again. "For Earth," Avrok concludes. The Ether pipes begin to hum and rattle as a new batch begins production elsewhere in the complex. The noises rise in intensity, turning into the familiar hissing wail that joins with the uncomfortable sound of Spider. Laughing. The Baron of the Shore throws his dead Ghost at Avrok who ducks away from it, covering his head with his hands. "He's taking them to Mithrax," Spider says between fitful chuckles and wheezing coughs. "He steals—from me—and gives it to the House of Light? Unbelievable." Though behind the laughter and coughs, there is a hint of appreciation in his tone. "The kid's grown a spine." "There is," Avrok starts, offering Spider a folded piece of paper, "one more thing. He left this behind." Spider's seal is scribbled on one side. "For you." As Spider unfolds the note, Avrok creeps further away from the throne. Inside is nothing more than a crude drawing and a rude missive. "That little sh— " The pipes are howling.
2434225986Shattered CipherHelena looked suspiciously at the broken windows in the abandoned building and checked her datapad coordinates again. She'd never been to this corner of the City before. "Mom?" she called doubtfully, hearing her voice echo in the empty space. "Back here," answered her mother, and Helena's stomach dropped. She pulled open a rusty door and found her mother in a low concrete room, frantically packing the contents of a long table into duffel bags. Along the far wall, another woman was balling up a plastic tarp. The room smelled like chemicals. A man shouldering a large black bag pushed his way past her in a cloud of cologne, alcohol, and sour sweat. Helena noticed a small signal jammer blinking orange on the table. Behind it, an Exo was waist-deep in a rebar-lined fracture in the floor. "Tight fit," he grunted as he wriggled his way deeper into the gap, "but I'm guessing he didn't get far. I'll find him." He vanished into the hole. "What's going on?" Helena asked. "Don't ask questions," her mother said as she shrugged a damp strand of blonde hair out of her face. "We need to get moving." She nodded toward the far corner of the room. "You take that pile." Helena crossed her arms warily. "Mom, what are you doing out here?" "I don't have time to talk about this now," her mother snapped. "You don't know what's going on. You didn't see them looking through the windows. You didn't hear what this one said in the ramen shop." For the first time, her mother looked up. Dangerous intensity burned in her eyes. "They're using the dark to blind us, and we're not going to let it happen. Now help me." Helena walked slowly to the trash piled in the corner. Towels soaked with blue fluid. Rubbery tubes, strange scraps of metal. A laminated card that read "TEMPORARY." Her voice was small. "Mama, what did you do?"
2782325302Crown-SplitterA cargo carrier was parked outside of a short-stack residential building. Refracted light from the aura of the Traveler scattered shadows on the street in unusual ways, but no one was paying attention to the shadows today. Neighbors across the street in brownstones watched movers carry furniture out of the building. The whirr-clack of two decommissioned Generation-1 Redjacks carrying an antique chaise lounge echoed down the street. The machine noise was met with the laughter of children pursuing them in amused delight. These Redjacks no longer wore the Vanguard insignia. Instead, they displayed a serial number and the logo for a long-term storage company. "C'mon, kids, stay out of their way," warned a tall, broad-shouldered woman in a worker's jumpsuit. She wore the same logo as the Redjacks, the name Sonja embroidered on one sleeve. "How are we doing in there?" she called into the foyer. "Two more chairs, the armoire, and then we gotta call the Forces of the City about all the munitions," answered another mover inside the building. Sonja sighed, fixed the two children with a warning look, and walked up the steps into the foyer of the building. Inside, she found her coworker—Maron—cataloging items in a datapad while two more decommissioned Gen-1 Redjacks idled nearby. The munitions Maron had mentioned were significant. Boxes of ammunition piled chest high, ferroplastic cases, stacks of loose body armor, and one large Sword partly wrapped in sturdy cloth bound in buckled straps. "This was all in her apartment?" Sonja asked in disbelief. Maron just shook his head in response. "Wild, isn't it? Like an armory in there." "Are next of kin picking this up?" Sonja wondered. "She didn't have any," was Maron's somber response. He handed over his datapad to her, and she reviewed the checklist. "So, what's happening to all of this? Why is it moving?" Sonja asked as she scanned the list. Maron sighed with a shrug. "Building owner needs the apartment vacated. There's people moving away from the neighborhoods around the, uh, Eliksni Quarter, and he wants to clean the unit up for sale. People like stuff like that—historic." Maron made a sweeping gesture with one hand as if motioning to a marquee overhead. "A Guardian lived here." Sonja looked up from the datapad with a crease in her brow. "A literal war hero dies fighting for us, and some landlord wants to monetize her space?" "The hell are you yelling at me for?" Maron complained as he turned to the Redjacks, giving them instructions on what to carry next. "If she lived up in the Tower, I'm sure they'd have turned it into a shrine. But she didn't, and they won't." He didn't wait for a response and followed the Redjacks as they carried an armoire out onto the street. Sonja, left with her thoughts, looked down at the datapad again. She brushed her thumb over an item, swiped left and then down. [DELETE ITEM?] Sonja clicked the green check mark. She knew where at least one item belonged, and it wasn't in a storage locker. They could fire her later. Or maybe, she'd just quit. Sloane would have liked that.
1644680957Null ComposureThe five Splicers sat motionless around the small access point that jutted from the dark stone. It pulsed softly, checked and rechecked the permissions that summoned it, and then pushed a data spike solidly into the Vex domain. The Splicers' consciousnesses spiraled into the network and they immediately sensed the colors changing around them. They were being hunted. Exclusion fields manifested and chased them, sizzling over the dataplanes as they passed. With a confident laugh, Grainslayer blinked into a silver fractal of unbound Light. The field shattered and split to follow him. Chroniclekel spun cool blue towers of mandatory protocols stretching into infinity, then duplicated his trace and sent himself hurtling down all possibilities at once. The domain chugged and hitched as he moved. Anomaly focused his Light and caught a bucking ripple of the domain, pushed, and pried a crack into the deep cipher beneath. Collide and Corrosion plunged through. Corrosion, her Light a scythe, tore fiercely at the smothering strands of replicating data. Collide reached into the blinding heart of the domain, grasping at the decompiling wisps, feeling them retract from his access. He centered himself and willed the correct strand to appear before him. It took all his strength and skill to bend it, to change a one to a zero. And as he thought it, it happened. The access point dissipated, leaving the five Splicers back in the dark stone room. They turned to Collide, and when he nodded, they collapsed into joyful, relieved laughter: they had erased the Vex's knowledge of Misraaks's daughter, Eido. Collide caught his breath and shrugged with false modesty. "Provoke the eminendum—" he began. "—perish as the residuum," Corrosion finished for him, before she fell into a fit of laughter once more.
2272470786Stochastic VariableLakshmi-2 : faction head : Exo : politician 1 : the Eliksni Quarter : screaming : a crackling portal : treachery : Fallen attack : we're being overrun : where are the Guardians— 2 : the Last City : the Tower in ruins : Fallen scavengers sift the rubble— 3 : the Last City : radioactive dust : Dark growths in the ruins: where is the Traveler : mutated Ghosts— 4 : the Eliksni Quarter : a crackling portal : Asher speaks : Fallen being attacked : Dead Orbit overhead : Saint-14 besieged : FWC surrenders— 5 : the Eliksni Quarter : the Endless Night : a crackling portal : Mithrax firing wildly : the Cult flees : Ikora triumphant— 6 : the Eliksni Quarter : a crackling portal : snipers fire down : blood runs in the gutter : an Ether tank explodes : the Endless Night : Asher speaks : those FWC traitors— 7 : the Botza District : a crackling portal : Fallen flee : FWC banners : Zavala is gone : Mithrax on trial : Lakshmi-2 looks over the crowd— Lakshmi-2 : head of state : Exo : prophet : savior
3556999246Pleiades CorrectorSupplemental report [FWC-2298j; Blackout] The Endless Night. What is it? What does it do? We may not have all the answers, but here's what we know: Remote scans of the "Endless Night" either failed to return data or returned contradictory data; this behavior suggested an emittance of electromagnetic disruption, which indicated that this is more than a simulation projected over the City. Confirmation of this disruption has occurred as every probe sent into the clouds, even shielded ones, experienced acute electrical overload within seconds. Now having confirmed the existence of the EM field, we have reached a new hypothesis in our reevaluation of our initial scans. We believe that we are not, in fact, receiving contradictory data… but a scrambling of our own scans, rewritten with new information. These scans are subsequently being bounced back to us and are infiltrating our systems via rooting programs masquerading as collected data. Anyone wondering how they've managed to shut down our power distribution and water purification facilities without firing a shot needs look no further. They set a trap, and we sprang it. This information absolutely must be aired to the rest of the Consensus. Some of my colleagues believe the actual "night" visualization is meant to be a means of psychological warfare. Whether that is intended or not is unclear, though there has undoubtedly been an effect on the population, as reports of illness and sleep loss have spiked considerably. I've moved to cease all data collection, but I have repeatedly been overridden by higher clearances. I must, again, recommend that we sever all connections and terminate any data collection sweeps. We're digging our own graves, otherwise. Whatever executive still has that uplink running, knock it off. You're playing with fire here. —FWC R&D Head, Arsha Saad
2414141462The VisionDirector Lakshmi-2, Enough is enough. I know what you're using, and I'll be speaking with the Vanguard. The fact that you think you can interpret what has driven dozens to insanity doesn't give me a good deal of confidence in your decision-making abilities, and I can't keep my concerns internal any longer. We don't need another Sundaresh in the upper ranks. I don't care if you saw the Red War before it happened. What would you say of the several other unfruitful predictions you conveniently ignore now? I have listened to your speeches and read your many messages calling for support. I understand you believe the future is at stake, and we are supposed to do something about that. Fear over the Fallen is not the future this organization was meant to combat. Your paranoia won't change my mind. My children were harassed in the streets today for daring to bring food to the Eliksni Quarter. They came home in tears, and I wonder how long until it becomes worse. I won't be a part of spreading that fear. I won't participate in splitting this City and turning it against itself. I'm well aware of the dangers posed by Fallen Houses, but the City remains strong because we stand together. You're a student of history. You know how the Iron Lords converted Warlords into dutiful servants of the Light. Lord Shaxx alone should speak to the value of that effort. If a Fallen House wants to stand with us against their own—just like the Warlords of old, just like Fallen in the Reef did—who are you to tell them no? Armies, we can keep out. The Guardians will hold the wall. That danger is nowhere close to the death from within that you are stoking. If it all falls apart, just remember Mithrax didn't fire the first shot. You did. Consider this my resignation, Novarro
2492081469The Number"NEXUS" HARDLINE APERTURE FORK, INTEGRATION LOGS… I: Integration failure. Firewall rejection. II: Integration failure. Firewall penetrated. Drone lost. III: Integration failure. Feedback explosion, three fatalities. Expeditionary team decontaminated and awaiting medical clearance. Reassessing handshake parameters for Network access. IV: FWC-Paracausal asset "Riley" deployed. Integration SUCCESS. Collection exceeded physical memory allotment. Kill-feed initiated. Unscheduled integration incident - BREACH, CONTAINMENT FAILURE. Connection severed after 00:00:00.02s. V: BREACH, CONTAINMENT FAILURE. Incursion suppressed after three hours. Ninety-two fatalities. Containment & Purge procedures under review. VI: Expeditionary team and asset MIA. Feeds corrupted. Connection open. Connection open. Connection open.
