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865855100Wayfinder's Compass[Cimmerian Garrison] Borrowed a Wayfinder's Compass. It keeps leading me to places that are almost familiar. But there are missing pieces. I tell Glint I feel drawn here when he asks. I know he doesn't buy it, but he doesn't want to call me a liar. It's pretty deep in the caves. I found a shard of glass, stained with queensfoil. Sniffing the glass made my mouth flare with menthol. Smelled nostalgic. That's the only way I can explain it. [Ouroborea] Compass keeps leading me around here, but… only for a few weeks at a time. I feel like I know which weeks it'll be before the compass tries to bring me here. It's like an internal clock going off. I saw a Taken Wizard disappear in thin air. I feel like I should know why, but it's buried underneath a fog. I'll keep looking and see if it clears up. [Forfeit Shrine] Waking up on that gravestone was like carving a border through my brain. Sometimes I feel like things cross over it, one way or the other. But it blurs and I'm not sure if it's something new or just new to this me. I remember standing here, making a wish. I don't know if it was before or… I just know it's something I started doing… or kept doing… back when I first became a Lightbearer. I'd flick coins off the cliff and whisper little wishes—nothing big, just little stuff I thought I could get away with. Seems less silly now that I know about the Ahamkara. [Shattered Ruins] There's this spot near the Spine of Keres. Big guy, that Keres. Carrying the whole Dreaming City on his back. Her back? Every day, I realize how little I actually know, and no one seems keen on filling in the blanks. Anyway, it feels… right. Like home. Glint tells me there's some kind of palace hidden underneath the Dreaming City, but I just see more mist. Jumping might be a good idea… the worst it could do is kill me. Maybe I'll see something useful on my way down. Glint disagrees. [Keep of Honed Edges] There's something wrong happening here. When I touch the stone architecture, it feels hollow. Not physically, but like it's an imitation of what it used to be. I don't like how familiar that feels. I think I can hear voices. [Agonarch Abyss] I was standing in the bay for a long time before I figured it out. All these places, they're gateways. Not the only ones, I think. The queensfoil does the trick. Thanks, Glint. The taste is… well, it's still disgusting, still nostalgic. What does it say about me if I'm starting to like it? Now I just need to get enough so I can map out all of these secret paths. Time to go hunting.
3761898871Lorentz Driver"What about this rifle?" Skorso asks over the sound of two Brigs moving cargo. Her overseer, a three-armed Vandal named Piiksi, pulls back the drop-cloth covering it. He takes a moment to assess the way the rifle is pieced together from non-weapon components, then motions toward where the Brigs are walking. "Good meals can still spoil," Piiksi says. "Bring it. But all these spare parts can be left behind." Skorso nods in acknowledgement, but instead of immediately returning to work, she sidles up close to Piiksi, her eyes darting around the warehouse. "Is this really happening?" she asks in a whisper. Piiksi steps away from her as she sets the rifle down on a nearby crate. "Maybe. Two hands in greeting, two hands concealed. It is a matter of survival." Skorso challenges Piiksi's avoidance and circles around the crate, four eyes narrowed. "Spider's scared," she whispers again. "Isn't he?" Piiksi quickly leans in. "You say that any louder, and I can't protect you from what will happen next," he says in a sharp whisper, glancing over his shoulder. "Where would we even go?" Skorso asks, searching Piiksi's many eyes. Her supervisor's answer is a backpedaling shrug. "Don't know," Piiksi lies and gives her a toothy smile. "But like some Eliksni say: the Light provides."
1076810832Forge's PledgeIron Lord Saladin Forge is not a man to be fooled with. If you make a joke at his expense, you had best hope he laughs when he hears it—and he never laughs. Iron Lord Saladin Forge is not a man to be slighted. If you wound him, you had best hope he forgets you—and he never forgets. Iron Lord Saladin Forge is not a man to be lied to. If you mislead him, you had best hope he never finds out—and he always finds out. And if, for some unfathomable reason, you decide to pose as his friend and advisor, sow rumors within his ranks, whisper lies in his ear, and lay the full force of your foul deceit upon him… You had best hope that your worm god, your sword logic, your tithes and tributes and reams of ageless bargains are enough to keep you safe. And you will never be safe from Iron Lord Saladin Forge.
829330711PeacebondEach passing moment is marked by the click of an analog timer on the wall. When the pressure gauge reaches 100 percent, the timer releases a final click and the airlock doors grind open in the hangar bay. Lord Saladin tucks his helmet under his arm and marches inside. He is met by banners of blue and white ringing the walls, each bearing the crest of the Caiatl's empire, the Cabal Ascendancy. A pair of blue-armored Phalanxes greet Saladin at the entrance with raised rifles, but the Iron Lord strides past without a glance. The Phalanxes slowly lower their rifles and turn toward a heavily armored Valus approaching from the other side of the hangar. "You come alone?" Valus Or'ohk bellows, reaching up to wrench his helmet off. A pressurized hiss escapes as the environmental seal breaks. "You are bold, Commander." "Lord," Saladin corrects as he closes the distance between them. "My title is Iron Lord." Valus Or'ohk comes to a stop, looking down at Saladin with narrowed eyes. "Iron Lord Saladin," he tests the unfamiliar words with gnashing teeth. "You are bold." "I'm not here for flattery or your formal processions," Saladin rebukes, now within arm's reach of the Valus. Saladin looks up at him, unafraid, undeterred. "How do you want to do this?" The Valus locks eyes with Saladin, then snorts loudly and rumbles with appreciative laughter. "I have a war room," he says in a more conversational tone. No more boasts, no more chest-beating. "We are tracking the movements of Hive ships in the vicinity of the Mars anomaly." "There have been developments in the Dreaming City regarding Xivu Arath you should be aware of," Saladin replies. "Lead the way."
1028582252The ComedianZavala stared dully at the papers on his desk. Reports splayed out in front of him: Sightings of Osiris moving toward the Dreaming City. Dispatches for Saint-14 and Crow. Reams of dire investigations from Ikora. On page after page, the name "Osiris" jumped out at him. And then the name "Savathûn." He reached for an older report; something simpler, buried beneath the damage assessments from the Vex incursion in the Botza District—the smoke from the attack had barely cleared, but it felt like so long ago. He found Rahool's analysis of the Endless Night. It detailed how the Vex energies pouring from their network blocked the sun, drained the resources of the City; how the pulsing of their particular frequencies made the citizenry paranoid and susceptible to suggestion… Zavala resisted the urge to crumple the report in his fist. Instead, he stood and turned to rest his forehead against the tall window as he closed his eyes. He remembered when he ended Osiris's exile from the City and allowed him to stay in the Annex. He remembered when he spoke with him about the death of Sagira. When he consulted with him on what to do with Crow. When he brought him as counsel to meet with Caiatl. And he remembered how, each time, the sun had been shining.
4255171531The HotheadZavala swung off his Sparrow in a rocky gulch near the EDZ. Across the wash, a Cabal Legionary leaned next to a small shuttle. A Psion stood at attention nearby. "You Zavala?" the Legionary called. Zavala tried not to feel slighted. "I am Commander Zavala," he answered. The Legionary squinted and nodded slowly. "Had to make sure," it said. "Security stuff." "Let's do this quick." The Legionary pointed a fat finger at the Psion. "This Psion's gonna ask you a question. Then you tell me your answer. I go tell Empress Caiatl, and that's all." "What kind of question?" Zavala asked. The Legionary shrugged. "Only the Psion and Empress Caiatl know. Safest that way." Zavala warily approached the Psion. As it stared into him with its single eye, Zavala felt his ears ring. His hand went to his sidearm, but a vison sprang to his mind, vivid and fully formed: Zavala saw the Dreaming City. He saw Cabal ships filling the sky, spewing oily smoke. Then, an explosion—a sea of explosions, violent red and black with the fury of planet killers. Unmakers. But concentrated. Refined. Perfect for the size of the task at hand. He saw death for all in the Dreaming City, bodies facedown in the crystal grit of their palace. Mara Sov, Petra Venj, Corsairs, countless Awoken. Collateral. For at the bottom of a crater was the shattered body of a crystal-bound Hive god, destroyed at her most vulnerable moment, her trickery silenced forever. Then a war, yes, probably—but a small one. And behind it, blood on two pairs of hands. Two willing to pay the price for peace. "No." Zavala broke the Psion's gaze, and the vision stopped abruptly. The Legionary grunted. "That your official answer?" Zavala straightened. "My answer is no," he said clearly. The Legionary nodded. "Fair enough," it said and took a half-step back from the Psion. The Psion punched a code into a small wrist-mounted screen. There was a brief chime, a muffled pop, and the Psion slumped to the ground, blood pouring from a wound in its head. Zavala reached for his weapon again, but the Legionary laughed and held up a hand. "The volunteers knew that's part of the deal. Now nobody knows what the question was except for you and the Empress. Safest that way." "Gotta go and tell her your answer," the Cabal called as it climbed into the shuttle. "Hope you made the right choice!" The craft chugged into the sky, its jets spattering Zavala's boots with the Psion's blood.
725408022AscendancyPetra Venj was hunched over her workbench, reassembling a rocket launcher, when an odor prompted her to raise her head. The acrid smell lurked just beneath the gun oil and textured rubber. It was familiar but forbidding, like an uninvited memory. She followed her nose into the hallways of the Dreaming City. As the scent grew stronger, she strode with increasing urgency. She rounded a corner and spotted wisps of bitter smoke issuing from under the door to a long-disused workshop. Fearing yet another calamity, Petra burst into the room. There, she discovered Sjari, seated cross-legged on the floor, amidst a sprawling antique chemistry set. The new Techeun turned to face her unexpected visitor. "I'm sorry," she said. "Was I being too loud?" Petra coughed and waved her hands frantically in front of her face. With the door open, the room began to clear. "Are you joking?" Petra fired back. "You're smoking out the whole city. What is that stink?" "Oh," the Techeun replied distractedly, "I forgot. Apologies." Petra leaned forward to examine Sjari's face. The new Techeun's pupils were shimmery and dilated, as if a tiny nebula swirled inside her eyeballs. Suddenly, Petra realized what the smell was. "Are you trying to brew queensfoil?" Petra laughed. "I was," Sjari replied, "but I… got lost." "You're lucky I came," Petra chided. "Too much of that stuff, and you'll leave your mind in the Ascendant Plane." "We need to find the Ley Lines," Sjari said, as if suddenly recalling her original purpose. "We need to find Queen Mara." "You're right." Petra was suddenly somber. "We do. Queensfoil is a good idea. Keep at it." "But next time," she cautioned, wrinkling her nose, "take it to the courtyard."
