“If a man is to shed the Light of the sun upon other men, he must first of all have it within himself.”
― Romain Rolland
The Cabal machine skimmed over the ground, jostling its rider when it passed over any mound or ditch. Gwen growled at it in an un-Warlock fashion and wrenched the controls violently to each side to avoid the trees. The Hunters were already far ahead, much more comfortable with their stolen mounts than their companion. Gwen fired the boosters in an attempt to catch up.
“Threshers behind us,” reported Anu. As if that were a cue, slugs began tearing up the foliage overhead and chewed into the needle-covered earth to their right, tracking in their direction. Gwen gunned the engine again and shoved the Interceptor to the left, and narrowly avoided being torn to pieces by the rounds. The bole of a tree exploded and showered the Cabal machine and its Guardian rider in splinters and dirt. The tree groaned in protest as it fell, smashing into its neighbors and splitting with a violent crack on impact.
Another Thresher flew ahead, pivoted sharply and pointed its weapons down at the lonely Warlock. Gwen slammed the Interceptor’s brakes violently, stopping just before the slugs slammed into the ground where she had been going. She jumped clear of the Interceptor before it disintegrated under the Cabal fire.
“Stars above!” Gwen swore as she ran. There was a crash of brush and branches and the distinct grunts of Cabal soldiers as their feet hit the ground. The Harvester that had dropped them off flew away, but the Threshers remained, trying to reorient on their target. She jumped down into a stream bed that had cut a deep trench through the forest. There was no water visibly running through it, but the earth was dark and wet and the stones were slick. Mud splattered her white robes as she ran.
“Warlock, where are you?” Arianna’s voice was tight with tension. Gwen didn’t reply, partly because she was worried that would make it easier for the Cabal to find her, more so because she was out of breath. The heavy thud of Cabal feet behind her sent tremors through her own legs.
Some instinct made her look over her shoulder. There was a glitter of red light in the corner of her eye and she reflexively ducked: a heavy round smacked into the wall of the trench, kicking up mud and shattered rock. She spun around to aim her own weapon back at the Psion, slipped, and landed on her rump in the mud. The ungraceful maneuver saved her life: her head snapped right as if the face of her helmet had been given an open-handed slap, the bullet leaving a long gash in the side.
Gwen raised her pulse rifle one-handed and squeezed the trigger. Firing a rifle with a single hand made it almost impossible to aim, but at this range and in the narrow confines of the trench, she could hardly miss. The bursts of bullets cracked the Psion’s armor like the shell of an egg and it collapsed, ichor staining the mud.
Cabal grunted and shouted and she scrambled to her feet again, slipping and sliding her way down the trench. Up ahead the trench led into a dark tangle of dead branches and vines: the edge of the Dead Zone and the source of whatever poisoned the land.
“We’re not going in there alone, are we?” asked Anu. Before Gwen could answer a splash of mud and a shout behind her galvanized her to make a last sprint for the cover of the woods. The branches snapped and cracked as she hit them, and vines threatened to tangle her feet. Every step was a sudden tripping hazard, and here the light was so faded she could barely see more than a few meters ahead.
“It doesn’t want us here,” gasped Gwen as she pushed through the foliage. “It doesn’t like visitors.”
“What doesn’t?” asked her Ghost.
The grunts and pounding boots of the Cabal became muted behind them. There were breaking sounds and grunts, but they faded with each step. She risked a look back: she could see beams of weak light cutting through the forest shadows. A tree groaned and was shoved aside, uprooted by the brute strength of the pursuing Legionary: the Cabal were moving through the terrain much faster than she by simply plowing through trees.
“Arianna!” Gwen said into her mic as she scrambled up a rocky bank, stones clattering under her feet. “Miranda! I’m pinging you my location.”
The comms were silent. The air cracked with the sound of slug fire and a round tore up the earth near her hand. At the top of the bank Gwen turned around and aimed her rifle down at the pursuing Cabal. Even in the darkness of the trees she could see six Legionaries following her led by a Centurion. A Legionary hefted a grenade in its meaty fist and cocked its arm to throw.
She aimed and squeezed the trigger, knowing it wasn’t enough. There was a bright flash of Light –
…the Song that echoed into eternity swelled into a choir deep and wide and…
– and Gwen flinched to the side in surprise. A Legionary dissolved into a wash of yellow flame that engulfed his companions. There was another needle of Light –
…life in all its forms beneath the glow of Light to lift their voices into the Void…
– and the other Legionaries burned away in an explosion of heat, scorching bark and leaves to black. Gwen turned to look at the source of the Light, and saw the outline of a figure with a shining pistol in his hand. Another flash –
…the Dark into something new and beautiful with every note that reverberated…
– and the pistol cooled into mere metal and wood. The Centurion crumbled into ash. Gwen stared. She realized her mouth was hanging open and was glad the helmet hid her expression.
The Hunter was an Exo, judging by the glowing eyes under his hood. His Ghost’s shell was a metallic brown and blue and decorated by spikes, and it scanned Gwen with impudence.
“Awoken, female…the bond on her arm is a plasma generator, so I would say she was a Sunsinger. No Light on this one either.”
The Exo grunted and turned away without a word, heading deeper into the forest.
“Wait!” said Gwen.
“Can’t wait,” said the Exo without slowing.
Gwen scrambled to her feet to follow before he disappeared into the trees.