217140611The DeicideEncoded private ping via HDN Proxy Router… Ikora, thought you'd want to see this. It presents as binary in our systems, but something is splicing hashes in. I pulled it from the Tower's Nexus Iso-feed. It's all over FWC networks… and elsewhere. | 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || 01100011.# 01000101 01000110.# 01000100.# 01000010 01000100.# 01000101 01000001.# || My guess is the lettering indicates some kind of audible tone-code pattern, but I haven't listened to it. One of my subordinates has isolated minor pitch fluctuations represented here as: "#". These are foreign elements to otherwise normal binary code. See attached report for archival information on binary code. —Aunor
2920704748Icon of "I - ACCEPTANCE"I - ACCEPTANCE"I'm the most qualified for this!" Crow's voice reverberated off of the immense window, making the Vanguard Commander's office feel even more cavernous than it was. At night, the edges of Zavala's office were usually dark, but the miasma of Vex energy that swirled in the City below made it more so. Crow sighed and paced in the gloom like a caged animal. Zavala faced the window and stood, unmoving; a statue carved of larimar, depicting a test of infinite patience. He glanced over at Ikora, her hands gently clasped as she watched Crow with disquieted contemplation. "We know," she said, after what felt like an eternity, "but your expertise and relationship with the Eliksni aren't the only deciding factors here." "Exactly how long am I going to be continually tried in a court of public opinion?" Crow asked pointedly. "And when in this trial will I be given a clear understanding of what I'm on trial for?" Zavala regarded the Awoken's reflection in the window; it reminded him of the near-fatal walk through the gardens not all that long ago. His shoulders sagged. "Crow," Zavala said as he turned to face him. "This is a delicate situation. The Consensus has come down hard on us for welcoming the Eliksni into the City, and I can't have them using you as another bludgeon." "So that's all this is: a political maneuver," Crow pushed. "To protect yourselves. No hard feelings? Nothing behind the looks you give me when you don't think I'm watching?" Zavala stiffened, and Crow sensed the conversational temperature in the room change. "This matter aside, if your past identity became public before we have a plan in place, it could cause considerable harm to you and to the people you care about," Ikora said evenly. "People who have come to care about you," she added. For a long time, no one spoke—and when Crow did, his voice was small. "Then what? I keep hiding from the shadow of the man I was before? Forever?" "Not forever," Ikora said firmly, "but for now." Crow shifted his focus to Ikora and saw the hurt in her eyes. He'd seen it in Amanda's, too, whenever she spoke of the dead. Without another word, he nodded and left. Ikora closed her eyes, and the breath she'd been holding slowly left her. "He's going to Osiris," she warned. "And if Osiris is half the leader he's shown himself to be, he'll tell him the same thing," Zavala said with great fatigue, finally sinking into his chair. In the momentary silence that settled between them, Ikora felt an unspoken reciprocation of their generations-old friendship. "I don't know how long we can protect him," she confessed. "Neither do I."
2920704751Icon of "II - FRACTURES"II - FRACTURESZavala stared at the terminal window until the words blurred together. He lowered his head and rubbed his eyes, trying to collect his thoughts. There were reports from Hunters in the field. Increased Vex activity across the system. Coordinated attacks on Vanguard operations. Anomalous disturbances within the City. All on top of Eliksni and Human confrontations within the City's walls. A buzzing hum bloomed to life over Zavala's shoulder, followed by the gentle weight of a Ghost that came to settle there. "Is this the best use of your time?" Targe wondered aloud, which elicited a look from the corner of Zavala's eye. Targe rarely spoke, but when he did, there was always purpose. "I don't recall asking for your opinion," Zavala said as he tried to refocus. "I don't recall giving one." Zavala turned this time to give Targe another look. "You two can't keep doing the work of three people," Targe insisted. "Talk to Ana again." Zavala leaned back in his chair. "Targe, there is no way I am going to convince—" An alert chimed at the command console to his right. "Incoming call from Empress Caiatl," Targe said wearily. "Let it go to depot." Zavala stubbornly rose from his chair. "No," he said, receiving the call. Caiatl's imperial seal appeared on the screen with a notice: AUDIO ONLY. "Empress Caiatl, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Zavala asked, tiredly scratching a hand over his stubble. Targe watched for a moment before he dematerialized. "Commander," Caiatl greeted, her voice swelling to fill the room as if she were standing there. "The fleet's long-range sensors detected a growing anomaly located in the vicinity of the Last City." "Why the sudden concern?" Caiatl snorted. "I bear no concern, Commander. But if the Vanguard were suddenly annihilated, it would behoove me to at least be aware." "Of course," Zavala said softly. "Well, we're still here." "For now." The leading edge in her tone hooked him. "Why are you really calling?" There was no response from the other side for a few moments. When Caiatl spoke next, her tone was as measured as before, but lacked any performative airs. "Lakshmi-2's latest broadcast to the City reached our fleet," she said. "You are truly a proud hawk standing in a nest of vipers, aren't you?" "Lakshmi is a politician." "Words are the most dangerous of weapons, Commander," Caiatl reminded him. "It begins as whispering convictions, then full-voiced dissent, and the next thing you know, you will wake with a knife driven into your chest." "Spoken from experience," Zavala jabbed back. "Spoken from experience," Caiatl doubled down, unashamed. "Lakshmi is undermining the Vanguard's authority by diminishing your role in the eyes of the people. Spoken loudly enough and often enough, her words may begin to make sense even to those who are not of the same mind." Zavala sighed, and Caiatl felt its weight all the way across the system. "I trust you to honor the terms of our armistice. I do not trust whomever your successor might be," Caiatl warned. Zavala weighed anger and intrigue against one another, finding the scales a useless tool in arbitrating his response to the situation. He stepped back to the console and did as Cayde might say: just wing it. "This is not the first threat to my authority I've weathered," Zavala said, his voice rising. "So don't delude yourself into thinking otherwise. And don't you dare come at me for whatever remorse you might be feeling about deposing your father." Zavala heard the low rumble of an appreciative vocalization over the speakers. "I do not feel remorse because Calus was my father," Caiatl explained, her tone softening. "I feel remorse because of what Ghaul did to my people. We opened the door for the Hive, handed Xivu Arath a knife, and were surprised when we felt the kiss of steel in our spine." I hate to see a warrior I admire and respect do the same with a less worthy adversary. But perhaps you are not in need of such unsolicited counsel." Zavala looked up, out to the lightless city beyond, and closed his eyes. "And what counsel is that?" What Caiatl said next was not in the voice of an empress, but a friend: "Umun'arath was my most trusted counselor. The Darkness has many hands—will you recognize its caress before it finds your throat?"
2920704750Icon of "III - Gifts from the Shore"III - Gifts from the ShoreThough the metal crate they were carrying likely weighed more than they did, the two Eliksni gave Saint-14 a wide berth on their way to the Eliksni Quarter. "You see how they distrust," Saint grumbled. Amanda Holliday scanned the crate into her datapad, the unexpected shipment of emergency supplies from the Tangled Shore nearly offloaded. "Don't be such a sourpuss," she said lightly. "Mixing with new folk's good for the soul." "I mix!" objected Saint. "But the Fallen… they do not enjoy my company. And I feel the same for them." "Maybe that's exactly why Ikora picked you for this," Amanda said. Though Saint was fully helmeted, she could swear he rolled his eyes. Two more Eliksni came bearing another crate. One noticed Saint too late and stumbled, dropping the crate—its security locks popped as it crashed to the ground. A young Eliksni wearing House of Light colors and a bright orange and blue Vanguard lanyard scampered over in distress. Saint sighed. "It is fine," he said to the Eliksni. "Spider probably sends more surplus from old House of Dusk. Knowing you carry supplies from our enemies is great joke to him." He dragged the crate out of the walkway with one hand and knelt to repair the locks. As Amanda scanned the damaged crate, the young Eliksni came closer. He eyed Saint warily, then held up a sheaf of paper like a shield. "Manifest," he stated haltingly. "Thank you," Amanda said with unforced brightness. She tapped her datapad. "I've got it digitally." "You got it digitally," echoed the Eliksni. He fidgeted for a moment, then proudly held up the badge on his lanyard, which read TEMPORARY. Amanda smiled. "What've you got there?" "Authorization for unloading of supplies from Tangled Shore. Of supplies sent from Spider," he said. He leaned in slowly, looking carefully at Saint and Amanda. "My gentlemen," he added slyly. Amanda snorted so abruptly that Saint fumbled with a lock, crushing it in his hand. Saint looked up. "Can you two not be quiet?" "C'mon now," Amanda admonished Saint lightly. "I don't hear you practicin' your Eliksni, and this fella's doing his best to bridge the gap." Amanda turned back to the Eliksni. "That ain't exactly right, but you speak our language pretty well," she said. "Thank you," answered the Eliksni, clearly eager for conversation. "Do all Humans here serve Spiderkell?" "Serve Spider?" Amanda spat. "Spider's nothing but a—" and the five spirited words that followed were replete with hard consonants. The Eliksni froze, wary of her tone while not understanding her words. Amanda caught herself and took a breath. "…which is our way of saying he's a kind and generous individual," she said to the Eliksni, who nodded along with her. "This lock has been ruined by distractions," Saint said as he rose to his feet. He removed the lid and looked inside, then lifted a loose coil of rubbery tubes. "Servitor plugs, filters, Ether circulators…" The Titan made a confused noise. "Something wrong?" Amanda asked. "Not at all," mumbled Saint as he picked up a small golden cylinder trailing braided sapphire cords. "This rebreather alone is worth more than my ship." Amanda moved toward Saint and looked for herself. She recognized a few necessary survival items—condensed prefab ceramic plating, vapor distillers, generator couplings—but amongst the tubes and filters were otherworldly treasures: A nanomesh sphere filled with thick pink liquid. A chrome conduit splitter with entropic plating. A glimmering opal sparkling in a nest of delicate lavender sponges. "The hell is Spider playing at?" Amanda said to herself. She called out to the Eliksni: "Are they all like this?" "Yes. Each one is very full. Full of delights, from our culture. From our home. We are very thanks." He cocked his head and clicked. "Thankful?" Amanda nodded. "Let me see that manifest," she said, taking the papers from the Eliksni. He nodded and rejoined the other workers. "They will still need many of our resources to stay here," Saint said as he carefully resealed the crate, "but this will make things easier. I am surprised Spider is so generous, even to his own people." Amanda frowned at the manifest. "This doesn't make sense," she said. "There's a note at the top: 'Don't know what half this stuff is, but it's got to be good if Spider had it.' It's all written by hand, and there aren't values for anything on here." Saint looked at the papers over Amanda's shoulder. "The crates came from Spider's storehouse," he said. "If he did not send them, who did?" "Look at this listing!" Amanda continued. "This item says 'best osmosis filters (hidden in his bottom drawer).' This item is just a row of question marks. Here's one listed as 'a clock thing.' This line says 'noisy cube: smells bad but everybody likes it.' And what's with this signature?" Amanda squinted at the shape scrawled at the bottom of the form. "It's a… ship?" she guessed, handing the paper to Saint. The Titan turned his head as he looked at the drawing. "Aha!" he cried, slapping the paper with the back of his hand. "Look, is bird!" Amanda looked again at the uneven charcoal lines and could just make out a wobbly black bird. She let out a long breath and shook her head. "Awful artist," she said, "but I guess he's an all right guy." And suddenly, she was smiling.