1622998472VulpeculaEmpress Caiatl brooded over a holographic display of the Dreaming City. The map was marked with bombardment targets, landing zones, and forward operating bases, which had been decided by an emergency convention of her military advisors. Now all that remained was for the empress to order the attack. Taurun entered quietly, carrying a datapad. She stamped her foot lightly to announce her presence. Caiatl did not look up. "As a princess," the empress said, "I heard many stories of the Awoken from my father's mythkeeper. Stories of spaces beyond time. Of the dragons that bend reality. Stories of a whole city, built by wishes." She sliced the air with her tusks in annoyance. "It would be a waste to destroy it." "But perhaps a strategic necessity." Taurun bent both knees slightly and held up the datapad, indicating a discovery. "Lord Saladin approached us on behalf of the Vanguard. He confirms what we already suspected. Savathûn, the Witch Queen, is in the Dreaming City." "A captive?" Caiatl looked up. Taurun thought she detected a concealed note of hopefulness in the ruler's tone. "It's unclear." Taurun clicked her teeth in equivocation. "Informants on the ground report that she's confined, but the Psions insist she traveled there of her own free will to escape Xivu Arath." "A voluntary prisoner." Caiatl glowered. "This smells of Hive trickery." "It does, my empress." Taurun lowered her brow in deference to her ruler's mood. "However, Mara Sov is powerful, and no stranger to subterfuge. It's fair to assume that she has a plan in place." "So does Savathûn." Caiatl clicked off the holographic display. Darkness rushed into the room. Taurun could see the consequences of such a decision weighing heavily on her ruler's brow. Then, suddenly, the weight lifted—the empress had decided. "Have Lord Saladin return to Zavala with a message."
2066434718Canis MajorPetra Venj and Ylaia sat together in a courtyard as the waning dusk of the Dreaming City settled in around them. "I began the training first," Petra explained, "but I found it—difficult. It didn't come naturally to me. Not like this." She nodded toward the grenade launcher sitting beside her. "Imar didn't make it any easier. He was one of the oldest, and the only male Techeun I ever met. I never felt like he gave me an honest chance." Petra paused to consider. "Maybe he'd already looked in the future and saw that I'd washed out." "I didn't know exactly how unsuited I was until my sister started her training," Petra continued. "Right away, Pinar and I began having long conversations inside our dreams. We'd talk all night and wake up with full memories of what we'd said. That was the first time I realized how powerful she'd become." Petra lowered her eyes. "Of course, Pinar was Imar's favorite. And the more quickly she progressed, the stronger our shared dreams became. It didn't take long before it was more than just talking." "She began to manipulate the dreams—changing locations or her shape. I couldn't keep up. It was like being a passenger in my own head. Her dreams became my nightmares." Petra shook her head, as if dislodging an unwelcome memory. "That's when I quit the training and the dreams stopped." "Eventually I found my place in the Corsairs," Petra mused, "but part of me wishes I had finished my training as a Techeun. If I had, maybe I could still find Pinar out there, in a dream somewhere." She plucked a blade of grass from between the paving stones and tossed it into the breeze. After a pensive moment, Petra focused again on Ylaia. "So, my suggestion is to give the training a chance. If it takes, you'll know. And if not," she patted the grenade launcher at her side, "we've got plenty of other jobs for you."
3044460004Iota DraconisSjari's eyes snapped open as the telltale sizzle of a fusion rifle pierced the miasma of the Ascendant Plane. The Techeun had been sitting against the same crumbling wall for over two weeks as an unrelenting sludgy river of grey fog flowed past her, the damp air clinging to her skin. The stench of the Taken permeated her nostrils: ozone, gun lubricant, and the sickly sweet burn of soulfire. The fusion rifle sounded again, closer this time. The shot was met with garbled hisses and return gunfire as the Taken rallied. After her abandonment, Sjari had tried to move as little as possible so as not to attract the attention of the Taken patrols that periodically swept the area. But the fighting moved closer, now a dozen meters from her hiding place. She quieted her fear and let her mind go lax, encouraging them to overlook her. She had staved off the prying minds of the Taken Psions by lowering her heart rate and entering a deep meditative trance, sometimes for many hours at a time. But each time she re-emerged into her body, its demands became harder to ignore. She was desperate for food, for water, for anything. Despite all her training, she was nearing the end of her resolve. Until she heard a voice—a soft, clear whisper in her ear: "Have faith, my Techeuns. You are lost, but not forgotten. Help is on the way." It seemed that Queen Mara's promise would finally come to pass. There was yet hope.
3472875143Wolftone DrawThe slithering dark is cold against my face. I cannot speak, cannot breathe, I reach for Sagira but then I remember… I form a fist but feel nothing, I am bound, and as I thrash the images cut fissures through my mind— Someone… the Awoken prince? He helps me to my feet… but still I struggle in the dark, and now SHE is standing, thanking him, but she uses my voice, MY voice— She has stolen my form, my voice, but someone will see my failure and cast her out… they MUST— A glimmer of sunlight… how long has it been? Zavala looks at me—at her, considers her words, poison cloaked in wisdom. I cry out, he must know. Zavala, listen, LISTEN, you KNOW me, you know not to— The smell of night flowers… I am walking—SHE is walking through a moonlit garden, and there is Ikora, speaking, laughing, nodding… Look, Ikora, LOOK AT ME, DON'T YOU SEE IT— Pay attention, pay ATTENTION, I taught you better than this— A woman—an Exo—sits before me and sways, eyes vacant, but inside she is sinking as well… now her voice, her TRUE voice, humming, a gyre of sound, and the Exo sways faster and faster— I hear his voice and push to the surface. Saint. No no NO I scream but there is no sound. He looks into her eyes, he smiles, he reaches for me but it is not me, Saint, that is not ME, PLEASE, please— I am weeping but I cannot weep. I am nothing, only heat and hate, only sickness and shame. "Trust me," I hear my voice say, and I drown again.
1337707096Chrysura MeloThere's a saying among con artists: "Half the fun is showing the mark which cup hid the ball before you take their money." Savathûn understands. In her crystalline prison, she reflects on all her surreptitious winks and little nods. The risks taken and the boundaries pushed to keep herself entertained and her Worm fed. Before… Osiris stumbles as he walks through the Last City. Beneath his robes, something erupts in a frenzy of motion. He pauses to compose himself and then walks on, trailing careless spatters of black fluid. Before… Osiris watches the Crucible match unfold. He does not cheer for either opponent. When a Ghost appears to revive the defeated warrior, Osiris leans forward in careful study. When Saint places a hand on his forearm, Osiris holds impossibly still just to see what the other man will do. Before… Osiris sits by the campfire as Crow and the Guardian share a drink. Osiris watches them with rapt attention. Crow is laughing. He passes the bottle, and Osiris, hands numb, puzzles at it. His mouth hangs in a half-smile before he takes a long drink, slaking a bone-deep thirst. Before… Osiris takes a shaky step forward. The High Celebrant howls in the catacombs, and he hears his sister's voice buried in its roar. He feels his heart beating in his chest and is so enraptured by the sensation that he forgets to be frightened. Before… Savathûn, physical form a twisting instar, emerges from the shadows and crawls over the shattered pieces of the Ghost. She reaches toward the ruined man. Before… Savathûn squeezes through the calcified channels of ascendant energy and manifests within the dangling Ahamkara skull. The man standing below the netting senses her appearance. His Light flares as he draws his weapon with impossible speed. She has only a moment: She pushes her face down through the ropes, opens her mouth, and sings. The man stops, then slowly holsters his weapon. He turns, crosses his arms, and forgets. She melts awkwardly back into the skull as best she can, though a tangle of spindly elbows, licorice-black, still juts from its sockets. She turns her attention to her quarry across the gap and hums her song softly to mask herself. Soon, the man below begins to hum along with her. She smiles.
3184681056FractethystAmanda Holliday finished welding the new fluid catch to the underside of the Ether tanks with a satisfied grunt. She wriggled her way backwards into the corridor and bumped into the legs of the massive Eliksni who was crouched behind her. "Mithrax!" she scolded, pulling off her welding helmet. "Amanda," Mithrax replied. "You are unexpected, but welcome. You are improving our Ether tanks?" "I threw a fresh fluid catch on there, yeah," Amanda shrugged as she repacked her tools. "It's nothing you couldn't do yourselves, but I was passing by." Mithrax gazed across the Botza District for a moment. "I find that unlikely," he said wryly. Amanda laughed. "C'mon now. You know what they say about gift horses." Mithrax cocked his head. "Forget it," she said. "So, how've y'all been doing down here? Since, y'know…" she trailed off. "Since the Human and Vex attacks have ceased, we have been well," Mithrax said, standing to his full height as he pulled Amanda to her feet. "With the Endless Night lifted, resources are more plentiful. I see your people and mine moving forward together." "Yeah, it's nice," Amanda agreed. "Things are happening now I wouldn't have dreamed of a few months ago. The other day, I saw a group of Eliksni at the Bazaar picking out Ghost shells!" Mithrax's laughter was a deep rumble. "Yes, the empty shells are quite beautiful. Would you introduce me to your Ghost, Amanda? I would enjoy meeting them." "Ooh, sorry," Amanda chuckled. She put two fingers to her wrist. "Still got a pulse. No Ghost for me." Mithrax balked. "You are not a Lightbearer?" "Nope," she said, "just a regular person." Mithrax thought for a moment. "To aid as you do without the gift of the Light…" he said, bringing a clawed hand to his chest and bowing. "There is much my people would learn from you." Amanda shifted from one foot to the other and scratched at her neck. "Afraid I ain't much of a teacher," she said quietly. Mithrax smiled. "I find that unlikely."
1399243961Reed's RegretA ceiling light flickers to life with a buzzing click, radiating a florescent pink glow. Moths scatter among the racks of weapons mounted on the walls. Reed-7 ducks into the room, barely able to shut the door behind him. The space is little more than a closet: an arms locker stuffed to the ceiling with a collection of weapons. His hip brushes past a workbench, where a black-and-gold-plated fusion rifle marked with the Eye of Osiris rests. He sinks into the seat at the workbench, shoulders slouched forward. The chair groans in protest under his weight. There are notes scrawled on loose papers around the fusion rifle, all in his friend Shayura's handwriting. A fine layer of dust covers everything. Reed turns the fusion rifle over in his hands. He remembers when Saint-14 gave this to Shayura for her accomplishments in the Trials. He remembers a few months later when Shayura had a breakdown during a match and nearly killed another Guardian. He remembers the fallout. The anger. The pain. "Do not worry for Shayura," Osiris had told him. Reed can still hear his voice haunting the back of his mind. "I am no stranger to these kinds of traumas. I can look after her. Guide her." Reed's grip around the fusion rifle tightens. "Show her the way back to clarity." His hand trembles. "You can trust me."
