Monthly Archives: October 2015

Day 99 – Part 2

I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Clicking sounds, softened by the freshly falling snow, floated up from beneath my feet. I held still and watched for movement between the branches of the tree I crouched in, knife in hand. I could just see the first of the Thrall shuffling through the snow like a skeletal dog: it pushed snow aside with its snout, then raised its head, snuffling.

Click-click-click-click! Another Thrall bounded up to the first and repeated the sound. My camo hid me from sight, and even without my camo the predawn light was not much to see by…but these were Hive. Darkness did not concern them. Another Thrall bounded up, drawn by its fellows, and now hisses and growls filled the early morning air.

“Only 3,” said Emma’s soft voice in my ear mic. The Thrall couldn’t hear it, but I nearly winced in spite of that. “I don’t see their Acolyte.”

I wanted to growl. I had given the Hive a pretty clear trail to follow. Why were they not taking the bait?

“Wait…I see 4…6…no, 9 more Thrall headed your way. And a couple of Acolytes. You’ll have 14 there in less than 30 seconds.”

A //nervous rush filled my internals. Any moment now.

“We’re in position.”

More Thrall began bunching up beneath the naked oak tree that served as my perch. One stood on its hind legs and screeched up at the sky. Another bounded up and snag the lowest branch with its claws, trying to gain purchase to climb the slick, icy bark. Then its head separated from its body with explosive force and it fell on its companions – the sound of the shot followed a half-second later.

“No!” someone shouted into my mic, an echo of my own thoughts. I saw movement in my peripheral and saw the Acolytes, almost to my location, now turning toward the source of the shot and sprinting through the trees. The Thrall at my feet likewise were turning to follow their handlers.

I leaped down into their midst to cut them off: this many Thrall would easily overwhelm the sniper’s nest, which judging by the sound and the direction, I took to be Leif’s position. He and his brother lacked the firepower to put down this many Hive before they closed the distance.

It was brutal and fast knife work: the Thrall were keyed up but had nearly forgotten about their previous fascination with the tree they had tracked me to. When the last had fallen I turned and rushed through the trees toward where the premature shot had come from.

The Acolytes had been joined by others, and more Thrall were running to add their strength to the fight. Shots were coming fast now, from several directions: the trap had been sprung too soon and now the hunting party was trying to put down as many Hive as possible before they broke out of the noose we had so carefully laid.

The first Acolyte I encountered turned its weapon on me, but it had no time to discharge before I hacked it down. Its partner sidestepped and took cover behind a tree, the bole of which exploded into a shower of splinters when a sniper round passed through Hive and tree trunk alike. I ran on.

Thrall lay on the ground around Leif and his squat brother, and 2 men so different did not seem likely to be born of the same parents: Leif was a giant of a man with blonde hair and blue eyes, with slabs of muscle so large he seemed nearly deformed. His brother Olaf was shorter than even Father Eriksson, dark of hair and complexion, his rifle comically big in his hands, but he was arguably just as strong as the taller man. They stood back to back, and Thrall were coming within a meter of the men before they were killed. Any moment and they would fall.

I called Arc light to my hand and hurled it at the Thrall nearing the humans, and the crack of a small thunderbolt filled the air with the smell of ozone and hot Light. Thrall fell, and for a moment it appeared I had bought them time. And then my headset filled with screams of warning, too late to do anything about it.

A tree shattered, the bottom half flying into pieces and the rest careening away to lodge against its neighbors to announce the Knight’s arrival, his sword cutting a swath through woods as he charged: snow flew up in a plume before him, obscuring all but his head and glowing triple-eyed gaze. Olaf bravely stood his ground and raised his rifle to shoot the charging behemoth. The Knight roared, the sound deafening, and when his blade struck, nothing was left of Olaf but shattered, steaming pieces and red snow.

I charged as well, trying to close the last few meters. Leif turned, and that giant, brave, stupid man was literally split in half from head to navel by the Knight’s falling sword. The Thrall descended on his remains with shrieks of glee. I slowed my charge. The Knight’s gaze was on me now. Rather than raise my knife I drew my gun and fired.