2920704745Icon of "IV - Conspirators"IV - ConspiratorsArach Jalaal narrowed his eyes with impatience as Dead Orbit's head of logistics struggled to satisfactorily account for the faction's supply caches. The pair had been wandering around the massive Hangar for an hour while an enormous ship was being loaded in the background. Jalaal had seen the celestial disappearances and the encroachment of the Black Fleet as clear signs that Dead Orbit's final exodus must soon begin. He had ordered a redoubling of departure preparations, but found the faction's rank-and-file struggling to keep pace. Jalaal cut off his subordinate's bumbling presentation. "This is insufficient. Earth will soon be behind us, and Dead Orbit will have to survive on the supplies that we provide." His mild tone and half-lidded gaze underscored the gravity of his words. "Supplies that you are in charge of tracking. You do understand that, don't you?" A furious blush spread across the administrator's face. He bowed his head and scuttled away as Jalaal crooked his head in annoyance. Behind him, a raspy voice floated up from the maze of towering crates: "Leaving us so soon, Jalaal?" He turned to find Lakshmi-2 and Executor Hideo. The Future War Cult leader stood formally, hands clasped before her, while the head of New Monarchy browsed the shipping crates with casual interest. "This is an impressive collection. I had no idea Dead Orbit was so well funded." Hideo gestured broadly to the crates. Jalaal shrugged. "It's a life's work, Hideo. Everything we'll need to re-seed the Human species elsewhere. You should join us." "We're fine where we are, thank you," Lakshmi interjected. "As a matter of fact, that's why we've come." Jalaal bowed his head and gestured toward the Hangar exit. The trio ambled outside. "Hideo and I are concerned about the current Vanguard leadership," Lakshmi began carefully. Jalaal allowed himself a mirthless chuckle. "Yes, I've heard your open editorials. You're becoming quite the demagogue. I never knew you held such strong feelings about the Fallen." "If it's incitement to speak the truth, then so be it," Lakshmi fired back, sharper than intended. "The Fallen have been a useful catalyst, but that doesn't mean we are wrong." "Perhaps not about the Vanguard," Jalaal replied, "but the Cult is hemorrhaging members. And I doubt it's your best and brightest remaining." "Those who wish to leave are free to do so," Lakshmi said with a pointed glance toward the Dead Orbit ship. "We'll be stronger without them." "Zavala and Ikora have been ineffective since the Speaker died," Executor Hideo cut in. "The disappearance of the planets caught them unprepared. They're allowing Guardians to use the Darkness. And now they've cut a deal with the Cabal? It's just too much." "We must have leadership whose point of view is more closely aligned to that of the people," Lakshmi said. "And who do you propose, exactly?" Jalaal stopped the trio at the corner of a broad thoroughfare, where the rumble of cargo movers masked their conversation. "Saladin was our first choice," Hideo added with an ill-concealed smirk, "but he's not as cutthroat as he seems. Appears the Iron Lord has a soft spot for Commander Zavala." Lakshmi gave Hideo a look, as though he had revealed too much. "We are now considering Saint-14," she said, pointedly bringing the conversation back to the present. Jalaal raised an eyebrow. "Who else is committed to your little coup?" "We have somebody in a position of influence. Someone who can ensure an orderly transfer of power," Lakshmi answered. "That person would have to be very clever indeed," Jalaal said gravely. "For your sake. Ikora Rey is not a target to miss." Th e moment stretched as Jalaal measured the situation. He had long considered what a change of leadership might mean for Dead Orbit; for the resettlement and survival of the Human species. And as always, the allure of personal power—a position of eminence in a dying society—was a constant temptation.
2920704744Icon of "V - SABOTAGE"V - SABOTAGETwo dozen Humans, their faces mostly covered with makeshift masks, slunk into the Botza District under cover of darkness. Some were armed with weapons, though most carried workaday tools like crowbars and wrenches. They planned to infiltrate the Eliksni Quarter and find evidence of aggression. If that failed, they would send a clear message that the House of Light was unwelcome in the Last City. Knives tore into banners. Noxious fumes filled the air. Paint cans rattled. The hum of the machinery around them disguised the sounds of their labor while hushed voices conferred in terse, conspiratorial tones. "I think this is their food," a young woman whispered to her male companion while warily looking over her shoulder. She didn't see anyone as they crouched by a large Ether tank, but she imagined the Eliksni crowded together in a nearby building. Did they even sleep? "Here, give me a hand with this," her companion said, pointing to what he guessed was a control panel. Together they pried the face plate off, revealing a mess of wiring beneath. They shared a furtive glance and began pulling out wires by the fistful, hands shaky, their blood pounding in their ears. A low whistle like a bird call fluttered through the night air. When they looked up, a Hunter stood over them only a few paces away, his face shadowed by a cowl. He held his Hand Cannon at hip level, aimed straight at them. Their co-conspirators, drawn by the sound, gathered in their periphery, mentally calculating their chances. Not a single one liked the odds. Even those who came armed expected to fight the Fallen, not a Guardian. The Hunter called out in a half-whisper: "I don't want any trouble." The woman stood frozen as the young man beside her moved toward the Hunter, his jaw set. "No!" his companion hissed. "Are you crazy?" She grabbed his arm to haul him behind the ruined Ether tank, but he wrenched free. The young man stepped slowly toward the Hunter. "You're on the wrong side of this thing," he started. The Hunter pulled back on his Hand Cannon's hammer with an audible click. "I don't think I am," he replied. Unwilling to test the Hunter's mettle, the young man called over his shoulder. "Let's go." The Hunter narrowed his eyes. He watched as the young man slinked past him and spat at his feet. Something old and terrible rose up inside of the Hunter; it took all of his focus to steady his hand. The conspirators peeled away from their hiding places, one by one, disappearing into the dark. Some hissed choice insults and dispersions at the Hunter under their breath, though none dared to look at him. In just a few minutes, the block was deserted except for the Hunter, who stood alone in the street until his Ghost complied over his shoulder. It chirped with concern. "You wouldn't really have shot them, right?" The Hunter hesitated as he holstered his weapon. "They needed to know I was serious, Glint." "But you weren't," his Ghost insisted. Wordlessly, the Hunter began making his way through the destruction. Someone would sound the alarm soon—he didn't want to be there when they did. "Tell me you weren't serious," his Ghost said again, lagging behind, "…were you?"
2920704747Icon of "VI - UNDERSTANDING"VI - UNDERSTANDINGIkora Rey strode into the Future War Cult headquarters. It had the air of a church—hushed and reverent, but the air of sanctity was undercut by the intrusion of Vex technology. Wires climbed like vines across the ceiling, and the air was filled with the faint smell of ozone. In the middle of the room, reclining on a seat reminiscent of both throne and operating table, was Lakshmi-2. Her face was obscured by a helmet that connected to the mess of wiring above. Studious Cultists shuffled about with their heads bowed, glancing suspiciously at Ikora. As the Warlock advanced, a Cultist held up a single finger, commanding both silence and patience. Ikora's eyes narrowed. The Cultist whispered into a small microphone next to the Device. Its subaudible hum had been inconspicuous, but once it powered down, the quiet felt overwhelming to Ikora. Lakshmi sat in repose, presumably orienting herself in the current timeline. "Leave us," she said without opening her eyes. "We'll resume at 14:25." Her subordinates filtered from the room, looking past Ikora as if she were invisible. Lakshmi finally opened her eyes, and fixed them on the Warlock. "I assume you're here to bargain." "I'm not." Ikora's tone was calm and cold. "I'm here to issue a warning of my own." "Warn me?" Lakshmi laughed, her voice thin. "If we have any further incidents on account of your incitement, I will personally find a remote, icy moon to leave you on." Lakshmi tutted. "Only small minds classify prophecy as provocation." She stood up and smoothed her garments. "Certainty in the face of the unknown is the provenance of zealots." Ikora eyed the Device. "And the insane. This isn't a debate." "And yet, you are still here. Come, Ikora, you've not seen what I have." Lakshmi gestured to the Device. "The Botza District under assault for a second time. Saint-14, pinned down by gunfire. And you…" she trailed off, "screaming for help over the comms." "How many of your prophecies have gone unfulfilled, Lakshmi?" Ikora snapped. "I wish you could hear yourself; how afraid you sound." "All those years studying under Osiris, and you're still so naïve," Lakshmi replied. Ikora's anger flared. She advanced on the Cult leader. "Cut the B.S., or suffer the consequences. Understand?" Undaunted, Lakshmi's artificial eyes shone bright. "Understood." Ikora stepped back and let her anger pass out of her with a sigh. "Then we're done here." She turned on her heels and strode out. As she left, Ikora wondered whose prophecy she had just fulfilled—Lakshmi's or her own.
2920704746Icon of "VII - Ripe"VII - RipeI walk through the City on broken legs. I am conspicuous, but the people here grant me many affordances. I chose this form well. I sway and catch myself on a low stone wall. I am ready earlier than anticipated, but I must still learn the next step. I look up toward the false dusk I have hung, but it is not yet finished. I am afraid, but it is thrilling to engage in something new after all this time, something unknown. I close my eyes tightly so they do not bulge. The feeling passes. I open my eyes and search the faces of the people around me for familiarity. I did not mean to. I twist inwardly with disgust. When they first reached for me, I reached back in acid mockery, and they opened themselves to me in stupid, naked innocence. I was giddy. My fingers raked their minds. I forced my will through them using only words and met no resistance. Their naiveté was beyond description, and I feasted until my eyes welled with black tears. Now I reach as often as they do, and when they reach back, I am thankful. I speak with them. I seek their company. Their companionship. This is not pity, for I know pity. What is this— I drop to both knees, clear my mouth, and vomit. The thin black fluid turns to vapor and disappears. I clench the gangling black mass that threatens to unspool recklessly from within this shell of flesh. My new arms are too thin, too weak. My new shell still bound with thick mucus. Not yet, I say. A moment of blackness, and then… A man places his hands on me, on my shoulders, on my back. He asks if I am ill, and he sees my flat eyes, my teeth black with ripeness, and he prepares to scream. I let him keep his mind. I push breath up and through my ruined mouth and speak a simple lie. He stops, smiles, laughs. Shakes his head. He points a finger at me in mocking admonishment before walking away. I swallow the fatty morsel of his ignorance and it gives me the strength to stand once more, cover my face, and resume my walk. I feel this form splitting beneath its wrappings, held together weakly by wet strands of sinew. And from deep inside, stirred by that latest scrap of deception, I hear the oily growl of the Worm. Even here, basted in deception both ample and rich, the Worm cries ravenously. It has grown grotesque, skin taut, overfed, and still it howls for more. It commands me to keep it alive. I look up, beyond the flickering net of darkness, and see what rests just beyond. Waiting for me. The Worm roars.
2920704741Icon of "VIII - GILDED KNIVES"VIII - GILDED KNIVESThey say the promenade of the Core District never sleeps. In times of celebration, it was a parade ground meant to extol the virtues of the Guardians and show the people of the City the faces of their often-distant defenders. To see it empty was almost unheard of since the Red War. Executor Hideo of New Monarchy walked alongside Lakshmi-2 of Future War Cult, observing vendor stalls decorated in neon lights that flickered intermittently as they passed. But there were no vendors, no proprietors. Hideo glanced over his shoulder at the four Future War Cult security officers that followed behind them at a respectful distance. "Do you remember the last time this street was empty?" he asked. "Yes," Lakshmi said with a heavy heart. "They called me a fool then as well." She did nothing to hide the contempt in her voice. "We make mistakes in circles, Hideo. Walking in a loop of our own self-made despair." Before he could formulate a response, Hideo spotted the reason for their walk through the Endless Night: a towering behemoth of chrome and lavender cloth, hunched over in an abandoned plaza. Saint-14 focused on the birds underfoot, scattering a handmade mix of seed on the ground while he cooed contentedly at the pigeons. "You have chosen poor night for walk," he observed as Hideo and Lakshmi approached. "Do you need escort back to Tower?" Hideo shook his head. "No, Saint. We went to find you in the Hangar, and Ms. Holliday informed us that you had come here to…" He eyed the birds. "…contemplate." "Birds are uncomplicated. Good conversationalists. They give me room to think," Saint said with a smile in his voice. "How can I help?" "The Consensus has struggled, as of late, with some of the Vanguard's decisions regarding the City's security. We wanted to expand that conversation to include you," Lakshmi said. "But not Arach Jalaal?" Saint asked, a more pointed and cunning response than either Hideo or Lakshmi anticipated. "No," Hideo quickly confirmed. Lakshmi verbally maneuvered around Hideo's answer like water around a stone. "This is about ensuring that the best interests of the City are at the forefront of the Vanguard's mind." Saint fixed his helmed visage on Lakshmi. "The Eliksni." A statement, not a question. "The Vanguard are a military force, and the Consensus does not doubt their commitment to defending the City beyond its borders." Lakshmi carefully worded her approach. "But we have come to doubt that a military force is the best governance for the City inside of its walls." Saint squared his shoulders as if presented a challenge and looked between Hideo and Lakshmi. His stoicism twisted Hideo's stomach into knots. "We would like to propose a restructuring of the City's leadership. Placing the Vanguard as the authority for what goes on outside the walls…" Hideo gestured toward the mountains. "And respective leadership here inside the City." He motioned to Saint. "This is bad plan," Saint said without any attempt at obfuscating his feelings. "Surely you understand that tactical options in the field do not always apply unilaterally in a civilian quarter," Hideo pleaded. "On top of that, the Vanguard is stretched too thin. They cannot be the leadership they need to be." Saint balked. "Then why come to me? I am no politician." "But you are a leader," Lakshmi countered as she placed a hand over her chest. "A hero. A symbol to the people." Saint drew in a steady breath and grew silent. "It may not feel like the right choice because of your personal feelings toward Commander Zavala and Ikora. Change can sometimes feel distasteful. But I know you aren't one to ignore your sense of duty." Saint looked down at his feet, at the birds, at the seed. "I must speak with Osiris," he asserted. Lakshmi briefly regarded Hideo and nodded. "Give your partner our regards." "I will," Saint said stiffly, scattering the last of the seed in his hand to the birds before departing the plaza. Hideo and Lakshmi waited under the watchful eye of the Traveler until Saint was gone. "If he tells Zavala or Ikora…" Hideo said through clenched teeth. "Osiris will stop him from doing anything so stupid," Lakshmi said, the softness in her voice gone. "And if he is so shortsighted as to refuse us as Saladin did…" Hideo's stomach twisted again.