2786418831Icon of "I - Ambush"I - AmbushCaiatl stands on the bridge of her flagship, six destroyer-class warcraft at her flanks. Weeks of intelligence and a handful of dead spies have brought her to a single point in space. This moment of opportunity. A massive, reinforced viewport extends from beneath her feet to the ceiling of the bridge. Through it, dead-still azure banners obscure the distant Awoken Reef. From Caiatl's perspective, it appears as a slurry of glitz and dust to be swept away at her command—an idea her advisors spoke of all too frequently. Their soft conflict with one city had left some eager for a decisive victory in another. It was a distraction. In the space between Caiatl and the Reef, just beyond the unmoving banners, malachite-licked wisps of intent tear open the space between her and the shimmering dust. Long black spindles of Hive workmanship pierce the rift first, preceding a massive Tomb Carrier twice the size of her flagship. Caiatl addresses her bridge officers. "Wait until they're through and cannot flee." Her destroyers take up flanking positions opposite of her own as Caiatl orders her flagship to maneuver above the massive Tomb Carrier. When the rift shuts, the order comes over Cabal comms: "Strike." The six destroyers spring their diversionary attack. Caiatl feels the pressure waves from their silent cannons wash over her as their shells detonate. Tomb Carrier and Cabal warcraft exchange a harrowing gauntlet of ordnance. The diversion is working. "Point us straight at their midsection. Launch ballista crews," Caiatl barks. "Inform me when they've taken the bridge." Emerald flare wells deep in the Tomb Carrier's main gun like a brewing cauldron lined with obsidian teeth. The barrel: a massive column of vertebrae from some leviathan creature, ignites with ten thousand Hive runes. The Tomb Carrier belches streams of malefic flame that effortlessly obliterates two spearheading Cabal destroyers. Caiatl steps forward in horror as their hulls erupt in a series of soulfire explosions. "Don't let that gun fire again! Protect our destroyers!" She pivots to her navigation office. "Bring the ship to minimum jump speed. Full power to the mains!" Caiatl thrusts a finger at the Tomb Carrier. "Engage the Aries ram and prepare for impact!" The flagship hurtles toward the Tomb Carrier, unleashing a full salvo of cannons and warheads to soften the Carrier's carapace. Caiatl turns to a bridge crew Legionary as the Tomb Carrier rapidly expands in the viewport behind her. "Fetch my shield." *** On the other side of the Reef, Queen Mara Sov watches through a Dreaming City aperture as the battle unfolds on her borders. The inscrutable expression on her face twists with each distant explosion. Petra wishes the small tensing motions would give some indication of what her queen is thinking. Instead, she sees only the cold stare of one predator assessing the size and strength of another. Petra looks to the knife Mara is idly toying with and notices a detail she hadn't before: a pair of kestrels etched into the blade, wings intertwined, linework so fine that she has to squint to recognize their silhouettes. Petra frowns. "My queen?" she asks, but Mara does not shift her attention from the battle. "Caiatl's war games will keep Xivu Arath occupied while we focus on recovering our lost Techeuns," Mara says. She uses the point of the knife to trace the longest line along her palm. "Neither will be able to launch a full-scale attack on the Dreaming City while the other is at her throat." "Savathûn first?" ventures Petra. Mara's stoic façade cracks. She looks down at the blade, at the twin kestrels, and sees something in her own reflection that unsettles her. "Savathûn first," she agrees, sheathing the weapon so she doesn't have to think about it.
2957532337Pathfinder's HelmetNEW COVEN - I Petra stood at the bordering cliff's edge of the Divalian Mists, wrapped in a concealing vapor. Beside her, Illyn, Techeun Coven Mother. A deluge of water spewed from deep within the stone below; gentle tremors rippled through their bodies without notice. The pure sky above them tore like well-worn fabric as fronds of malignant Taken growth crept into the Dreaming City. "They will be upon us soon. It was not enough to simply halt Oryx's advance," Petra said. She had spent months of conversation building the kindling to an idea in Illyn's thoughts prior to the Battle of Saturn: a new Coven, a new class of sister recruits. Now, with the queen's flagship in ruins and the Coven missing several of its most skilled Techeuns, there was no longer the luxury of refusal. "I can't hold the Reef with Corsairs alone. I can't search for the queen with looking glasses and a depleted armada. We need more Techeuns, Illyn. You know I'm right." Illyn shook her head. "We are not weapons for the Queen's Wrath to command…" The Coven's reluctance to forge the next link in the chain of their lineage was a strong one. Since the formation of Eleusinia and the exploitation of Riven, the Elder Techeuns had grown protective of their arts. Techniques and texts were kept close. Despite all that, Petra knew Illyn had always been listening to her words. She too had dreamt of the Harbinger's failure. Of Oryx Taking her sisters. "…We will snap shut the Ley Lines and seal the city," Illyn concluded. "No!" Petra retorted. "The queen is lost and might still return." She turned to the Coven Mother. "Of your seven, how many are still alive?" Petra felt a mournful flame stoking beneath Illyn's visor. "Precisely," Illyn said. "We haven't the strength." "Then heed my requests." Petra waved away the mist between them. "Train more sisters." Illyn finally broke her gaze with the sky and scowled at Petra. "We haven't the time. Training spans decades." "Make. It. Work," Petra demanded before taking a breath and continuing. "Illyn, I will do whatever you need. Please, can we work through this together?" Illyn's head sunk. She leaned over the cliffside—over the stream of plummeting mist—and watched the flow of water drop into endlessness. "Send me your candidates. I hope they are stronger than you were."
1049436160Pathfinder's TunicDURESS - III Sjari shifted on the wooden operating table. Why must she be the first? She probed the jelly-like substance smeared across her forehead as Elder Kalli entered the room. "Don't touch that. It's an antiseptic… and a binding agent," Kalli said, placing a sizeable blue-crystal-adorned mask next to an assortment of scalpels, hooks, and erosion stencils on her back table. Each tool was etched with ceremonial iconography, and freshly sharpened. "Normally, it takes years to become an Adept among our ranks… but the Queen's Wrath believes time is short. If you survive, these augments will expedite your training and enhance your abilities." Kalli turned away to work a mortar and pestle. "You will need to learn to focus under duress. Remove your mind from this place. Sink into the cosmic, project out from yourself. There is no pain, no flesh, no nerves." Sjari gripped the sides of the operating table and pressed her back flat, until no air existed between her and the surface beneath—until she felt herself a part of it. She told herself to ignore the grinding of the pestle and thought about how Petra had taught her to use the physical as a transitionary conduit to the Ascendant. "Drink this," Kalli ordered, handing Sjari a small cup of queensfoil tea. Sjari opened her eyes and released her grip as her meditation broke. "Yes, Elder sister. Give me a moment to focus, please," she pleaded, hastily gulping down the tea. "You think my voice is sharper than this knife?" Kalli asked, lifting the scalpel from her back table. "Duress. You must push through it if you are to survive. Be strong, or you will die. This is your final test." Sjari drank quickly and pressed herself to the table once more. She focused on her fingertips and the feel of the hand-worked wood. The grain formed diminutive pathways for her nails to trace; tiny patterns hidden away within the enormity that surrounded them, only revealed by shrinking one's perspective. She let herself drift. Kalli threaded the thin metal edge directly through to the bone of Sjari's skull. A line of incision opened a wave of red. Searing penetration through the layers. Overwhelming electrified senses. They gave way to a calming sting in the discordant firing of nerves. A pattern. The texture. The split between what was and what could be. In her mind's eye, Sjari saw the Ley Lines unfurl like budding petals of a living blossom. Nebula-like plumes of pollen. She let herself slip away until the pain of her flesh was only one of many choices before her.
1574187016Pathfinder's GripsWAYFINDING - II Ylaia placed her hands on the focusing crystal once more. It had been months since she had seen the stars. Her view every day was instead of the same stone chamber she shared with twelve others; it doubled as both training ground and lodging for a new crop of Techeuns. The mustiness made Ylaia crave the open air of the Dreaming City's skyward turrets. She imagined them piercing the sky like masts and drawing the clouds into sails. In her mind, the whole city sailed through the Ascendant Ocean, navigating the Ley Lines like currents. Ylaia placed herself there: a voyage, a turret crow's nest in search of distant land, ascendant anchors restraining cloud-sail billows against the wind of her will. She tried to introduce that place to this one, to let them meet and exchange atmosphere. "Make this real," she thought… but it was nothing more than thought. The concepts were familiar, but the execution was still foreign. Ylaia adjusted the crystal in her hands, as if the orientation mattered. Of all her sisters, only she still couldn't shape the Ley Lines. "They're going to shift soon, you know," Austyn chided. "I know," Ylaia spat back without looking. An explosion shook the room, raining plumes of dust over them and breaking her concentration. "Damn it!" Ylaia slammed a fist into the smooth stone and cast the crystal orb across the floor. "Why are we training in a war zone?" Austyn watched the crystal skip to the edge of the chamber. "This place is built upon a crossroads of Ley Lines. If you can't align with them here…" "Don't say it," Ylaia hissed as she stood to retrieve the crystal. "I need to try again." As she walked, the wall before her illuminated and split into a doorway. Petra Venj entered the chamber, haggard, soot dulling the sheen of her armor. Ylaia stopped in her tracks. She hid away her embarrassment despite knowing that Petra hadn't seen her cast away the focusing crystal. Petra's foot tapped the crystal. She bent and scooped it from the ground and looked to Ylaia's empty hands. "Do not lose this. There aren't many left." "My apologies. I… I need to try again." Petra scanned the faces of each of the thirteen would-be Techeuns before her. The creases beneath their eyes drew deeper from stress and lack of sleep. "I had trouble just the same. Let me show you."
2675526370Pathfinder's LegguardsJOURNEY - IV Austyn sat in silence with eyes shut. Ley Lines swept over her in waves—in pulses, which she slowly brought into alignment with her own. Entanglement. It was not the first time she had pressed herself into symbiosis with the Ascendant Plane. She'd been through the thoughts of all the sisters in her Coven. She had dreamt with Petra and harvested secrets from her, with the Queen's Wrath being none the wiser. Austyn knew they were meant to save Queen Mara Sov. They were meant to find her and restore the throne. She had been searching the Ley Lines for a path to the queen each night after her training. Her Coven sisters lay sleeping all around her body, but her mind flew through countless panes of prismatic glass. As they shattered, she flittered from one plane to the next, catching momentary glimpses of incommunicable wonder. In the distant cosmos far ahead, Austyn saw a darkened haze of indecipherable noise. Somewhere nestled in the Ley Lines, this shadowed spot was growing. Austyn knew Mara Sov was distant. She knew the queen had obscured herself from her enemies. Austyn had felt a presence reach from the noise toward the Dreaming City more than once. Tonight, she would reach back. Austyn focused her will on a path to the distant noise and, as she did so, it was. The way was open, but still so far. She reached out with her physical body, placing a hand in the air before her and splitting the oxygen with her touch. She carved a slit in reality, through the molecules of the air, and the path anchored to it at her command. The noise descended upon her, and instantly, she was at the precipice. Hand pressed, frozen, paralyzed, and awash in insidious whispers that shredded the doorway into open nothing. It tore her consciousness across the cosmos to a grand terrace of onyx swords and emerald flame reigning over a red harbor. Fingers reached like blades from distant hollows. Screaming noise upon noise. A lone figure stood on the terrace aside two empty thrones. Testing. Prodding. Tasting. Breeding war. "Austyn!" A familiar voice pried her back into the waking world. "Austyn, are you all right?" She woke, soaked in sweat and heat. Petra Venj stood over her, gripping her shoulders. Austyn struggled to breathe. Her eyes met Petra's. "Austyn?" They'd leave you behind if they knew what you just saw, she thought. "Just a nightmare," Austyn reassured the Queen's Wrath. "Thank you for waking me."