2920704740Icon of "IX - PREDICTION"IX - PREDICTIONIn the days that followed Quria's defeat, the sky lightened, and so did the City's mood as the Endless Night began to slowly lift. Lakshmi-2 stood high on the City walls, watching adventurous citizens mingle with the Eliksni. She focused her attention on an Eliksni peddler, who had fashioned several small robots from discarded scrap. A small gaggle of children stood across the way, clearly interested in the robots as they moved aimlessly, but too frightened to approach. Lakshmi knew that the peddler would sell one of the robots, but none of the scrap, and end the day discouraged. It's a bright new day, she thought. "It's a bright new day," a deep voice called out. Lakshmi turned to see the former Warlock Osiris striding along the wall toward her. "What a strange choice of words," Lakshmi answered. "The Darkness is closer than ever." And in the darkness, it's sometimes difficult to tell friend from foe. She remembered this conversation from her time in the Device. Many of the potential futures it showed her led to this moment. Osiris was growing predictable. "It is," Osiris said. "And in the darkness, it's hard to tell friend from foe." Lakshmi smiled inwardly. They were still well within the standard deviation. "I'm surprised to hear you say that, Osiris. You are normally blessed with such uncommon clarity." "My perspective has changed since I lost the Light," Osiris began slowly. "Time is suddenly finite. It makes everything seem more… changeable. And if my perception can change, perhaps my enemies can as well." "The folly of mortality." Lakshmi gestured to the scene below. "Those people could never understand time as we do, Osiris. You've peered behind the veil. You've seen the Vex simulations stretching endlessly. You understand that history is changeable… but also inevitable." "I used to be certain of that," he agreed. "But now I have to wonder, if history is inevitable, why am I constantly surprised?" Lakshmi chuckled. She had heard his comment before, of course, but her premonition had not adequately conveyed his fatuousness. "And what do you think, Osiris? Will this bright new day last?" She nodded toward the Eliksni settlement. "Are we meant to share the Light with the Fallen?" As if you would know, she thought. You no longer deal in predictions. "I've given up on prediction, Lakshmi. I put my fate in the hands of the Traveler now more than ever before." He gave her a sidelong glance. "And what do you say? Is this a new dawn?" Lakshmi recalled the vision she had so fervently sought within the Device. The realization of her righteous victory over the Eliksni—historical and preordained all at once. Her life's work, crawling minute by minute from the future into the present. "No," she replied. "This is just a flash of lightning before the coming storm."
4182397364Icon of "X - MEMORIAL"X - MEMORIALThe air up on the wall was thin; Lakshmi was right about that. Mithrax stood in silent observation of the memorial above the main concourse. He leaned against an iron railing, watching Guardians and citizens alike moving below, Eliksni with them. A Dreg approached the memorial and led his child to stand among the mourners. Urged forward by a gentle nudge, the child gingerly placed a gilded eggshell at the memorial's base. Gold soldering sealed a myriad of fractures, making a once broken egg whole again. Mithrax's throat tightened at the sight. It was a memorial for a child. Lost. The walkway behind Mithrax groaned as Saint-14 cut a large silhouette against the clear sky. Shoulder to shoulder, they stood. Neither spoke. They watched as Ikora and Zavala conversed with departing mourners. The Dreg and his son approached, and with a bittersweet smile, Ikora made certain to introduce them to Zavala. Big, stern, stoic Zavala took to one knee and spoke to the child, eye to eye. "I never thought I'd see the day," Saint finally said, unable to look away. Mithrax responded, not with words, but with a fluttering purr-like rumble and mirrored Saint's posture. "Do you think this will hold? An alliance, fragile like glass, held in a fist?" Saint asked. "Only the Great Machine knows what will come from over the horizon. We must be content with our own limited perspectives," Mithrax said with conviction. Saint nodded. Down below, Amanda Holliday drew their attention as she knelt before the memorial to light a candle. She stood and stepped back, lingering. Mithrax and Saint watched in silence as she rose up on her toes and began scanning through the crowd. As if she were looking for someone. She gently pushed through the throng of people and reached out to another mourner in a white cloak. Both recoiled in surprise, Amanda seemingly apologizing to the cloaked woman at some misunderstanding. They exchanged brief words, awkward laughs, sympathies. When Amanda caught sight of Lord Saladin, however, she took her leave and disappeared into the crowd. Mourners parted around the Iron Lord, respectful of his space and reputation as he laid a handful of spent shell casings at the memorial with reverence. The offering's meaning was lost on Mithrax. When Saladin rose from the memorial, he turned and looked up at the pair on the overwatch, his face cast in shades of doubt, remorse, and uncertainty as he quietly departed. "I do not know that one," Mithrax said with a look to Saint. "He seems… unhappy." Saint slowly shook his head. "Lord Saladin," he clarified. "He has lost many. Lost his heart, his hope. Lost so many, he believes he stands alone, even when surrounded by others. I understand his pain. I see…" Saint thinks on how Osiris would describe it. "…his cautionary tale." Mithrax heard the ache in Saint's voice. "And how are you?" Saint tensed at the question. The railing in his hand creaked as his grip tightened and bent the metal. "I am fine," he lied. "Indeed," Mithrax said with his best affectation of sarcasm, then placed a hand on Saint's shoulder. "It is not above a warrior's station to feel pain. Not above a warrior's station to express spirit-wounds." Mithrax's grip firmed on Saint's shoulder; reassuring, stabilizing. "Not above a warrior's station to break." Saint nodded in half-hearted agreement. "I should go," he said in a tone Mithrax didn't quite understand. "Thank you, Kell of Kells. You are true friend." "Go well, Saint," Mithrax said with concern. "Find your lost phoenix."
2707363652Icon of "I: Eggcloth"I: EggclothHe comes to Europa almost the size of an Archon priest, but hollow. He needs Ether. If touched, he fears he will crumble into nothing. His arms will dock themselves, his skin will shed. He has nothing except his armor and the thousand-year-old loom clutched in his four arms. They mockingly name him "Namrask," which means "empty weaver." Like naming a Human "Norman," which, he understands, means "not really Human." Eramis separates all the newcomers so they will not retain their old pre-Dusk loyalties. Namrask is shoved into a little warren carved beneath the ice; the moon's surface is so radioactive that not even Eliksni can live there for long. The little Winterdrekhs are kind to him. Namrask realizes that they think he is too weak to earn the huge Ether ration he needs. He has been put in this warren to die. "I can work," he rasps. "I can make bandages, capes, armor lining, eggcloth, supsoak, prayer matting, watercloth. I am a weaver!" "Tall friend," one of the Winterdrekhs says soberly. "No one your size is a weaver. Why not volunteer to fight for Eramis?" Namrask shudders. He cannot fight. Not after what he saw in the Reef—that THING with its staff. Not after SIVA, Twilight Gap, London. Kridis promised that this was salvation. "Bring me broken eggs," Namrask begs, "and I will make eggcloth. How will the hatchlings be swaddled if no one weaves the eggcloth for them?" The Drekhs watch as he uses his teeth to separate the eggshell from the thin, fibrous membrane beneath. He tears it into long fibers and fastens them to his loom as the warp—the threads that run top to bottom. With two hands, he holds the loom in his lap. Carefully, he chisels open the warp with a third hand; moving too quickly will snap the eggthread. His life depends on this. His fourth hand swiftly passes the shuttle through the warp, drawing the first weft across. The thread does not snap; he has woven. "Watch me," he tells the Drekhs. "When Eramis is done conquering our enemies, we must know how to make things." They sit and watch. Their lower arms, half-grown after docking, mimic his motions. Their names are Eoriks, Oeriks, and Yriks: brother, brother, and sister. When it is done, he gives them the little scrap of eggcloth. They murmur in wonder and rub their cheeks against it. "Bring that to the camp Captain," he tells them. "Tell them that Namrask can weave if he is fed and given fiber." It is the first time he has ever made anything without ruining it on the loom.
2707363655Icon of "II: Hollowhot"II: HollowhotWhen Namrask has the strength, he uses nonfluid loop cutters to help the Drekhs join their icy tunnels with other habitats. He weaves hollowhot matting to insulate the tunnels, and soon, some places are warm enough to remove a little armor. A clutch of eggs is hatched, and the hatchlings are raised in the warren. For the first time since he fled the Tangled Shore, Namrask can think of more than his own survival. Then the warrior Phylaks, a lieutenant of Eramis, comes recruiting. On the raw ice beneath a black sky, she plays videos of Eramis raising a slab of crystal like a wall; another where she binds a Vex Minotaur in a casket of frost. "This is the future of all Eliksni. Who among you would wield this power?" she asks. He keeps his head down. "You." Namrask looks up, carefully. Phylaks's shock pistol is pressed to his brow. She puts the weapon down between them, a sign of truce, and makes the ireliis bow of respect. "You have the size of an old fighter. Why not come forward?" He is afraid his voice will fail. It comes out strong, but like another's voice: "I saw what happened the last time Eliksni reached for new power. And the time before that, and the time before that. I will not be part of it." Shrugging, Phylaks takes up her pistol and walks away. "There are many others who will take your place." Later, Yriks tries to change his mind, but Namrask refuses again. "Eramis derives authority from her ability to grant this power. She cannot give it to everyone; if she does, her authority is lost," he says. "Has she destroyed Servitors?" "I think so," Yriks says quietly. "Drekhtalk says that she broke a Servitor during a ritual to give power. To show that the old ways are done." "Of course." Will society always be based on violence? Where the basic worker is not the weaver, the farmer, or the healer, but the Drekh: one pistol, one knife, one unit of labor. Employed to steal what it can—the value of a Drekh life. And Namrask helped make that law. He rumbles. "She preaches salvation, but she cannot save everyone. She keeps Ether scarce. More than we can get alone, but not as much as we need. It is the way to rule." "You have a mind for strategy," Yriks observes slyly. "Who were you before you became our empty weaver?" "Do you know hollowhot's secret?" he asks and abruptly places some on the ground for a chattering little hatchling to play gathering-games without freezing to the ice. "Why it is so valuable as insulation?" "What is hollowhot's secret, Namrask? Why is it so valuable?" She mocks him. Namrask shows her one thread of the stuff, end-on, so she can see the little bubbles of vacuum that fill the center. "There is nothing inside it," he says. "But if you pry too hard, you break the nothing. And then it is useless."
2707363654Icon of "III: Bannercloth"III: BannerclothEuropa is colder than the void because the ice steals heat faster than raw vacuum. Locally made Ether tastes of ice and radiation, of metal and blood. Namrask realizes this is not a new Eliksni paradise; it is a very old one. And it always falls. "Do something," Yriks begs him. "We will all die here if you do not." "No," Namrask grunts, picking at his loom. He is afraid that if he goes near Eramis, he will accept her gift. "Do something," Eoriks begs him. "Find us a protector. You must have known great warriors, when you were great." "No," Namrask says again. He holds a hatchling to the heat lamp so it can bask in the warmth. He fears that anyone he calls to Europa will join with Eramis. "Do something," Oeriks begs him. "Find a way off Iiropa. If what you say is true, then Eramis will damn us all. What are you afraid of?" "Fine," he snaps. "Then I will find us a traitor." For the first time, Namrask makes the long walk to Riis-Reborn. It is built in the ruins of an old Human city and the angular, crowded architecture makes him growl in fear and bloodlust. He remembers when the Eliksni broke the walls of the Not-Quite-Last City and took what was within. Sniksis and Piksis guard Eramis's chamber. The twins make ireliis to him. "She will honor you if you honor her, O Great Akh—" "Don't say it," he growls. Not that stolen name. "I'm not here for Eramis. Where is Variks?" When Variks, the old judge, sees Namrask, he laughs. "I thought you would be in that hole forever." "You put me there, didn't you?" "Not I, sir." Variks claps two hands crosswise, one pair, then the other. "It was the day-Captain, who had no idea who you really are. Does it suit you to be forgotten, old Smokesword?" Namrask grinds his teeth. Laboriously, he lowers himself on all four arms. "I come to beg a favor." "No." Variks comes closer to whisper. "My judgment stands, woe-of-the-masses. You gave no mercy and you will get none." "You make a habit of serving queens who will abandon you," Namrask whispers back. "Eramis is doomed, Variks. She is Whirlwind-touched. As I was, once." "She knows what she risks. Why else would she have sent her mate and children to another star?" "Athrys is gone?" Woeful news; she was Eramis's guiding glint. "You always have a way out. I want a part of it—" "Now you run from battle?" The judge's voice is light, unmocking; a sincere question. "When Eramis could make you mighty again?" "I survive now as a Drekh survives. I have hatchlings; I would see them spared." "There were hatchlings on the ships you abandoned at Riis. Human infants in London—" "I am no longer the killer I was then!" "Yes, you are." "But I do not want to be! When I was on the Reef, I—" Namrask struggles. "I saw the beast Fikrul. Before that, I saw the Devil Splicers. But this debasement of our form, this revenge—it must stop, Variks. Please. Help me." "No favors," the judge pronounces. "Not for you. However…" Variks's prosthetic hand scratches letters in the snow. It takes Namrask several blinks of his second eyes to understand that it is Human script: MITHRAX. "I will make your name known to him." Variks wipes away the letters. "But this is not a favor." His metal hand touches the tattered blue banners around his waist. "In exchange, I want these redone in fresh bannercloth. I will send you the thread. You will weave for me, 'Namrask.'" Namrask tries his best. But the bannerthread is too fine, the weave too dense, and he cannot complete his task before word comes that Variks has summoned the Guardians—the Machine-spawn—to Europa.
2707363649Icon of "IV: Scattercape"IV: ScattercapeNamrask thunders into the warren on all sixes, crying out, "We must go! Death walks the ice!" Oeriks, Eoriks, and Yriks spread the word. More come than Namrask dared to hope. He warns them, "We must hide close to the Machine-spawn and steal supplies, or radiation and Ether-lack will bring us down." They leave. But not an hour later, a rifle round punctures Namrask's armor. He barely staggers, but the jet of air and Ether exploding into vacuum thrust him backwards. "A Guardian," he warns. "It will call its kin." Guardians love to gather like carrion eaters over easily slain and looted foes. Another round hits Namrask's helmet. "Those with scattercloth, give me your capes!" In exchange for the first cape, Namrask shoves his loom into a Vandal's arms. "But this is priceless," she protests. "You cannot give it!" "I will return for it," he promises. Feverishly, Namrask stitches the capes into a blanket as blood trickles down the inside of his armor. He fires his shrapnel launcher into the ice to kick up steam: "Like this!" he shouts. "Make a cloud and run!" They shoot into the ice and flee. As the ice storm settles in Europa's low gravity, Namrask crawls towards the Guardian under a blanket of invisibility. Occasionally, he emerges long enough to be seen, so that the Guardian will hunt him instead of the others. The Guardian comes for him. Namrask huddles against the ice, slowly freezing. The Humans are such gangly mockeries of the Eliksni form: two arms, two eyes in a smooth, lifeless doll-face, stubby little teeth. He remembers the Guardians he has killed—eight times. He has never revered Ghosts. He remembers the smell of burning flesh. Ordinary Humans, young and old. Their gardens and structures; their star and world. Forever remembering giving that long-ago order: Burn it. Burn it. Burn it. The Guardian nears. Namrask melts a puddle with his armor's radiators. The Guardian uses a sword tip to test the ice at the edge of Namrask's cover. Namrask makes one small sound: I do not want to die yet. A shock pistol burst scatters off the Guardian's armor. They whirl, sword down, rifle up; sights on Yriks. Foolish, brave Yriks, scurrying on all sixes, like a Drekh. She has saved him. The Guardian mocks her, saying, "Ooh, bonyenne, tu m'as tiré! Tu voulais mon attention? Ben tu vas l'avwère!" Their vehicle appears; the Guardian mounts it and pursues Yriks. Namrask never sees her again.
2707363648Icon of "V: Watercloth"V: WaterclothA few members of his group return and find him half-frozen to the ice, his limbs flexing in delirium as he calls for Yriks. As they free him, a ship lifts in the distance, shimmering into stealth, and is gone. They are stranded. "Why did you come back?" Namrask groans. "Imbeciles. You should have stayed with the others…escaped…" "I had to give your loom back," the Vandal says. She drops it on his wounded chest. He bellows. As days pass, the radio shrieks with distant transmissions. Encrypted tactical data between Servitors. Eramis's sermons. The song of the red world overhead. And occasionally, the bray of Human tongues, as a Guardian brags of a new conquest, or curses some obscene glory-trial amusement. Phylaks is dead; Praksis too. The Priestess Kridis is dead—Sniksis and Piksis with her—and the Prime Servitor is destroyed. Eramis is dead, consumed by her own power. One of the old Riis-born. Never will there be another. Namrask knew it would end this way. He has seen this every time. His fallen people have learned defeat so well that now they defeat themselves. He rages and claws at the ice. For his band of stranded survivors, he fashions shelters of watercloth: synthetic skin with thick bladders pumped full of ice to block some of the radiation. When his wound pains him, he numbs it on the ice. Turrha sees him but says nothing. He is grateful. "We must find a transmitter," he says. "We must call for Misraaks to return." But survivors are still on Europa. They seek out Namrask, bringing their hatchlings but not much Ether. And if they can find Namrask, so can those who hunt them.
2707363651Icon of "VI: Superconductor"VI: Superconductor"My father will come for you," the voice on the radio promises. "His ship is swift, his navigation sure. He studies the motions of the Light, and that Light travels even to you." There is not enough Ether. They all agree that the hatchlings should get their full supply. Everyone else receives a thin trickle. But still, they die. Namrask clings to the voice on the radio; he makes the others listen. "She is as young as some of you," he says one day. "Not much more than a hatchling." "My father will return for you," the voice says. It is idiotic to reply, but he does. "Who is your father? How can he study the Light, when the Light is denied to us?" She does not answer for a long time, but perhaps this is not her fault. The receiver is damaged, so he stitches a patch for it from superconducting threads. When she answers, she sounds annoyed. "I am Eido, daughter of Misraaks, Kell of the House of Light. He is close to the Light because he is close to the Lightbearers. My father walks beside the Guardians of the Traveler." Namrask kneels, frozen in horror. He tears the patch from the radio and stalks away. "I cannot go with them!" he snarls. Oeriks calls after him, but Namrask is too full of rage and fear. The Guardians surely will recognize him if he stands beneath the Traveler.
2707363650Icon of "VII: Time Is a Fabric"VII: Time Is a Fabric"This is Misraaks." A name without title. "To those who renounce the violence of House Salvation and seek refuge in the House of Light, I will be landing a Skiff near Asterion Abyss. Bring only what you need. We must prioritize survivors over their possessions. Trigger message repeat." "Astiirabis," Turrha says. "I know that place. We can hide in the nearby caves." "Fine," Namrask says. He seizes his loom. Everyone stares and he realizes: survivors over possessions. "I am nothing without it," he protests. Oeriks and Eoriks pull it from him. "Yriks did not die to save a loom." They have been in the cave for two days when Namrask sees that their heat is sublimating the ice. Curious, sluggish with Ether-lack, he crawls over to the nearest wall and stares. Namrask looks into another cave. And another, and another. The infinite caves reveal an infinite number of Namrask, Oeriks, Eoriks, Turrhas, hatchlings, and survivors—only—here, they are frozen dead to the ice—here, they are cooked by Cabal—here, they spill in panic from the cave as Guardians gun them down. "Get out," rasps Namrask. "What?" "Up!" he bellows. "GET UP! WE HAVE TO GO!" At the raw fear in his voice, they bundle up the hatchlings and run. As if the Light has arranged it all and the Great Machine truly does watch over them again, they hear a transmission: "This is Misraaks. I approach under stealth. I will be at Asterion Abyss in five minutes. If you seek sanctuary, come to me. If you still swear to House Salvation, then in the name of the old laws, I ask safe passage. This is a mission of mercy." Namrask hunts for the twinkling distortion of camouflage against the black sky—there! Misraaks comes from Jupiitr, using the planet's emissions as backdrop. "We should disperse," he tells Turrha. "It is unwise to crowd together at a landing zone—" Their radios shriek—a horrific emission. A Vex maser beam catches the incoming Skiff, smashing it onto the ice. Propellant, air, and Ether burst into flame. Namrask is not surprised. The Light does not reach them; the Great Machine does not watch over them. "We need to move," he says. He reaches out to Turrha, to touch her. "We should go to—" A white mist envelops her. Tiny electrical discharges cover her armor. She looks up at him and gasps. The Vex teleport delivers a Goblin inside her, shattering her body. The machine, with its indifferent red eye, raises its weapon to fire. Oeriks dies almost instantly, shot by slap fire. Eoriks leaps to him and tries to capture the escaping puff of Ether—what old faith would call the passage of his soul—as if this will keep Oeriks alive. But Eoriks is killed too. Namrask puts himself between the hatchlings and the Vex. If he can only buy them one more moment, one more breath, then that is a better legacy than he ever hoped— "TO ME!" a young voice cries. "Eliksni, to me!" Misraaks comes after all. And he is not alone. The Light is with him. And a Guardian.
2707363661Icon of "VIII: And Also Light"VIII: And Also LightThey are going to the Last City beneath the Great Machine. "What are you afraid of?" Misraaks asks Namrask. "Why are you NOT afraid?" Namrask demands. The young one bewilders him. "What life could we possibly have there? They will take their revenge on us. And wouldn't we deserve it?" "Is there something I should know?" Misraaks asks dryly. "No," Namrask snarls, rubbing his bare knees where they protrude from his shell. "Yes. I was—" He stops. "No. I cannot tell you, because then you would have to tell the Humans. And I will not make you lie." "You do not want to be who you were before," Misraaks guesses. "Would you learn a new trade?" "I would like to weave," Namrask says. "I am not good at it yet. But I might be." "Weaving is a little like splicing," Misraaks says thoughtfully. "Splicers work in metal and flesh, not warp and weft. But the goal is the same: to nurture life with art, and nurture art with your life." "I distrust Splicers," Namrask grunts and rubs his chest. What would a Splicer do to him? Fill him with machine cancer, to make him strong again? Give him the corrupted Ether, the undying madness? Misraaks's primary eyes shine. "I am an older kind of Splicer. Those who look for the Light in all things. Maybe the right kind of Splicer can weave two peoples together. As the Awoken tried do, in the Reef." "But the Light is NOT in all things. It has left us. Why look for the Light when you can see so clearly who it favors?" "It was in us once," Misraaks reminds him. "It could be again." Namrask remembers such a time, across a vast and blood-soaked distance. "Riis…I was there, you know," Namrask whispers. "At the Whirlwind. After Chelchis fell, I sent ships to follow the Great Machine. I abandoned all those Houses that could not make war. I ordered my fleet to hunt the Machine. Many rallied after us. Each ship began its own war with the Humans. But maybe, I was first." Misraaks stares at him. Finally, he says, "I understand. Our people fear the Saint too. But I doubt the Saint ever knew them by name." *** Namrask settles in the area of the Last City that has been given to the Eliksni. By day, he shares a loom with others. By night, he whispers the names of those he has lost until he falls asleep. He sleeps well until the day a Human shouts at him: "Baby eater!" Namrask turns away. But he wants to shout back. About the closed air, closed life of a spacecraft. About the hatchlings who survived and the hard decisions about those who did not. He wished now they had been depraved enough to think of devouring Human young. But he sees the young Eliksni, like Eido. He wants to wail at their promise, at their hope. Eido dislikes and avoids him, which is for the best. Eventually, Namrask learns to weave for the Humans. His favorite task is making felt, but he also learns to work in silk. He likes the silkmaker, and runs it manually sometimes, pulling the thread from the spinneret with one hand and then another, maintaining the steady, even tension, which makes the best fabric. He wishes that he could weave in Light, like the Guardian Warlocks, who make fieldweave in a secret way. Maybe Misraaks will learn how to do that. One day, a machine comes to his market stall. He combs at his shell nervously. The machine-Humans are called "Exos." They remind him of the Vex; it is easier to look at their armored shapes than the unsettling softness of the Humans and two-souled Awoken. This Exo wears a colorful mantle. "I recognize you," the machine says. He quails. "Namrask sells fabrics," he croaks, pretending not to understand. "Namrask." She laughs quietly. "I am old, empty weaver. Almost as old as you, I think. But unlike most of my kind, I remember London—and you." He holds a bolt of fabric between them. She catches two of his hands: her machine flesh is warmer than his. "Timelines are born from each moment—we live on one thread woven into a vast tapestry. But what has happened between us, on this thread, is fixed. You cannot run from it. You are a butcher. You and I are still at war," she rasps. She releases his hands. He stares at her, breathing hard. Ether smokes from his mouth. She playfully taps on all four of his hands. "I am named for an ancient goddess," she says, "with as many arms as you. In her hands are dharma, kama, artha, and moksha. Law, desire, meaning, and finally, liberation. Freedom from the war of death and rebirth. Are you freed by your rebirth as Namrask?" He repeats, "Namrask sells fabrics." "Maybe." There is laughter in her voice. "But I do not think moksha has granted you true rebirth." "I have not forgotten what you did when you were Akileuks. And I never will," she says quietly. He stole that name, like any other plunder, and used it. A Human hero's name, a great warrior and famous runner: Achilles, which means "woe to the enemy."