401152189Pathfinder's HoodTHIRD-STRING WITCHES - V Petra watched Sedia preside over the thirteen of the new Coven. A mixture of pride and fearful anxiety knotted her stomach, as if the interior of her skin was being tugged into her gut by warm sinew strings. She held the shape of her smile until they had taken their positions within the Blind Well. Austyn, Ylaia, and Sjari formed the core of the party, with the others interlinking in an exterior circle. They situated themselves at key points around a thrumming Wayfinder's Compass that bent the air into wild chromatic slurries. The Well awakened. They prepared their minds. Slipped into meditation. Communion in searching. Thirteen voices spoke as one, and then silence as the Well dropped into prisms of glass beneath the novice Coven's feet. Not but a moment ago, they thirteen stood within the Blind Well, hands and minds interlocked. Now they cascaded through a river of possibility, will, and intention. It was not long before the connection was made. Queen Mara Sov's voice filled their thoughts, and they drew to it like gravity. The Coven sisters skipped between Ley Lines, ricocheting from time to place until they found themselves swirling in the whirlpool accretion of a brilliant celestine goddess. Their queen. Not far beyond it, Austyn again saw the noise. She kept her eye upon it while each of her sisters reached out, until the image of Mara Sov manifested and her words found footing in understanding. They focused their will upon her words, and before them, a pale screen of fog and glass gave way into a distant Ley Line beyond Sol. "You have done well, my Techeuns," said Mara, stepping from the nothing and into their presence. She placed her hand on the Wayfinder's Compass. "Take me home." The Coven turned their minds back to the Dreaming City, to safety, to Petra. But as they began their return journey through the Ascendant Plane and across the Ley Lines, they felt the presence of another watching. At the edges of the accretion, a din of distorted noise pursued them. Mara glowered at Austyn before turning and raising her palms. With a single word, the Ley Line shattered behind them, sending a lance of energy through the heart of the noise as they sped away toward the Dreaming City. "I will not suffer a bloodied mongrel at my heels," whispered Mara. "Keep your focus. She will be back." Austyn could feel the noise encircling them again, as it had done to her that night in her bed. It would suffocate them in this dream. Each time the Coven shifted Ley Lines, so too did the noise. She knew they could not escape it, and through her, so did her sisters. It descended upon them, and as it grew closer, the noise manifested into whispers. Austyn's mind could think of nothing but one name: Xivu Arath. She could see the Dreaming City, but the image wasn't clear. The sharpness of the connection was darkening. Her sisters felt her worry. They did not have the strength to escape. Their minds aligned on an action. Austyn grabbed the compass and placed it in Mara Sov's hands. "We will ensure your arrival." Each sister shifted her thoughts from the Dreaming City to her own corner of the Ascendant Plane, and with a burst of will, they scattered themselves across the Ley Lines. The noise halted momentarily and split in every direction to follow them. Queen Mara Sov crashed to her feet as she connected with the floor of the Blind Well. "My queen!" Petra looked to the quickly sealing rift from which she fell. "Where are the others?"
430504837Pathfinder's HelmNEW COVEN - I Petra stood at the bordering cliff's edge of the Divalian Mists, wrapped in a concealing vapor. Beside her, Illyn, Techeun Coven Mother. A deluge of water spewed from deep within the stone below; gentle tremors rippled through their bodies without notice. The pure sky above them tore like well-worn fabric as fronds of malignant Taken growth crept into the Dreaming City. "They will be upon us soon. It was not enough to simply halt Oryx's advance," Petra said. She had spent months of conversation building the kindling to an idea in Illyn's thoughts prior to the Battle of Saturn: a new Coven, a new class of sister recruits. Now, with the queen's flagship in ruins and the Coven missing several of its most skilled Techeuns, there was no longer the luxury of refusal. "I can't hold the Reef with Corsairs alone. I can't search for the queen with looking glasses and a depleted armada. We need more Techeuns, Illyn. You know I'm right." Illyn shook her head. "We are not weapons for the Queen's Wrath to command…" The Coven's reluctance to forge the next link in the chain of their lineage was a strong one. Since the formation of Eleusinia and the exploitation of Riven, the Elder Techeuns had grown protective of their arts. Techniques and texts were kept close. Despite all that, Petra knew Illyn had always been listening to her words. She too had dreamt of the Harbinger's failure. Of Oryx Taking her sisters. "…We will snap shut the Ley Lines and seal the city," Illyn concluded. "No!" Petra retorted. "The queen is lost and might still return." She turned to the Coven Mother. "Of your seven, how many are still alive?" Petra felt a mournful flame stoking beneath Illyn's visor. "Precisely," Illyn said. "We haven't the strength." "Then heed my requests." Petra waved away the mist between them. "Train more sisters." Illyn finally broke her gaze with the sky and scowled at Petra. "We haven't the time. Training spans decades." "Make. It. Work," Petra demanded before taking a breath and continuing. "Illyn, I will do whatever you need. Please, can we work through this together?" Illyn's head sunk. She leaned over the cliffside—over the stream of plummeting mist—and watched the flow of water drop into endlessness. "Send me your candidates. I hope they are stronger than you were."
2606405484Pathfinder's ChestplateDURESS - III Sjari shifted on the wooden operating table. Why must she be the first? She probed the jelly-like substance smeared across her forehead as Elder Kalli entered the room. "Don't touch that. It's an antiseptic… and a binding agent," Kalli said, placing a sizeable blue-crystal-adorned mask next to an assortment of scalpels, hooks, and erosion stencils on her back table. Each tool was etched with ceremonial iconography, and freshly sharpened. "Normally, it takes years to become an Adept among our ranks… but the Queen's Wrath believes time is short. If you survive, these augments will expedite your training and enhance your abilities." Kalli turned away to work a mortar and pestle. "You will need to learn to focus under duress. Remove your mind from this place. Sink into the cosmic, project out from yourself. There is no pain, no flesh, no nerves." Sjari gripped the sides of the operating table and pressed her back flat, until no air existed between her and the surface beneath—until she felt herself a part of it. She told herself to ignore the grinding of the pestle and thought about how Petra had taught her to use the physical as a transitionary conduit to the Ascendant. "Drink this," Kalli ordered, handing Sjari a small cup of queensfoil tea. Sjari opened her eyes and released her grip as her meditation broke. "Yes, Elder sister. Give me a moment to focus, please," she pleaded, hastily gulping down the tea. "You think my voice is sharper than this knife?" Kalli asked, lifting the scalpel from her back table. "Duress. You must push through it if you are to survive. Be strong, or you will die. This is your final test." Sjari drank quickly and pressed herself to the table once more. She focused on her fingertips and the feel of the hand-worked wood. The grain formed diminutive pathways for her nails to trace; tiny patterns hidden away within the enormity that surrounded them, only revealed by shrinking one's perspective. She let herself drift. Kalli threaded the thin metal edge directly through to the bone of Sjari's skull. A line of incision opened a wave of red. Searing penetration through the layers. Overwhelming electrified senses. They gave way to a calming sting in the discordant firing of nerves. A pattern. The texture. The split between what was and what could be. In her mind's eye, Sjari saw the Ley Lines unfurl like budding petals of a living blossom. Nebula-like plumes of pollen. She let herself slip away until the pain of her flesh was only one of many choices before her.
1211181652Pathfinder's GauntletsWAYFINDING - II Ylaia placed her hands on the focusing crystal once more. It had been months since she had seen the stars. Her view every day was instead of the same stone chamber she shared with twelve others; it doubled as both training ground and lodging for a new crop of Techeuns. The mustiness made Ylaia crave the open air of the Dreaming City's skyward turrets. She imagined them piercing the sky like masts and drawing the clouds into sails. In her mind, the whole city sailed through the Ascendant Ocean, navigating the Ley Lines like currents. Ylaia placed herself there: a voyage, a turret crow's nest in search of distant land, ascendant anchors restraining cloud-sail billows against the wind of her will. She tried to introduce that place to this one, to let them meet and exchange atmosphere. "Make this real," she thought… but it was nothing more than thought. The concepts were familiar, but the execution was still foreign. Ylaia adjusted the crystal in her hands, as if the orientation mattered. Of all her sisters, only she still couldn't shape the Ley Lines. "They're going to shift soon, you know," Austyn chided. "I know," Ylaia spat back without looking. An explosion shook the room, raining plumes of dust over them and breaking her concentration. "Damn it!" Ylaia slammed a fist into the smooth stone and cast the crystal orb across the floor. "Why are we training in a war zone?" Austyn watched the crystal skip to the edge of the chamber. "This place is built upon a crossroads of Ley Lines. If you can't align with them here…" "Don't say it," Ylaia hissed as she stood to retrieve the crystal. "I need to try again." As she walked, the wall before her illuminated and split into a doorway. Petra Venj entered the chamber, haggard, soot dulling the sheen of her armor. Ylaia stopped in her tracks. She hid away her embarrassment despite knowing that Petra hadn't seen her cast away the focusing crystal. Petra's foot tapped the crystal. She bent and scooped it from the ground and looked to Ylaia's empty hands. "Do not lose this. There aren't many left." "My apologies. I… I need to try again." Petra scanned the faces of each of the thirteen would-be Techeuns before her. The creases beneath their eyes drew deeper from stress and lack of sleep. "I had trouble just the same. Let me show you."