4010162738Icon of "I. A Path's End"I. A Path's EndAda-1 heard the chirp of a comm channel opening before a distorted voice spoke. "I've got eyes on entries and exits. Looks clear." She stepped through a rusted doorway into a courtyard—the wind whistled through the torn seams of decrepit structures and raindrops crackled on loose metal plating. She walked through the muddy soil and stopped where the Bergusia Forge used to stand. "Curses," Ada spat. Her hands fidgeted as her gaze wandered aimlessly around the nearly barren landscape. Artemis-5 perched on a broken pillar, her scope methodically rotating through doorways and windows while her Ghost floated patiently overhead; the other two members of Ada's escort lounged against a broken wall to the rear, silently watching the Black Armorer. She looked back, studying their featureless helmet plates, then quickly turned away. Her foot clanked against something hard and metallic—she stooped down and picked up a forgotten slab of Black Armory alloy, a remnant of the lost forge. Artemis kicked into the comms again. "That Forge tech? Any clues of what happened here?" Ada sighed as she studied it. "Scorch cannon sears, wire rifle cuts, kinetic ricochet marks." "Almost like there's been years of combat here," Artemis quipped sarcastically. "How astute," Ada said dryly. "There's nothing more to glean here." She took a deep breath, a useless gesture in her Exo body but a compulsion nonetheless. "Sun's fading, "Artemis said. "Devrim's got eyes on a Fallen raiding party. Not headed our way yet, but I'd rather not take chances. You have what you need?" "Hardly," Ada said. "But we won't find much else—this area has been thoroughly scavenged, same as the others." "Fallen?" Artemis asked. "With no Guardians bothering to stop them? Could have been anyone." Artemis winced. "I can only imagine how you must feel. The Vanguard had a tough call to make… planetary evacs came first." "And now they're on to exciting new frontiers, while I'm left with nothing but rubbish," Ada said, her voice full of false cheerfulness. Artemis leapt down from her vantage point and placed a hand on Ada's arm. Ada's shoulders slumped. "I am glad for the evacuations. I shouldn't have—" A howl echoed from somewhere in the complex. Artemis readied her rifle, and one of the escort squad entered the comm channel. "Pikes changed heading. We should get her out." "Are you ready?" Artemis asked. Ada studied the broken slab of metal in her hand, turning it over and tracing its jagged edges. "I'm not sure," she said, tightly clutching the piece of debris. "But what choice do I have?"
4010162737Icon of "II. Lost"II. LostThe hiss of Ada's welding torch echoed through the Armory hall, compounding into a sea of discordant noise until the seam was complete. She placed the tool down and grabbed the piece of alloy in her hand, testing the bond's strength. The actuators in her fingers whirred with effort, but as her focus shifted to the open tome on her desk, the metal promptly snapped. Ada let out an exasperated groan—two more pieces of detritus dropped on an already cluttered floor. "Did you forget to measure twice?" a voice called out from behind. Ada whirled around as Hawthorne sauntered into the hall. "Isn't that saying based on woodworking?" Ada asked flatly. Hawthorne shrugged. "Don't have any welding jokes." She gingerly stepped over a tangle of cables. "Great work environment you've got; love the décor." Ada turned to her tome with intense focus. "Can I help you with something?" Hawthorne chuckled. "I was going to ask you that. Heard the cursing all the way up the stairwell." "Can you interpret Armory schematics and machine the parts needed to assemble them?" Ada answered, without looking up. "Unlikely," Hawthorne said. "Can you convince Zavala to stop asking me when a forge will be operational again?" Hawthorne puffed her cheeks and exhaled. "Even less likely." Ada quickly flipped a page of the tome. The paper snapped, nearly tearing. "Sounds like the answer to your question is no." "Is that why you're doing this? Vanguard orders?" Ada jabbed a thumb at her own chest. "The Forges were—ARE—my legacy. It's my responsibility to continue their operation. Zavala's desires are tangential." Hawthorne stepped closer to Ada's workstation. "Help me out here. I'm not super familiar with your illustrious organization's history—was the Armory born of a dream to have the world's greatest gun oven?" Ada sighed. "The Armory was founded to stand against the Darkness, to shield humanity when we couldn't count on others to do so. The forges were simply the tools we used." "So much for that grand plan. The Pyramids rolled in, and last I checked, Mars is still missing. Titan. Mercury." "Did you come down here solely to antagonize me?" Ada snipped. "All right, all right…" Hawthorne pleaded. "Look, I know we aren't friends or anything. I'm not sure you have any of those anyway—" Ada glowered. "Right, sorry," Hawthorne said quickly. "The thing is, people around here talk a big game about putting humanity first, but then it's all Guardians, all the time." Ada nodded. "The devotion to Lightbearers can seem fanatical." "But you're not like that, Ada." Ada shook her head. "I appreciate the sentiment, Suraya, but I'm not sure how that relates to the forges." Hawthorne leaned on Ada's desk. "I think your voice is important to have around here. I want you to succeed. But you might be holding on to the past too tightly." Ada scoffed. "You presume to tell me how to carry the Armory's legacy?" Hawthorne gestured to the forge memorabilia strewn about the hall. "Not at all. But your founders didn't wake up one day with forges on the brain. They started with a problem, then designed a solution as only they could." Ada turned, her eyes thoughtful. "And you're suggesting I'm starting with a solution instead? Limiting my view?" "I'm saying I would understand if it was hard to let go of all of this when it's all you've ever known." Ada nodded. "The idea of leaving the forges behind is admittedly unnerving." "I get it," Hawthorne said. "But the old methods aren't working. Maybe it's time to carry on your founders' legacy in your own way." Ada was silent for a moment. "I should get back to work. Thank you for your advice." She jutted her arm out in a stiff handshake gesture. Hawthorne chuckled and clasped her hand around Ada's. "Good luck. But maybe try to keep the noise down, okay? It bothers my bird."
4010162736Icon of "III. Searching"III. SearchingAda-1 tapped her foot impatiently while standing in the Cryptarium. "So, can you do it?" Rahool looked up lazily from his datapad and scowled. "What a ridiculous question. Of course I can. It's a question of when I'll have the time." Ada's head tilted down. "I didn't realize we were indulging in semantics." Rahool's response was arid as he tapped away on the device. "There is no greater pleasure." "Very well. When do you think you will have the time?" "Hmm…" Rahool placed a hand on his chin. "The influx of data from Europa is significant, on top of the routine Guardian armament support. Not to mention the open-ended nature of your query…" The Cryptarch's eyes flitted as he thought through the problem. "A conservative guess would be two to three weeks." Ada groaned. "That's absurd. I can't sit around for that long." "You misunderstand," Rahool replied. "I make no statements regarding what you should do with your time." Ada gripped the Cryptarch's desk. "Fine, can I search for it myself?" Rahool shook his head. "Access to the classified archives is limited to sanctioned Guardians, Tower support staff, or the Vanguard themselves. You are none of those things." Ada scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous, I've seen that Drifter perusing this data on a weekly basis for his own amusement." "That's not— there's no way—" Rahool stammered and blushed. "I assure you, no such breach has occurred." Ada folded her arms as Rahool continued. "And even if it had, one crime doesn't excuse another." Ada leaned forward assertively. "I guess you will be of no help then." Rahool shrugged. "Not for two to three weeks, at the very least." Ada grunted and stormed off through the Cryptarium's towering doors, their colorful display of cullet glass shining on her shoulders, when she heard Rahool loudly call out after her. "What were the names again that you were querying against?" Rahool asked. "Henriette Meyrin, Yuki Satou, and Helga Rasmussen." Rahool's eyebrows lifted at the final name. "You may be in luck. It seems our interests have overlapped."
4010162743Icon of "IV. A Guiding Hand"IV. A Guiding HandAda worked to keep pace with her Eliksni guide weaving through the dimly lit and angular maze of the Last City's Eliksni Quarter. The blur of open windows and doors provided brief glimpses into their new guests' lives: Strips of purple fabric filled wash basins. Jars of unknown food clinked against each other as they boiled in oversized pots while parents softly clacked their mandibles and watched their infants nestled in gently used blankets. In the distance, attendants surrounded a humming Servitor. The guide entered a basement-level dwelling. Ada followed as they pushed through a rough cotton curtain and stood in a warm and humid room laden with myriad rugs and carpet swatches. The City's ambient glow slipped in through a singular small window while candles flickered in a pastiche of glass vessels. A series of futons had been arranged in a semi-circle in the middle of the room; there, a band of Eliksni lounged on and against the furniture, all listening to the words of a single speaker seated on the floor. The air filled with guttural clicks and low growls that Ada could make no sense of. She finally understood the performance to be over when the audience dispersed and her guide led her to sit beside the scribe. "You're the one asking questions about Europa, are you not? About Salvation?" the scribe said. Ada frowned. "You speak our language remarkably well." "I had an unusual upbringing," the Eliksni replied. "I am Eido. What do you seek, Black Armorer?" Ada sat on a futon, keeping a healthy distance from the Eliksni. "I'm searching for information from the BrayTech facilities on Europa." "And you believe we have this?" "I know some of your people defected from House Salvation. They may have seen something." Eido nodded. "They have seen many things." "One of my forebearers, a great weaponsmith, worked at the Bray facilities on Europa… but I only know a fraction of what she was doing there." "Ah," Eido said. "Always about guns." Ada frowned. "Your people are no strangers to weaponsmithing." Eido inhaled. "True. And now, improbably, both our arsenals stand together in the shadow of the Great Machine." "An alliance that makes it all the more logical for you to help me," Ada said. Eido placed her claws together. "I will not help, because I cannot. No mentions have been made of anything related to your Armory founders." Ada's gaze dropped to the floor. Eido cocked her head and observed the Exo. "Such despair. Maybe this is about more than guns after all?" Ada paused briefly. "I lost something. A part of me." Eido nodded solemnly. "Your forges, yes?" "My whole existence was tied to the Armory. To those forges. Without them, I feel…" "Without purpose?" Eido finished the thought. Ada shook her head. "This isn't— I'm not sure you could understand." Eido chuckled—a guttural grunt combined with clicking teeth. "Our history is littered with the banners of lost Houses. Most of us have worn more than one color, knelt before Kell after Kell, hoping that they would be the last." She leaned closer to Ada. "Eliksni understand the fluidity of purpose very well." "Fluidity implies a continuation," Ada replied. She sighed heavily. "But it seems my path is coming to an end." Clicks resonated in Eido's jaw. "Devils was a dead House, until Eramis made it new. Mithrax was Dusk, and now, he is Light. Paths only end when we stop walking." Ada studied the Eliksni. "This is not the conversation I was expecting." "If this settlement is going to work, it's probably best to break from old expectations," Eido said. Ada nodded and looked at the light softly radiating through the window. "I've taken enough of your time. Thank you," she said and confidently extended her arm with sincere gratitude. A clawed hand landed softly on her shoulder as the Eliksni instead thrust her datapad into Ada's outstretched hand. The befuddled Exo quickly parsed the screen. "This is something we found in the Bray archives. It is not what you were looking for, but it may help you decide where to walk next," Eido said. "I—I'll look into it, I suppose." "Good," Eido replied as Ada stood and slid the datapad under her arm. She hesitated. "Are you sure it's a good idea to give me this? How… how will it look to your allies—you helping me like this?" Eido chittered. "It will look like unity."