1457343582Pathfinder's GreavesJOURNEY - IV Austyn sat in silence with eyes shut. Ley Lines swept over her in waves—in pulses, which she slowly brought into alignment with her own. Entanglement. It was not the first time she had pressed herself into symbiosis with the Ascendant Plane. She'd been through the thoughts of all the sisters in her Coven. She had dreamt with Petra and harvested secrets from her, with the Queen's Wrath being none the wiser. Austyn knew they were meant to save Queen Mara Sov. They were meant to find her and restore the throne. She had been searching the Ley Lines for a path to the queen each night after her training. Her Coven sisters lay sleeping all around her body, but her mind flew through countless panes of prismatic glass. As they shattered, she flittered from one plane to the next, catching momentary glimpses of incommunicable wonder. In the distant cosmos far ahead, Austyn saw a darkened haze of indecipherable noise. Somewhere nestled in the Ley Lines, this shadowed spot was growing. Austyn knew Mara Sov was distant. She knew the queen had obscured herself from her enemies. Austyn had felt a presence reach from the noise toward the Dreaming City more than once. Tonight, she would reach back. Austyn focused her will on a path to the distant noise and, as she did so, it was. The way was open, but still so far. She reached out with her physical body, placing a hand in the air before her and splitting the oxygen with her touch. She carved a slit in reality, through the molecules of the air, and the path anchored to it at her command. The noise descended upon her, and instantly, she was at the precipice. Hand pressed, frozen, paralyzed, and awash in insidious whispers that shredded the doorway into open nothing. It tore her consciousness across the cosmos to a grand terrace of onyx swords and emerald flame reigning over a red harbor. Fingers reached like blades from distant hollows. Screaming noise upon noise. A lone figure stood on the terrace aside two empty thrones. Testing. Prodding. Tasting. Breeding war. "Austyn!" A familiar voice pried her back into the waking world. "Austyn, are you all right?" She woke, soaked in sweat and heat. Petra Venj stood over her, gripping her shoulders. Austyn struggled to breathe. Her eyes met Petra's. "Austyn?" They'd leave you behind if they knew what you just saw, she thought. "Just a nightmare," Austyn reassured the Queen's Wrath. "Thank you for waking me."
1010196641Pathfinder's MarkTHIRD-STRING WITCHES - V Petra watched Sedia preside over the thirteen of the new Coven. A mixture of pride and fearful anxiety knotted her stomach, as if the interior of her skin was being tugged into her gut by warm sinew strings. She held the shape of her smile until they had taken their positions within the Blind Well. Austyn, Ylaia, and Sjari formed the core of the party, with the others interlinking in an exterior circle. They situated themselves at key points around a thrumming Wayfinder's Compass that bent the air into wild chromatic slurries. The Well awakened. They prepared their minds. Slipped into meditation. Communion in searching. Thirteen voices spoke as one, and then silence as the Well dropped into prisms of glass beneath the novice Coven's feet. Not but a moment ago, they thirteen stood within the Blind Well, hands and minds interlocked. Now they cascaded through a river of possibility, will, and intention. It was not long before the connection was made. Queen Mara Sov's voice filled their thoughts, and they drew to it like gravity. The Coven sisters skipped between Ley Lines, ricocheting from time to place until they found themselves swirling in the whirlpool accretion of a brilliant celestine goddess. Their queen. Not far beyond it, Austyn again saw the noise. She kept her eye upon it while each of her sisters reached out, until the image of Mara Sov manifested and her words found footing in understanding. They focused their will upon her words, and before them, a pale screen of fog and glass gave way into a distant Ley Line beyond Sol. "You have done well, my Techeuns," said Mara, stepping from the nothing and into their presence. She placed her hand on the Wayfinder's Compass. "Take me home." The Coven turned their minds back to the Dreaming City, to safety, to Petra. But as they began their return journey through the Ascendant Plane and across the Ley Lines, they felt the presence of another watching. At the edges of the accretion, a din of distorted noise pursued them. Mara glowered at Austyn before turning and raising her palms. With a single word, the Ley Line shattered behind them, sending a lance of energy through the heart of the noise as they sped away toward the Dreaming City. "I will not suffer a bloodied mongrel at my heels," whispered Mara. "Keep your focus. She will be back." Austyn could feel the noise encircling them again, as it had done to her that night in her bed. It would suffocate them in this dream. Each time the Coven shifted Ley Lines, so too did the noise. She knew they could not escape it, and through her, so did her sisters. It descended upon them, and as it grew closer, the noise manifested into whispers. Austyn's mind could think of nothing but one name: Xivu Arath. She could see the Dreaming City, but the image wasn't clear. The sharpness of the connection was darkening. Her sisters felt her worry. They did not have the strength to escape. Their minds aligned on an action. Austyn grabbed the compass and placed it in Mara Sov's hands. "We will ensure your arrival." Each sister shifted her thoughts from the Dreaming City to her own corner of the Ascendant Plane, and with a burst of will, they scattered themselves across the Ley Lines. The noise halted momentarily and split in every direction to follow them. Queen Mara Sov crashed to her feet as she connected with the floor of the Blind Well. "My queen!" Petra looked to the quickly sealing rift from which she fell. "Where are the others?"
3642146012Pathfinder's VisorNEW COVEN - I Petra stood at the bordering cliff's edge of the Divalian Mists, wrapped in a concealing vapor. Beside her, Illyn, Techeun Coven Mother. A deluge of water spewed from deep within the stone below; gentle tremors rippled through their bodies without notice. The pure sky above them tore like well-worn fabric as fronds of malignant Taken growth crept into the Dreaming City. "They will be upon us soon. It was not enough to simply halt Oryx's advance," Petra said. She had spent months of conversation building the kindling to an idea in Illyn's thoughts prior to the Battle of Saturn: a new Coven, a new class of sister recruits. Now, with the queen's flagship in ruins and the Coven missing several of its most skilled Techeuns, there was no longer the luxury of refusal. "I can't hold the Reef with Corsairs alone. I can't search for the queen with looking glasses and a depleted armada. We need more Techeuns, Illyn. You know I'm right." Illyn shook her head. "We are not weapons for the Queen's Wrath to command…" The Coven's reluctance to forge the next link in the chain of their lineage was a strong one. Since the formation of Eleusinia and the exploitation of Riven, the Elder Techeuns had grown protective of their arts. Techniques and texts were kept close. Despite all that, Petra knew Illyn had always been listening to her words. She too had dreamt of the Harbinger's failure. Of Oryx Taking her sisters. "…We will snap shut the Ley Lines and seal the city," Illyn concluded. "No!" Petra retorted. "The queen is lost and might still return." She turned to the Coven Mother. "Of your seven, how many are still alive?" Petra felt a mournful flame stoking beneath Illyn's visor. "Precisely," Illyn said. "We haven't the strength." "Then heed my requests." Petra waved away the mist between them. "Train more sisters." Illyn finally broke her gaze with the sky and scowled at Petra. "We haven't the time. Training spans decades." "Make. It. Work," Petra demanded before taking a breath and continuing. "Illyn, I will do whatever you need. Please, can we work through this together?" Illyn's head sunk. She leaned over the cliffside—over the stream of plummeting mist—and watched the flow of water drop into endlessness. "Send me your candidates. I hope they are stronger than you were."
2259629899Pathfinder's RobeDURESS - III Sjari shifted on the wooden operating table. Why must she be the first? She probed the jelly-like substance smeared across her forehead as Elder Kalli entered the room. "Don't touch that. It's an antiseptic… and a binding agent," Kalli said, placing a sizeable blue-crystal-adorned mask next to an assortment of scalpels, hooks, and erosion stencils on her back table. Each tool was etched with ceremonial iconography, and freshly sharpened. "Normally, it takes years to become an Adept among our ranks… but the Queen's Wrath believes time is short. If you survive, these augments will expedite your training and enhance your abilities." Kalli turned away to work a mortar and pestle. "You will need to learn to focus under duress. Remove your mind from this place. Sink into the cosmic, project out from yourself. There is no pain, no flesh, no nerves." Sjari gripped the sides of the operating table and pressed her back flat, until no air existed between her and the surface beneath—until she felt herself a part of it. She told herself to ignore the grinding of the pestle and thought about how Petra had taught her to use the physical as a transitionary conduit to the Ascendant. "Drink this," Kalli ordered, handing Sjari a small cup of queensfoil tea. Sjari opened her eyes and released her grip as her meditation broke. "Yes, Elder sister. Give me a moment to focus, please," she pleaded, hastily gulping down the tea. "You think my voice is sharper than this knife?" Kalli asked, lifting the scalpel from her back table. "Duress. You must push through it if you are to survive. Be strong, or you will die. This is your final test." Sjari drank quickly and pressed herself to the table once more. She focused on her fingertips and the feel of the hand-worked wood. The grain formed diminutive pathways for her nails to trace; tiny patterns hidden away within the enormity that surrounded them, only revealed by shrinking one's perspective. She let herself drift. Kalli threaded the thin metal edge directly through to the bone of Sjari's skull. A line of incision opened a wave of red. Searing penetration through the layers. Overwhelming electrified senses. They gave way to a calming sting in the discordant firing of nerves. A pattern. The texture. The split between what was and what could be. In her mind's eye, Sjari saw the Ley Lines unfurl like budding petals of a living blossom. Nebula-like plumes of pollen. She let herself slip away until the pain of her flesh was only one of many choices before her.
743529557Pathfinder's WrapsWAYFINDING - II Ylaia placed her hands on the focusing crystal once more. It had been months since she had seen the stars. Her view every day was instead of the same stone chamber she shared with twelve others; it doubled as both training ground and lodging for a new crop of Techeuns. The mustiness made Ylaia crave the open air of the Dreaming City's skyward turrets. She imagined them piercing the sky like masts and drawing the clouds into sails. In her mind, the whole city sailed through the Ascendant Ocean, navigating the Ley Lines like currents. Ylaia placed herself there: a voyage, a turret crow's nest in search of distant land, ascendant anchors restraining cloud-sail billows against the wind of her will. She tried to introduce that place to this one, to let them meet and exchange atmosphere. "Make this real," she thought… but it was nothing more than thought. The concepts were familiar, but the execution was still foreign. Ylaia adjusted the crystal in her hands, as if the orientation mattered. Of all her sisters, only she still couldn't shape the Ley Lines. "They're going to shift soon, you know," Austyn chided. "I know," Ylaia spat back without looking. An explosion shook the room, raining plumes of dust over them and breaking her concentration. "Damn it!" Ylaia slammed a fist into the smooth stone and cast the crystal orb across the floor. "Why are we training in a war zone?" Austyn watched the crystal skip to the edge of the chamber. "This place is built upon a crossroads of Ley Lines. If you can't align with them here…" "Don't say it," Ylaia hissed as she stood to retrieve the crystal. "I need to try again." As she walked, the wall before her illuminated and split into a doorway. Petra Venj entered the chamber, haggard, soot dulling the sheen of her armor. Ylaia stopped in her tracks. She hid away her embarrassment despite knowing that Petra hadn't seen her cast away the focusing crystal. Petra's foot tapped the crystal. She bent and scooped it from the ground and looked to Ylaia's empty hands. "Do not lose this. There aren't many left." "My apologies. I… I need to try again." Petra scanned the faces of each of the thirteen would-be Techeuns before her. The creases beneath their eyes drew deeper from stress and lack of sleep. "I had trouble just the same. Let me show you."
2319651767Pathfinder's PantsJOURNEY - IV Austyn sat in silence with eyes shut. Ley Lines swept over her in waves—in pulses, which she slowly brought into alignment with her own. Entanglement. It was not the first time she had pressed herself into symbiosis with the Ascendant Plane. She'd been through the thoughts of all the sisters in her Coven. She had dreamt with Petra and harvested secrets from her, with the Queen's Wrath being none the wiser. Austyn knew they were meant to save Queen Mara Sov. They were meant to find her and restore the throne. She had been searching the Ley Lines for a path to the queen each night after her training. Her Coven sisters lay sleeping all around her body, but her mind flew through countless panes of prismatic glass. As they shattered, she flittered from one plane to the next, catching momentary glimpses of incommunicable wonder. In the distant cosmos far ahead, Austyn saw a darkened haze of indecipherable noise. Somewhere nestled in the Ley Lines, this shadowed spot was growing. Austyn knew Mara Sov was distant. She knew the queen had obscured herself from her enemies. Austyn had felt a presence reach from the noise toward the Dreaming City more than once. Tonight, she would reach back. Austyn focused her will on a path to the distant noise and, as she did so, it was. The way was open, but still so far. She reached out with her physical body, placing a hand in the air before her and splitting the oxygen with her touch. She carved a slit in reality, through the molecules of the air, and the path anchored to it at her command. The noise descended upon her, and instantly, she was at the precipice. Hand pressed, frozen, paralyzed, and awash in insidious whispers that shredded the doorway into open nothing. It tore her consciousness across the cosmos to a grand terrace of onyx swords and emerald flame reigning over a red harbor. Fingers reached like blades from distant hollows. Screaming noise upon noise. A lone figure stood on the terrace aside two empty thrones. Testing. Prodding. Tasting. Breeding war. "Austyn!" A familiar voice pried her back into the waking world. "Austyn, are you all right?" She woke, soaked in sweat and heat. Petra Venj stood over her, gripping her shoulders. Austyn struggled to breathe. Her eyes met Petra's. "Austyn?" They'd leave you behind if they knew what you just saw, she thought. "Just a nightmare," Austyn reassured the Queen's Wrath. "Thank you for waking me."
616346210Pathfinder's BondTHIRD-STRING WITCHES - V Petra watched Sedia preside over the thirteen of the new Coven. A mixture of pride and fearful anxiety knotted her stomach, as if the interior of her skin was being tugged into her gut by warm sinew strings. She held the shape of her smile until they had taken their positions within the Blind Well. Austyn, Ylaia, and Sjari formed the core of the party, with the others interlinking in an exterior circle. They situated themselves at key points around a thrumming Wayfinder's Compass that bent the air into wild chromatic slurries. The Well awakened. They prepared their minds. Slipped into meditation. Communion in searching. Thirteen voices spoke as one, and then silence as the Well dropped into prisms of glass beneath the novice Coven's feet. Not but a moment ago, they thirteen stood within the Blind Well, hands and minds interlocked. Now they cascaded through a river of possibility, will, and intention. It was not long before the connection was made. Queen Mara Sov's voice filled their thoughts, and they drew to it like gravity. The Coven sisters skipped between Ley Lines, ricocheting from time to place until they found themselves swirling in the whirlpool accretion of a brilliant celestine goddess. Their queen. Not far beyond it, Austyn again saw the noise. She kept her eye upon it while each of her sisters reached out, until the image of Mara Sov manifested and her words found footing in understanding. They focused their will upon her words, and before them, a pale screen of fog and glass gave way into a distant Ley Line beyond Sol. "You have done well, my Techeuns," said Mara, stepping from the nothing and into their presence. She placed her hand on the Wayfinder's Compass. "Take me home." The Coven turned their minds back to the Dreaming City, to safety, to Petra. But as they began their return journey through the Ascendant Plane and across the Ley Lines, they felt the presence of another watching. At the edges of the accretion, a din of distorted noise pursued them. Mara glowered at Austyn before turning and raising her palms. With a single word, the Ley Line shattered behind them, sending a lance of energy through the heart of the noise as they sped away toward the Dreaming City. "I will not suffer a bloodied mongrel at my heels," whispered Mara. "Keep your focus. She will be back." Austyn could feel the noise encircling them again, as it had done to her that night in her bed. It would suffocate them in this dream. Each time the Coven shifted Ley Lines, so too did the noise. She knew they could not escape it, and through her, so did her sisters. It descended upon them, and as it grew closer, the noise manifested into whispers. Austyn's mind could think of nothing but one name: Xivu Arath. She could see the Dreaming City, but the image wasn't clear. The sharpness of the connection was darkening. Her sisters felt her worry. They did not have the strength to escape. Their minds aligned on an action. Austyn grabbed the compass and placed it in Mara Sov's hands. "We will ensure your arrival." Each sister shifted her thoughts from the Dreaming City to her own corner of the Ascendant Plane, and with a burst of will, they scattered themselves across the Ley Lines. The noise halted momentarily and split in every direction to follow them. Queen Mara Sov crashed to her feet as she connected with the floor of the Blind Well. "My queen!" Petra looked to the quickly sealing rift from which she fell. "Where are the others?"
2255073244Iron Forerunner MaskI. Saladin remembers what it was like to be young. He remembers the exhilaration of discovering the infinite power he now holds in his hands. He remembers the terror, too—his first death and the agony of a ruptured lung. His mouth had been too full of blood to form words or plead with his Ghost, so he tried with his eyes instead. Saladin remembers his second death because it was quicker than his first: a wrong step in a minefield outside of what used to be a city called Nur-Sultan. He laughed when his Ghost reassembled him. Then, he cried. Saladin remembers deaths three through sixty-five but does not dwell on them. Instead, he regrets the thousands of hours of sleep lost to nightmares, and how much less vibrant his recollection of that period in his life is compared to his noble centuries spent as an Iron Lord. Saladin remembers the day he stopped counting deaths. "Something about you is different," Jolder had said, and put her hand on his. Saladin remembers all this and more when he looks at the Crow. He feels rage form a hot pit in his belly when Osiris tells him about the young Lightbearer's suffering at the hands of his fellow Guardians. Osiris asks him if he can keep a secret. "I don't like secrets," Saladin says, and that's the end of it.
1615052875Iron Forerunner VestIII. Saladin remembers losing his connection to the Light. He remembers thinking that the Traveler must have discovered his most secret doubts; the darkest thoughts he shared with no one—not even his Ghost. He remembers the strange sense of relief that had washed over him until his radio crackled to life just moments later. He remembers hearing a voice broadcast to the world that the Last City had fallen to the Cabal, but he could not tell you whose voice it was—only that it wasn't Zavala's. "Saladin," his Ghost had said, sounding like it spoke from the end of a very long, very wide tunnel. "You have to move." Because Saladin stood unmoving. He remembers staring out the window at flurries of snow for what felt like a very long time but could only have been a few minutes. He remembers tracing the outlines of neighboring peaks across the glass with the edge of his knuckle. He remembers the act of remembering: once upon a time, he'd taught their names to Zavala, as their names had been taught to him. "Saladin," his Ghost said again, and Saladin remembers moving. He remembers clutching his radio and rallying survivors—those strong enough to make the journey—to the Iron Temple. Saladin remembers all this and more whenever the Crow challenges him on his cowardice during the Red War. He wants to break the young Guardian's back to teach him a lesson about what it's like to feel helpless, but something stops him. He remembers hearing stories about the Crow's life on the Shore before he arrived at the Tower, and does not raise a hand against him.
3651424085Iron Forerunner GripsII. Saladin remembers burying bodies by the dozens. He remembers being thankful that the ground had thawed early that year, so they wouldn't have to burn them. Fires brought light and smoke—and light and smoke brought Fallen Raiders. Fallen Raiders brought more bodies. "It's a vicious circle," Efrideet had said as she tied off a funeral shroud with great care. Saladin remembers the bundle being very small. "One day, I'm going to break it." Saladin remembers how easily the body fit in his arms, how light it felt as he laid it in the grave. He remembers, with shame, pretending not to hear Efrideet's words so he wouldn't need to respond to them. He remembers not having anything kind to say. Saladin remembers all this and more whenever the Crow talks back to him. Sometimes, he bites down on the inside of his cheek. Sometimes, he looks up to find his Ghost focused on him with a knowing look. He doesn't say anything to his Ghost either.
932578999Iron Forerunner StridesIV. Saladin remembers the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with friends. He remembers Radegast hanging the deer upside down by its hind legs, and how swiftly Perun used her knife to skin it. He remembers Jolder tending the fire with wood cut by her favorite axe: a mighty thing fashioned from steel and embellished with engravings of laughing wolves. It had been a gift from a blacksmith whose son Jolder effortlessly plucked out of the frozen river several winters before. "Putting an arrow through its heart is the easiest part," she'd teased him. "Now you get to sit back and watch the rest of us do the real work." Saladin remembers helping anyway, using Jolder's axe to section off a flat piece of juniper to smoke the meat. He remembers the sound and smell of bubbling fat, and how rich the drippings had tasted when he soaked them in bread. He remembers Radegast asking him to sing the song taught to them by the people of the blacksmith's village, but agreeing only when Jolder and Perun promised to join in. Their voices rose like wolves in the night and were so raw by morning that none of them could speak. Saladin remembers all this and more when Zavala tells him Amanda has taken the Crow out to drink in the City's streets. He wonders what song they'll sing, if it's anything like the one he's heard everyone humming lately—even though he hasn't tried it himself.
4266736482Iron Forerunner CloakV. Saladin remembers the first time he met Zavala. He remembers thinking that the Awoken had regal bearing like the stags he once hunted on the Steppes. His shoulders were broad, and his chin held high. When he moved, he did so with the strength and purposeful deliberation of someone with the power to determine his own place in the world. "You'll never have a son," his Ghost had said, "but it isn't too late for you to take an apprentice." Saladin remembers their sparring matches. He remembers how Zavala always got back on his feet, no matter how many times Saladin put him down. He remembers refusing to offer the younger Lightbearer a hand up. Until the day Zavala finally bested him in combat. He remembers lying flat on his back, left shoulder dislocated and ribs shattered, a strange pressure on his chest that made it difficult to breathe. "Finish it," Saladin had commanded because that was the way of things. His Ghost would revive him. Saying nothing, Zavala hauled him to his feet instead. Saladin remembers all this and more when his former apprentice calls him into his office and tells him about the face behind the Crow's mask. Zavala says he knows that Saladin doesn't like secrets; that it's unfair to ask him to keep one of this magnitude, but there will come a time when the Crow needs someone—the way Zavala needed Saladin. "You never needed anyone," Saladin insists. Zavala only smiles.