4010162742Icon of "V. Forward"V. ForwardLouis was the first to notice Ada. The bird's head darted in her direction as it shuffled on its post. Hawthorne turned, a brief look of surprise on her face before she grinned. "If it isn't the reclusive armorer," Hawthorne said. "I was just thinking about checking on you." Ada reached the top of the stairs and marveled at the expanse of the Last City stretching from Hawthorne's vantage point. "Oh? Was I making too much noise again?" Hawthorne shook her head. "The opposite; way too quiet down there." Ada chuckled. "Things have been going more smoothly as of late." "Glad to hear it," Hawthorne said and nodded. She removed a morsel of meat from the pouch at her waist and tossed towards Louis, who gobbled it voraciously. "So what was the answer?" "Centuries-old research on matter programming, left behind by a megalomaniac," Ada said. Hawthorne whistled. "Sounds like a trip." "It has been. I feel quite changed by this experience," Ada said, a slight lilt to her voice. "Change can be good." Ada watched engine flares weave through the City's expanse. "There was one thing from our last conversation that stuck with me." Hawthorne raised an eyebrow. "Only one? That's definitely disappointing." "You said you weren't sure if I had any friends," Ada continued. "Ada, I didn't mean to—" "If I'm being honest, social connection has never been my strong suit." "I know that it can be scary to put yourself out there. Especially with everything you've been through," Hawthorne said softly. Ada considered her words. "It can be. But I'm finding this new journey to be a little less daunting, when I'm willing to walk it with others." "Sounds like a pretty good lesson," Hawthorne said with a smirk. Ada let her gaze wander over the constellation of architecture gleaming in the Last City; the meandering grid of roadways and the rolling landscape beyond. She breathed in deeply, letting the air fill her chassis. "I should probably get back down there. I have a lot of work ahead of me," Ada said, clearing her throat. Hawthorne clasped a hand on Ada's shoulder, startling the Exo. "Don't be a stranger, Ada. You come up from your cave more often, you might find you have more friends than you think."
1510001035Riis RacerAmanda Holliday sat cross-legged on the floor of the Hangar, hands propped on her knees and elbows bent as she leaned forward. Showering sparks rained down on her clothes and bare arms, mutedly reflected in her welding goggles. The prickling sensation of the sparks on her skin was comforting, familiar. So too was the half-finished Sparrow refit her new assistant was working on. But the assistant? That was taking some getting used to. "I don't know why this is so surprising," Amanda said as she looked over at the Eliksni Vandal working a pair of arc-welders held in four hands. She laughed to herself, rubbing her cheek as a spark bounced off it. "Always wondered how y'all built stuff so fast." The Eliksni engineer—Niik—winked three eyes in Amanda's direction before returning her attention to the welding work. "Easier see too. No eye-shields," Niik explained with a smile. "Eliksni eyes-quick better than Human." Then, quieter, "Not as much as before-home, but…" "What do you mean?" Amanda wondered. Niik stopped welding, set her tools down, and reclined back with two hands on the concrete floor and two folded in her lap. She looked up at the ceiling and sighed a faint Ether mist. "Story-lives greater than now-true selves," Niik explained, then looked sidelong at Amanda. "We all lost purpose after…" Niik carefully considered the proper Human words, "…our Golden Age." It was Amanda's turn to sigh, more so in regret than Niik's sigh of patience. "You ever ridden a Sparrow before?" she asked in an attempt to change the tone of the conversation. She hadn't considered the question before asking it. Niik shook her head and focused her attention on the half-finished machine in front of her. "Too small," she said with a shrug of her upper shoulders. "Pikes stronger, but quick-run." Amanda couldn't help but laugh at that. "Darlin'," she said through the laughter, "ain't no Pike faster than my Sparrow." Niik's eyes lit up, and she sat forward at the perceived challenge. Amanda remembered the last radio conversation she had with Crow, an Eliksni phrase he used. A friendly challenge. Her pronunciation was not quite right, but the intention was. Niik delighted at the interaction. "Your boasts are hollow-hull," Niik said with a growl of laughter and clambered up onto one knee. Amanda's eyes widened for just a moment when it looked like Niik was going to pounce on her. As if she had somehow said the wrong phrase or challenged the Vandal to a duel. No weapons were drawn, however. Instead, Niik offered two hands to help Amanda up from the floor; she pulled her up with ease. "Are we gonna… race?" she asked with a nervous flutter of laughter and crooked smile. Niik nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, race."
272740668Forbidden MemoryCommander Zavala whisked silently through the Tower, his path lit only by the pale glow of the Traveler. He had postponed this trip until the dead of night, when the only souls around would be as eager to avoid conversation as he was. Here in the darkness, his title dropped away and he was just Zavala. He had spent his day both dreading and anticipating this journey. Of all his worries, this short walk had burdened him the most. His preoccupation ended with his arrival at the memorial. It was a hodgepodge of items, provided by both Humans and Eliksni. Zavala found their incongruity comforting. Reaching out, he took a candle. He closed his eyes and cast his memory back to the day of her funeral. The smell of low tide and the rumble of thunderclouds on the horizon. He felt their static charge surge through the salt air and into his body. He opened his eyes and the wick burst into flame. Zavala smiled. It was just the type of parlor trick she had always enjoyed. Zavala placed the candle amongst its extinguished fellows, soothed by the tiny, flickering flame. He reached back, calling forth another memory: Her lithe form, curled under the thin blankets in contented sleep. The predawn glow seeping into the room. Her dark curls splayed across the white pillow. Her musky, floral scent. Her clothes strewn across the furniture. He yearned to reach out and awaken her—see her drowsy smile, hear her voice. But he knew that would transform the experience from memory to fantasy; he wanted to preserve her as she was: perfect and mortal. Then the moment vanished; he was Commander Zavala once more.
1001356380Star-Eater ScalesThe harsh buzz of a sawtooth wave jolted Ekris from slumber. He groaned, slid off his cot, and slumped into the pilot's chair. Large amounts of data streamed across an array of thick glass screens while the alarm blared. He connected all the various details: heavy interference on scanners, propulsion malfunction in the main drive, erroneous flags on the proximity detectors. He looked through the porthole, a glass circle no more than five inches wide, and saw wisps of blue particulates wash past. "Collision?" he pondered. A voice called out behind him. "Still days out from the belt, nothing here to hit." Ekris pivoted around and saw his copilot. He squinted, trying to remember the other Eliksni's name, but nothing came to him. He felt bad about that. They'd been in transit awhile and he still couldn't remember this one's name. "It's Raksil," the copilot said as he focused on the instrument displays. "You make that face every time you forget my name." Ekris looked away in shame. "Strange coincidence. Had a brother Raksil." "There are many Raksil-brothers and Ekris-pilots, if you look far enough," the copilot said. Ekris wasn't convinced that was true, but it wasn't important. "Drive is down," Ekris said. "Stuck in a field of something." "Not stuck," Raksil said as he punched in some commands through the dash controls, stopping the alarm. "Just slow. Velocity steady." "No control…" Ekris chittered nervously. "If we're lucky, we'll drift out eventually." "Long road just to get to Misraaks." Raksil sat on the bulkhead and sighed. "You still think he's Kell of Kells?" Ekris' mind buzzed with an odd sensation. He didn't remember sharing that with his copilot. "Best chance I've seen," he said. "He is different, brings us together in new ways." Raksil made a click with his mandible. "Heard that before." Ekris waved his claw dismissively. "You always dissent, just to be a dissenter." "I want to free you from this obsession," Raksil replied. Ekris scoffed. "Kell of Kells is a symbol of hope for all Eliksni. You would rather we live without that?" "This myth divides us, brother," Raksil said. "We rend and tear, trying to claw our way to the top of the mountain. Then we look down and see the mountain is made of our torn banners." Something itched in Ekris's mind. Did Raksil just call him "brother"? Raksil continued his thought. "The only unity down this path is collective death. The Kell of Kells is destined to rule only the House of Silence." Ekris clicked his jaw angrily. "Why would Eliksni dream of this Kell, if the dream only harms us?" "Maybe we didn't," Raksil said with a devilish grin. "Maybe something else dreamt it for us. To keep us apart." Ekris waved his claws and stood, pacing around the cabin. "Enough. You are stretched thin by this journey; you need more sleep—go to your bunk." His mind itched again. There was only one cot in the ship. He stumbled as the dizziness overcame his senses. When he looked up, he was alone. "You've chased this dream so long you've forgotten you're asleep," Raksil said, a hint of mourning in his voice—the sound came from nowhere in particular. The pilot's console was dim and quiet. The instrument readouts had slowed and showed no warnings. Ekris looked toward the porthole and saw nothing but black, peppered with the sparse glimmer of distant stars.
3045642045Boots of the AssemblerI. Ikora Rey's blood was up. She had just left a debriefing on the previous night's sabotage of the Eliksni camp. With each detail, her blood pounded more forcefully in her ears and the Light tingled in her fingertips. Now, striding across the elevated catwalk, her temper nearly lifted her off the ground in righteous fury. Suddenly a deep, familiar voice broke through the tumult: "Anger bends the mind, as gravity bends space-time. It's a form of distortion—useful, but dangerous." Ikora turned, half expecting to find Osiris standing behind her. But she was still alone. "Like gravity, once anger reaches a critical mass, it collapses in on itself, and not even Light can escape." Ikora smiled to herself. Even in absentia, her mentor always knew just what to say. Ikora Rey ducked into an alcove and sat with her back against the cool stone of the Tower. She closed her eyes and listened to her breath. Concentrated on slowing her heartrate. Felt her muscles loosen. Once her body was stilled, she completed one of the many meditations Osiris taught her when she first began her training. She felt the Light moving through her body: first as a raging fire, then as a rushing river, and finally as a cool breeze. By the time she opened her eyes, her mind was clear and sharp. She was prepared to face her opponent. II. Saint-14 was doing munitions inventory when Osiris swept into the room. Saint put down his datapad next to a crate of grenades and stood up. Osiris scanned the shelves of guns and ammo, looking for something. Saint stood dumbly, waiting for some kind of acknowledgement. When it was clear that none was forthcoming, he called out, "Osiris. What are you looking for?" His voice was loud and strained. Osiris didn't turn from the shelves. "The Light suppressor that the Psions used on Zavala's Ghost. I need it for my research." "Zavala kept it, I think. Ask him about it," Saint replied, trying not to sound put out. Osiris faced his partner, his eyes narrowed in thought. "Very well." Then, as an afterthought, "Thank you." As the former Warlock turned to leave, Saint called out, "I was hoping we could spend some time together soon. Just the two of us." "Doing what?" Osiris inquired with a small smile. "We could fly out to the Alps," Saint suggested. "Or walk around the ruins of Prague. Like we used to." "That seems fine," Osiris said. He shrugged a shoulder. "Provided the City doesn't burn to the ground in our absence." Then after a beat: "Is that all?" Is that all? Behind his helmet, Saint frowned. "I suppose." Osiris strode from the room, leaving Saint alone with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. III. Lakshmi-2 watched Osiris from across the bustling courtyard. Of all the political creatures in the Tower, he was the one that troubled her most. Her concern was not a matter of the ex-Warlock's unpredictability. In fact, it was just the opposite. The Device had no trouble parsing his arrogant brilliance—his every move was well within the standard deviation. Yet for someone with a legendary reputation as an eccentric, his every move as of late had been shockingly moderate. It was his newfound predictability that bothered her. Perhaps the loss of his Ghost had affected him more than anyone understood. Maybe the burden of mortality had sapped his courage. It was also possible that Osiris represented a blind spot in the Vex dataset; something that only a Human could comprehend. Or perhaps instead, something obvious to the Vex overlooked by her Human mind. Whatever the case, Osiris bore watching the old-fashioned way. At least until his usefulness played out.