3106439832Iron Forerunner HelmI. Saladin remembers what it was like to be young. He remembers the exhilaration of discovering the infinite power he now holds in his hands. He remembers the terror, too—his first death and the agony of a ruptured lung. His mouth had been too full of blood to form words or plead with his Ghost, so he tried with his eyes instead. Saladin remembers his second death because it was quicker than his first: a wrong step in a minefield outside of what used to be a city called Nur-Sultan. He laughed when his Ghost reassembled him. Then, he cried. Saladin remembers deaths three through sixty-five but does not dwell on them. Instead, he regrets the thousands of hours of sleep lost to nightmares, and how much less vibrant his recollection of that period in his life is compared to his noble centuries spent as an Iron Lord. Saladin remembers the day he stopped counting deaths. "Something about you is different," Jolder had said, and put her hand on his. Saladin remembers all this and more when he looks at the Crow. He feels rage form a hot pit in his belly when Osiris tells him about the young Lightbearer's suffering at the hands of his fellow Guardians. Osiris asks him if he can keep a secret. "I don't like secrets," Saladin says, and that's the end of it.
2344353519Iron Forerunner PlateIII. Saladin remembers losing his connection to the Light. He remembers thinking that the Traveler must have discovered his most secret doubts; the darkest thoughts he shared with no one—not even his Ghost. He remembers the strange sense of relief that had washed over him until his radio crackled to life just moments later. He remembers hearing a voice broadcast to the world that the Last City had fallen to the Cabal, but he could not tell you whose voice it was—only that it wasn't Zavala's. "Saladin," his Ghost had said, sounding like it spoke from the end of a very long, very wide tunnel. "You have to move." Because Saladin stood unmoving. He remembers staring out the window at flurries of snow for what felt like a very long time but could only have been a few minutes. He remembers tracing the outlines of neighboring peaks across the glass with the edge of his knuckle. He remembers the act of remembering: once upon a time, he'd taught their names to Zavala, as their names had been taught to him. "Saladin," his Ghost said again, and Saladin remembers moving. He remembers clutching his radio and rallying survivors—those strong enough to make the journey—to the Iron Temple. Saladin remembers all this and more whenever the Crow challenges him on his cowardice during the Red War. He wants to break the young Guardian's back to teach him a lesson about what it's like to feel helpless, but something stops him. He remembers hearing stories about the Crow's life on the Shore before he arrived at the Tower, and does not raise a hand against him.
3570243433Iron Forerunner GauntletsII. Saladin remembers burying bodies by the dozens. He remembers being thankful that the ground had thawed early that year, so they wouldn't have to burn them. Fires brought light and smoke—and light and smoke brought Fallen Raiders. Fallen Raiders brought more bodies. "It's a vicious circle," Efrideet had said as she tied off a funeral shroud with great care. Saladin remembers the bundle being very small. "One day, I'm going to break it." Saladin remembers how easily the body fit in his arms, how light it felt as he laid it in the grave. He remembers, with shame, pretending not to hear Efrideet's words so he wouldn't need to respond to them. He remembers not having anything kind to say. Saladin remembers all this and more whenever the Crow talks back to him. Sometimes, he bites down on the inside of his cheek. Sometimes, he looks up to find his Ghost focused on him with a knowing look. He doesn't say anything to his Ghost either.
3862185275Iron Forerunner GreavesIV. Saladin remembers the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with friends. He remembers Radegast hanging the deer upside down by its hind legs, and how swiftly Perun used her knife to skin it. He remembers Jolder tending the fire with wood cut by her favorite axe: a mighty thing fashioned from steel and embellished with engravings of laughing wolves. It had been a gift from a blacksmith whose son Jolder effortlessly plucked out of the frozen river several winters before. "Putting an arrow through its heart is the easiest part," she'd teased him. "Now you get to sit back and watch the rest of us do the real work." Saladin remembers helping anyway, using Jolder's axe to section off a flat piece of juniper to smoke the meat. He remembers the sound and smell of bubbling fat, and how rich the drippings had tasted when he soaked them in bread. He remembers Radegast asking him to sing the song taught to them by the people of the blacksmith's village, but agreeing only when Jolder and Perun promised to join in. Their voices rose like wolves in the night and were so raw by morning that none of them could speak. Saladin remembers all this and more when Zavala tells him Amanda has taken the Crow out to drink in the City's streets. He wonders what song they'll sing, if it's anything like the one he's heard everyone humming lately—even though he hasn't tried it himself.
3591512190Iron Forerunner MarkV. Saladin remembers the first time he met Zavala. He remembers thinking that the Awoken had regal bearing like the stags he once hunted on the Steppes. His shoulders were broad, and his chin held high. When he moved, he did so with the strength and purposeful deliberation of someone with the power to determine his own place in the world. "You'll never have a son," his Ghost had said, "but it isn't too late for you to take an apprentice." Saladin remembers their sparring matches. He remembers how Zavala always got back on his feet, no matter how many times Saladin put him down. He remembers refusing to offer the younger Lightbearer a hand up. Until the day Zavala finally bested him in combat. He remembers lying flat on his back, left shoulder dislocated and ribs shattered, a strange pressure on his chest that made it difficult to breathe. "Finish it," Saladin had commanded because that was the way of things. His Ghost would revive him. Saying nothing, Zavala hauled him to his feet instead. Saladin remembers all this and more when his former apprentice calls him into his office and tells him about the face behind the Crow's mask. Zavala says he knows that Saladin doesn't like secrets; that it's unfair to ask him to keep one of this magnitude, but there will come a time when the Crow needs someone—the way Zavala needed Saladin. "You never needed anyone," Saladin insists. Zavala only smiles.
2217519207Iron Forerunner HoodI. Saladin remembers what it was like to be young. He remembers the exhilaration of discovering the infinite power he now holds in his hands. He remembers the terror, too—his first death and the agony of a ruptured lung. His mouth had been too full of blood to form words or plead with his Ghost, so he tried with his eyes instead. Saladin remembers his second death because it was quicker than his first: a wrong step in a minefield outside of what used to be a city called Nur-Sultan. He laughed when his Ghost reassembled him. Then, he cried. Saladin remembers deaths three through sixty-five but does not dwell on them. Instead, he regrets the thousands of hours of sleep lost to nightmares, and how much less vibrant his recollection of that period in his life is compared to his noble centuries spent as an Iron Lord. Saladin remembers the day he stopped counting deaths. "Something about you is different," Jolder had said, and put her hand on his. Saladin remembers all this and more when he looks at the Crow. He feels rage form a hot pit in his belly when Osiris tells him about the young Lightbearer's suffering at the hands of his fellow Guardians. Osiris asks him if he can keep a secret. "I don't like secrets," Saladin says, and that's the end of it.
1821747970Iron Forerunner VestmentsIII. Saladin remembers losing his connection to the Light. He remembers thinking that the Traveler must have discovered his most secret doubts; the darkest thoughts he shared with no one—not even his Ghost. He remembers the strange sense of relief that had washed over him until his radio crackled to life just moments later. He remembers hearing a voice broadcast to the world that the Last City had fallen to the Cabal, but he could not tell you whose voice it was—only that it wasn't Zavala's. "Saladin," his Ghost had said, sounding like it spoke from the end of a very long, very wide tunnel. "You have to move." Because Saladin stood unmoving. He remembers staring out the window at flurries of snow for what felt like a very long time but could only have been a few minutes. He remembers tracing the outlines of neighboring peaks across the glass with the edge of his knuckle. He remembers the act of remembering: once upon a time, he'd taught their names to Zavala, as their names had been taught to him. "Saladin," his Ghost said again, and Saladin remembers moving. He remembers clutching his radio and rallying survivors—those strong enough to make the journey—to the Iron Temple. Saladin remembers all this and more whenever the Crow challenges him on his cowardice during the Red War. He wants to break the young Guardian's back to teach him a lesson about what it's like to feel helpless, but something stops him. He remembers hearing stories about the Crow's life on the Shore before he arrived at the Tower, and does not raise a hand against him.
164221422Iron Forerunner GlovesII. Saladin remembers burying bodies by the dozens. He remembers being thankful that the ground had thawed early that year, so they wouldn't have to burn them. Fires brought light and smoke—and light and smoke brought Fallen Raiders. Fallen Raiders brought more bodies. "It's a vicious circle," Efrideet had said as she tied off a funeral shroud with great care. Saladin remembers the bundle being very small. "One day, I'm going to break it." Saladin remembers how easily the body fit in his arms, how light it felt as he laid it in the grave. He remembers, with shame, pretending not to hear Efrideet's words so he wouldn't need to respond to them. He remembers not having anything kind to say. Saladin remembers all this and more whenever the Crow talks back to him. Sometimes, he bites down on the inside of his cheek. Sometimes, he looks up to find his Ghost focused on him with a knowing look. He doesn't say anything to his Ghost either.
2247299560Iron Forerunner BootsIV. Saladin remembers the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with friends. He remembers Radegast hanging the deer upside down by its hind legs, and how swiftly Perun used her knife to skin it. He remembers Jolder tending the fire with wood cut by her favorite axe: a mighty thing fashioned from steel and embellished with engravings of laughing wolves. It had been a gift from a blacksmith whose son Jolder effortlessly plucked out of the frozen river several winters before. "Putting an arrow through its heart is the easiest part," she'd teased him. "Now you get to sit back and watch the rest of us do the real work." Saladin remembers helping anyway, using Jolder's axe to section off a flat piece of juniper to smoke the meat. He remembers the sound and smell of bubbling fat, and how rich the drippings had tasted when he soaked them in bread. He remembers Radegast asking him to sing the song taught to them by the people of the blacksmith's village, but agreeing only when Jolder and Perun promised to join in. Their voices rose like wolves in the night and were so raw by morning that none of them could speak. Saladin remembers all this and more when Zavala tells him Amanda has taken the Crow out to drink in the City's streets. He wonders what song they'll sing, if it's anything like the one he's heard everyone humming lately—even though he hasn't tried it himself.
1045743955Iron Forerunner BondV. Saladin remembers the first time he met Zavala. He remembers thinking that the Awoken had regal bearing like the stags he once hunted on the Steppes. His shoulders were broad, and his chin held high. When he moved, he did so with the strength and purposeful deliberation of someone with the power to determine his own place in the world. "You'll never have a son," his Ghost had said, "but it isn't too late for you to take an apprentice." Saladin remembers their sparring matches. He remembers how Zavala always got back on his feet, no matter how many times Saladin put him down. He remembers refusing to offer the younger Lightbearer a hand up. Until the day Zavala finally bested him in combat. He remembers lying flat on his back, left shoulder dislocated and ribs shattered, a strange pressure on his chest that made it difficult to breathe. "Finish it," Saladin had commanded because that was the way of things. His Ghost would revive him. Saying nothing, Zavala hauled him to his feet instead. Saladin remembers all this and more when his former apprentice calls him into his office and tells him about the face behind the Crow's mask. Zavala says he knows that Saladin doesn't like secrets; that it's unfair to ask him to keep one of this magnitude, but there will come a time when the Crow needs someone—the way Zavala needed Saladin. "You never needed anyone," Saladin insists. Zavala only smiles.