1688113921Boots of the AssemblerI. Ikora Rey's blood was up. She had just left a debriefing on the previous night's sabotage of the Eliksni camp. With each detail, her blood pounded more forcefully in her ears and the Light tingled in her fingertips. Now, striding across the elevated catwalk, her temper nearly lifted her off the ground in righteous fury. Suddenly a deep, familiar voice broke through the tumult: "Anger bends the mind, as gravity bends space-time. It's a form of distortion—useful, but dangerous." Ikora turned, half expecting to find Osiris standing behind her. But she was still alone. "Like gravity, once anger reaches a critical mass, it collapses in on itself, and not even Light can escape." Ikora smiled to herself. Even in absentia, her mentor always knew just what to say. Ikora Rey ducked into an alcove and sat with her back against the cool stone of the Tower. She closed her eyes and listened to her breath. Concentrated on slowing her heartrate. Felt her muscles loosen. Once her body was stilled, she completed one of the many meditations Osiris taught her when she first began her training. She felt the Light moving through her body: first as a raging fire, then as a rushing river, and finally as a cool breeze. By the time she opened her eyes, her mind was clear and sharp. She was prepared to face her opponent. II. Saint-14 was doing munitions inventory when Osiris swept into the room. Saint put down his datapad next to a crate of grenades and stood up. Osiris scanned the shelves of guns and ammo, looking for something. Saint stood dumbly, waiting for some kind of acknowledgement. When it was clear that none was forthcoming, he called out, "Osiris. What are you looking for?" His voice was loud and strained. Osiris didn't turn from the shelves. "The Light suppressor that the Psions used on Zavala's Ghost. I need it for my research." "Zavala kept it, I think. Ask him about it," Saint replied, trying not to sound put out. Osiris faced his partner, his eyes narrowed in thought. "Very well." Then, as an afterthought, "Thank you." As the former Warlock turned to leave, Saint called out, "I was hoping we could spend some time together soon. Just the two of us." "Doing what?" Osiris inquired with a small smile. "We could fly out to the Alps," Saint suggested. "Or walk around the ruins of Prague. Like we used to." "That seems fine," Osiris said. He shrugged a shoulder. "Provided the City doesn't burn to the ground in our absence." Then after a beat: "Is that all?" Is that all? Behind his helmet, Saint frowned. "I suppose." Osiris strode from the room, leaving Saint alone with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. III. Lakshmi-2 watched Osiris from across the bustling courtyard. Of all the political creatures in the Tower, he was the one that troubled her most. Her concern was not a matter of the ex-Warlock's unpredictability. In fact, it was just the opposite. The Device had no trouble parsing his arrogant brilliance—his every move was well within the standard deviation. Yet for someone with a legendary reputation as an eccentric, his every move as of late had been shockingly moderate. It was his newfound predictability that bothered her. Perhaps the loss of his Ghost had affected him more than anyone understood. Maybe the burden of mortality had sapped his courage. It was also possible that Osiris represented a blind spot in the Vex dataset; something that only a Human could comprehend. Or perhaps instead, something obvious to the Vex overlooked by her Human mind. Whatever the case, Osiris bore watching the old-fashioned way. At least until his usefulness played out.
3479737253Lightkin Grips"I am alight, but I will not be consumed." The Splicer envisioned the fire in his hand, and he closed his fist around it.
3436655867Lightkin Vest"Even in the dark, I still feel the spark of life within me." His Gauntlet roared as he drew a wide circle in the air, and the rains began to fall.
1793372050Lightkin Cloak// VANNET // CIVILIAN TERMINAL // ENCRYPTION ENABLED // // TRANSMISSION ORIGIN: EUROPA // // AUDIO CONVERSATION LOG—TRANSLATION MODULE ACTIVE // // USER: @BOTZA-GUEST // // USER: @EURFOB // :: Thank you for using VANNET :: :: Your conversation may be recorded :: :: Connecting you with your party // [email protected] :: ---------- @BOTZA-GUEST: Light grace you. @EURFOB: Variks is relieved to hear you, Misraaks. You are there, beneath the Great Machine? @BOTZA-GUEST: Yes. Without your assistance, we would never have survived the Vex attack. @EURFOB: This is clear. And from this gratitude, you now speak in Human language during private correspondence? @BOTZA-GUEST: I follow custom, and I do not wish my hosts to think I hide my words from them. @EURFOB: How gracious. But Vex attacking you when House Salvation did? Curious, yes? @BOTZA-GUEST: I have not had much time to ponder it. @EURFOB: How are the survivors? The hatchlings? Your daughter? @BOTZA-GUEST: They are all well. Eido is excited beyond words. She has dreamed of this day, but never believed it would come. @BOTZA-GUEST: Why did you not come with us? @EURFOB: The Great Machine has no business with Variks. Besides, who would keep an eye on Eramis? @BOTZA-GUEST: I thought she— @EURFOB: Always the hatchling. Nothing is forever. @EURFOB: We know this. [long silence] @BOTZA-GUEST: I must go, Variks. There is much to do. @EURFOB: Walk quietly in your own shadow, Misraakskel.
30472172Lightkin Mask"A single moment of calm is all I need." He drew his Gauntlet tight to his chest, and in his next breath, he was alone with his target.
3827066919Lightkin Strides"Amidst the chaos, I am a reservoir of silence." The Splicer focused on her breathing, seized a moment of quiet, and sent it billowing across the battlefield.
3399325807Lightkin Gauntlets"The flame of my will cannot be quenched." The Splicer rose to her feet again, somehow stronger than before.
3497822409Lightkin Plate"I am lightning, energy unbound, but directed." The Splicer felt the Arc energy crackling around him and joined with it.
517124228Lightkin Mark// VANNET // CIVILIAN TERMINAL // ENCRYPTION ENABLED // // TRANSMISSION ORIGIN: EUROPA // // CONVERSATION LOG—TRANSLATION MODULE ACTIVE // // USER: @BOTZA-GUEST // // USER: @EURFOB // :: Thank you for using VANNET :: :: Your conversation may be recorded :: :: Connecting you with your party // [email protected] :: ---------- @EURFOB: Long day's grace, Misraakskel. @BOTZA-GUEST: Light bless you, Variks. Thank you for taking this time. @EURFOB: You sound troubled. Confide. Variks will listen. @BOTZA-GUEST: The Humans are… they are not as accepting as I had hoped. They cannot see us as anything but the things of their nightmares. @EURFOB: Are we not? @BOTZA-GUEST: I thought things would change. @EURFOB: Kell you may be, but you have much to learn about being a Kell yet, Misraaks. @EURFOB: Change does not come overnight. Not for Eliksni. Not for Humans. Change takes time, effort. Change hurts. Like first-molt. @BOTZA-GUEST: I suppose. @EURFOB: Suppose nothing. Misraakskel is too eager to forget the Wolves. Do you remember what it was like to kneel to the Queen of the Reef? @BOTZA-GUEST: I thought the Humans would be different. @EURFOB: Hope is hope, reality is reality. You cannot splice all things to be as you wish. @EURFOB: No shortcuts here. @EURFOB: No excuses, either. Not for Humans. Not for Eliksni. @BOTZA-GUEST: I miss your counsel. You should visit, when things calm. Stand beneath the Great Machine as you did in the time gone. @EURFOB: No. @EURFOB: No. Variks cannot. That is then. This is now. My river does not flow backwards. @BOTZA-GUEST: But— @EURFOB: Enjoy your victories, Misraakskel. Do not let the pain of now overshadow the promise of tomorrow. @EURFOB: We should all be so lucky.
4129456190Lightkin Helm"I will focus on the emptiness." Her Gauntlet hummed behind her shield, and later, they would swear she walked between the bullets.
3973929105Lightkin Greaves"I can touch the cold without letting it in." The Splicer envisioned the heat of battle and drew it into himself until there was nothing left but crystalline silence.
3862902650Lightkin Gloves"I can see the Light. I can feel its heat." The Splicer drew the shivering hatchlings close, and they stretched as though they sat before a hearth.
2146386894Lightkin Robes"I contain the stars, the sky, the clouds above." His Gauntlet sprang to life, and the sky moved through him.
2888835735Lightkin Bond// VANNET // CIVILIAN TERMINAL // ENCRYPTION ENABLED // // TRANSMISSION ORIGIN: EUROPA // // AUDIO CONVERSATION LOG—TRANSLATION MODULE ACTIVE // // USER: @BOTZA-GUEST // // USER: @EURFOB // :: Thank you for using VANNET :: :: Your conversation may be recorded :: :: Connecting you with your party // [email protected] :: ---------- @EURFOB: Misraakskel knows what time it is on Europa, yes? @BOTZA-GUEST: My apologies, Variks. @EURFOB: No apologies. Own choices, yes? Do better. @EURFOB: What is Misraakskel seeking? @BOTZA-GUEST: Perspective. @EURFOB: [insect-like chattering] @BOTZA-GUEST: I know. I am finding myself at odds with an Exo, a leader of humanity. She does not trust our kind, and I fear what may come of her intolerance. @EURFOB: Trust is earned, yes? @BOTZA-GUEST: This is different. Blunt. Cold. @BOTZA-GUEST: She does not wish to give trust. There is no transaction. Just… anger. @EURFOB: Variks knows this. Variks also remembers Misraakskel as a soft-shelled hatchling, always mewling. Always wishing to make friends, even with the older Dregs who would push him over. @EURFOB: Misraakskel, always trying. @BOTZA-GUEST: Is peace not worth trying for? @EURFOB: With those who accept peace in their hearts? Yes. @EURFOB: Some only know war. Only want war. @EURFOB: Not all battles can be won with words. @BOTZA-GUEST: Then, what? I cannot strike at her. It would confirm all of the Humans' worst fears. @EURFOB: This is where Misraakskel and Variks differ. But perhaps… also where we are similar. @EURFOB: Do you trust any of the Humans? @BOTZA-GUEST: Yes. Some. @EURFOB: With your life? [long silence] @BOTZA-GUEST: Some. @EURFOB: There is Misraakskel's perspective. @BOTZA-GUEST: Thank you, Variks. @EURFOB: Do not thank Variks yet. The day is long, but the night is longer.
1245678091Lightkin Cover"There is nothing here, and I have no fear of nothing." The Splicer saw herself in a hundred places at once, then chose her favorite.
1248864692Lightkin Boots"I can find peace in the silence." They saw movement from within the ice and noticed the Splicer's eyes were following them.
1453120846The Path of Burning StepsWords burnt into the fearless: Follow not those who take the road less traveled, Nor those who stand behind one another in waiting. Carve fresh the stone of the obstinate mountain. Lay waste to that which is impassible. May your footfalls leave cinder in their wake, For you fuel your steps by the danger of their stride. —Code of the Devastator
1869888484Zeroneiro ShellJolur held his arms wide and concentrated. On the low table before him sat a pair of well-worn boots. The blades of the Splicer Gauntlet on his wrist whirred softly. Bask, determined to ignore him, floated over to the window and began checking Crucible scores. "I picture the Light around these old boots," Jolur said solemnly. "I picture—" "You don't have to actually say it," Bask said, pulling his shell down over his eye in a decent approximation of a scowl. "I picture the Light bending," Jolur said, louder. "I see it feeding back into reality in a perfect loop. I strum the threads of the physical plane, I bend the Light, I reshape it in my mind, and…" He closed his eyes tightly and whispered, "Geomag Stabilizers." The Gauntlet blades clattered limply to rest as he opened his eyes, looked at his boots, and grunted. Bask hovered over his shoulder. "I could get you a secondhand pair from the market without much—" "Mithrax said we shape the Light with our will," Jolur sighed as he adjusted the settings on his Gauntlet. "I just have to change one tiny value of reality, from Geomag Stabilizers NO to Geomag Stabilizers YES." "Kid, I'm starting to think I didn't rez all of your brain last time," Bask said. "Right now, I'm visualizing you being quiet," Jolur said and held his arms wide. "I picture the Light around these old boots…"
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