1755393482Radiant Dance MachinesQuick-minded Ylaia allows herself to be swept along in the plane's pulsing surge of energy. In the space around her, Xivu Arath's Hive growl and click, tearing at the layered magics with their teeth. They can feel she is close. She trails her fingers through the energies, making a broad ripple as she pulls toward a place she found before, when she was groping blindly for a way home. There. She twists in the stream and lets herself become known. Relief colors the air around her, promising the Dreaming City, Savathûn held still in stone, vulnerable for the first time in untold billions of years. The Hive shriek in triumph, shimmering into focus as they converge on her plane. Ylaia wraps herself in the whisper of a spell and pushes out of the Ley Line. The roaring Hive surge hungrily out of the rupture behind her… and tumble into nothing. Dangling from a ribbon of runes, Ylaia watches their long fall onto the distant black stone of a forgotten place. The spell cuts into her hand as she pulls herself back into the stream. She wraps the plane around herself once more, clears her mind, and waits.
1728089788No Backup PlansAustyn is thrown out of the ley line onto a piece of flat stone no bigger than a banquet table. High walls rise on all sides—an impossible place, a hiccup in the ascendant energies. It will do. She measures the space to the far corner of the stone cell, then faces the rippling wall of energy that deposited her there. She thrusts her hands back into the flowing magic and uses her skills as a Wayfinder to churn the boundaries of the Line. Soon the undertow takes hold, and the activity is enough to draw the attention of anything scrabbling through the darkness. She rests, then reaches again into the swirling magic, feeling for something that does not belong: the outstretched arm of a Hive Thrall, groping blindly through the turbid energy. With worrying immediacy she finds one, thin and brittle; part of it remains shift-bound to an unknown plane. Her hand snaps shut and she twists, feeling the limb splinter in her grip. The creature shrieks. She steps back and uses the last of her magic to spread a thin crystal wall across the air in front of her just as a horde of Xivu Arath's ravenous Hive, lured by the sound of suffering, force a breach in the line. They puddle and then pool, forming a deep well as they flow into her trap, held fast by the crush of their compatriots. The clot of ravenous Hive builds, their claws scraping against the crystal. Austyn sits with her back to the barrier and waits for her queen.
3284402473Nothing ManaclesSjari drifts faceup through the amethyst eddies. She maintains her focus, keeps her mind calm, so that she can stay nestled in the magic flow between places without emerging. Without attracting the Hive. She can sense them around her, their foul presence charging the Ley Lines, waiting for a pocket of potential space to materialize. She needs to keep them here—wherever here is, as she doesn't know where she landed after the eruption of energy that threw her from her Line—and far from the Dreaming City. From Mara. The thought of Mara's return sends a trill of hope through her. She can almost see Mara's face framed in lilac mist. The effect is subtle but immediate. Gently, the current of the Ley Line changes course, bringing Sjari back to her queen. With a start, she pushes the thought of Mara out of her conscious mind. She thinks instead of stillness, of the flickering blackness of the bleak planes, of the awful limbo of being trapped between worlds. She desires it, begs for it. And the current obliges. It calms, and Sjari floats aimlessly once more. Better to die in this barren realm than lead the Hive back home.
1879842336Wayfinder's ShellThe sound of noisy chewing echoes down a long, metal corridor in Spider's lair, interspersed by the beat of footsteps. "You ever try any of this?" Drifter asks, tugging on a length of chewy, battered meat clenched between his teeth. Spider ambles along beside him, pausing to give him a look. "No," Spider answers, his respirator hiding the way his upper lip curls in disgust. "What is that anyway?" "Your boy said it was chicken," Drifter notes, nose wrinkled. "I'm thinking he ain't never seen a chicken before." Spider's sigh is muffled. "The reason I asked you here," he says loudly, forcibly redirecting the conversation, "is because I wanted an honest, unfiltered opinion on the situation in the City right now." "It tastes like petroleum and bubblegum," Drifter mumbles, pulling the wad of meat out of his mouth. "Drifter." Drifter raises one brow as he looks back at Spider and claps a hand on the big Eliksni's shoulder. "C'mon, I know what you're looking for," he says with a laughing confidence. "You want old Drifter's seal of approval on moving your operation." Spider is silent but resumes walking at Drifter's brisk pace. "The Kell of Kells runs a tight Ketch," Drifter says as he flicks the chewed-up "meat" onto the floor. "That whole mess with the Future War Cult aside, things are looking up for his people." Drifter glances at Spider, then jabs his side with two fingers. "Emphasis on his." "A fine time for humanity to start differentiating between us," Spider sneers. "But they let you stay there, so they can't be too discerning." "'Let' is a bit strong, but I get your point," Drifter says. The hallway ends at a large pair of closed doors. Unguarded, Drifter notices. "Now that Mara Sov has returned, I think my days here in the Reef might be numbered," Spider explains as he flips open a rusted panel, then keys in an access code. The doors jerk to life and slowly grind open. "She may have some hard feelings over my little bird," he adds over his shoulder with a laugh. "And let's be honest, she seems like the type to hold a grudge." A bright light spills past the open doors and Drifter is eclipsed by Spider's shadow. "So no," Spider says as he swivels to face the Drifter, "I don't want your seal of approval…" Spider steps to the side, allowing the Drifter to look more fully at what is hidden away in the hangar: a ship. "…I want to know if you can smuggle me out of the Reef."
2744308367CenterfireEido pored over a datapad, catching up on the Cryptarchs' version of the Hundred Years' Siege. She clicked her mandibles in fascination. Their history of events was entirely different from those taught to Eliksni hatchlings. She was honored to be the first to measure the historiographical gap between their two species. A Human male approached her and made a rough, grating sound from his neck. Eido knew Humans often used this sound to attract attention. She found it distressing. "Yes, Matsuo-Cryptarch." Eido shifted the datapad to her lower arms. "What do you need?" "Miss Eido." The smallish Human bobbed his head. "I'm hoping you can weigh in on a rather delicate matter." "Yes. I have excellent dexterity," Eido replied. "Go on." The Cryptarch smiled. "I'd like your firsthand account of the Techeuns. You studied under them for a time, correct?" Eido put down the datapad. "It's true. But I think that your sibling House, the Reef Cryptarchy, will have better information." He tensed the flesh around his mouth. "I'm sorry to say that relations between the Tower and Reef Cryptarchies are not always as forthcoming as we'd like. Besides," he continued, "your primary account, as an Eliksni, would be invaluable." Eido paused to collect her thoughts. "I will start by saying that the Techeuns are very frightening." "Frightening?" Matsuo pressed. "How so?" "The Guardians use power from the outside. They shoot with metal or spark with electricity. They punch." Eido clenched her upper fists. "They destroy the body." Matsuo recorded assiduously on his own datapad. "But the Techeuns use power from the inside," Eido continued. "They manipulate the mind the way Splicers manipulate data. They create visions. They penetrate dreams. They speak with the voice of the listener." "If a Guardian kills me with violence," she explained, "I am Eido until my death. But if a Techeun controls my voice… am I still Eido?"
3056839495Reefborn WarbirdPetra pressed her hand to a tall ivory door. She could hear Mara Sov's speaking to the Guardian as if the Awoken weren't in desperate need of assistance. As if the kingdom was standing and resplendent, the Ley Lines unpolluted by Hive and Taken rot. The throne yet to be despoiled. Her first year battling the curse loop had convinced Petra that she would be able to master this eventually. There was an answer—some sequence she had yet to uncover that would guide them through. But she'd plumbed every depth of her resources just to lose ground. Her queen was keenly aware of this fact. Of their losses. Of hers. Petra selected the most pertinent reports in her head as Mara ended her communiqué. "Enter, Petra." Mara's voice was clear and hummed in her head as she pushed the door open to a private meditation chamber. A Wayfinder's Compass shimmered as it phased between planes in a controlled binnacle sphere. "My queen," Petra said. "The reports can wait," Mara interrupted. "I've been surveying Xivu Arath's advance through the Ascendant space that surrounds us. Along with the records of your defense here." The Wayfinder's Compass froze for a moment, focused on a specific discrepancy within the Ley Lines. A flaw. "I believe that without your stalwart determination, this city would have been lost long ago." Petra opened her mouth to speak but could only manage an awkward grin of disbelief. Mara smirked and continued. "I was right to assign you this position. I want to express my gratitude for the sacrifices you've made." "Thank you, my queen." Petra swallowed her next words. She wanted to say— "I know it has not been easy." Mara plucked the words from her tongue. "You walked a difficult path to attain that which many said was unattainable. Such paths often exact tolls. There are no great victories, but to edge out defeat is often enough." "You have some experience in this, my queen?" Mara's eyes flashed, sending tension through Petra's muscles for a moment before Mara let go a thin chuckle. Petra uncoiled, but her mind could not relax. She watched the revolutions of the compass. "I do. In this, we are known to each other," Mara reassured. "The ones you lost were like sisters to you." "Yes." Petra has known several of them as Corsairs under her command. They had bled by her orders. Some were friends. Yet here she stands, gazing out to sea from her widow's walk. Mara gently brushes her cheek. "Bestill your mind, Petra. I feel them calling. As I returned to you, so shall they."
493679463Eternal RecurrencePetra Venj found Jolyon on the range, as she'd expected. A lone figure, lying face down on the ridgeline, sighting a barely visible target on the far side of the ravine. "You never really needed a spotter, did you?" "No," Jolyon replied, squinting up at her, "but I always liked the company." He offered her a rangefinder. "Care to join me?" Petra settled down beside him, and sighted the next target. Jolyon pressed his eye to The Supremacy's massive scope. "I heard he's back," he said. "Then you heard wrong." Petra squinted through the rangefinder. "You know how it is with Guardians. He goes by 'Crow' now." Jolyon snorted. "Ironic. Only Uldren could make immortality a demotion." "Wind is 16 kph from your nine, 4,700 meters out," Petra replied. "Send it." Jolyon let out a long, slow exhale. Then: a deafening BOOM as The Supremacy kicked. Petra didn't bother to check the target. "He took a lot of abuse after he rezzed," she said, breaking the silence before it could fully settle. "And never knew why. Gave him a bit of… humility. If you can believe it." Jolyon lifted his head, shifting his focus from the scope to Petra's inscrutable expression. He raised an eyebrow. "I'd like to see that for myself." "I know." Petra pressed her lips together in sympathy. "That's why I'm here. Mara thinks it's best if we limit his contact with others." "Keeping him in her pocket, huh? Uldren might have changed, but it sounds like Queen Mara is the same as ever." Petra's tone hardened. "Be that as it may, you've got your orders. Stay away." "It's fine," Jolyon said with a smile. It did not reach his eyes. "I've gotten used to Uldren being dead. Probably best he stays that way."
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