A wall of Darkness swallowed my shots and those of the hunting party eager to avenge their fallen comrades. I felt heat on my armor and realized the Acolytes were turning their weapons on me. I ran. Traveler forgive me and name me a coward, but I ran, back toward the other sniper nests.

“Father Eriksson!” I said as I fled the Knight’s wrath. A bullet whipped through the air near my head with a crack.

“What?” His voice was heavy.

“That Knight left a trail we can follow. Back to the nest. We can still do this.”

“Yes. Yes we can. Everyone fall back, like we planned. Guardian, we will meet you at the rendezvous point, and you will lead us to the nest.”

“Yes,” I said with fierce //anger. “Yes I will.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 99 – Part 1

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin’.
I see bad times today.

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival

“What are they doing?” asked Emma. Her voice came from the dark to my right and was calmer than I expected.

“Taunting us,” replied Father Eriksson to my left. “Letting us know they are in control.”

image“They are not,” snarled Leif, just behind Father Eriksson. “They are trying to make us think they are.”

I listened to all of them without taking my gaze off the 3 figures on the horizon. I could not quite gauge the distance, but they were close enough to make out their specific forms, back-lit by the crest of the rising Luna peeking over the lip of the Earth.

2 of the figures were almost identical. Both stood erect and proud, taller than any human, and the light of Luna made them each seem broader than a house. The one on the right cradled its weapon in its arms. The other planted its man-sized cleaver into the ground like an extra support beam. They flanked the central figure like an honor-guard. She floated just a meter off the ground, long-skirts swishing from side-to-side in the breeze, and a halo of pale-orange energy shimmered in the air around her. I imagined I could just see the pinprick points of light that were their eyes.

“We need to move again,” whispered Emma. “They know we’ve stopped for rest. They’ll attack again soon.”

“No!” Leif shifted his considerable weight in the dark, and I heard the snow crunching beneath his boots. “We have run too much. Now we stand and fight. They would not be trying to intimidate us if they could kill us now.”

“They’re Hive!” hissed Emma. “They enjoy our fear! They take pleasure in our pain! Ask the Guardian.”

I felt the gaze of the others fall on my back. I didn’t answer immediately. “The strategy we’ve been employing has worked so far,” I said. “No one has died since the initial attack.”

“We will not make it to the Cosmodrome. Not like this,” Leif insisted. “We must fight, kill them now.”

“We’ll die!” Emma insisted.

“Better dead on our feet than Thrall clawing into our exposed backs while we flee like cowards.”

“We can make it,” said Emma. The tone of her voice had changed: she was appealing to Father Eriksson now. “If we get to the Cosmodrome, the Fallen will respond to an invasion of their territory. And there might be other Guardians there.”

“There are other Hive there as well,” Leif countered.

“But the Devils won’t allow another nest to take root if they can help it!”

Father Eriksson spoke to me. “What do you think, Guardian?”

I finally turned to face the others. “We should continue to do what we are doing. We cannot stand and fight. They will wear us down.”

Father Eriksson nodded. “Maybe.” He looked at Leif. “Another ammo count. We leave again in 5 minutes.”

Leif stalked off into the dark to rouse the exhausted hunting party, and Father Eriksson trailed in his wake. 5 minutes. It did not sound like enough.

Emma approached me. Even in the dark I could see the angry red slash on her face where a Thrall had landed its claw. “You alright?” she asked. “You seem…something is wrong.”

“I…” I sought for a word. “I…I am tired.”

Her eyes widened, white and round in the low light. “But…you’re a Guardian. And an Exo. How can you get tired?”

“I will explain later,” I replied. “I will keep watch until we’re ready.”

She nodded and turned to follow the others. I extended my hand and Ebony settled into my palm with a sigh. “How can I get tired?” I asked him, vaguely realizing I had at some point begun to think of my Ghost as a “he”.

“It’s the Hive, I think,” said Ebony softly. “They are clawing at our Light. Nibbling at it with each encounter.” He flickered. “Remember, I revived you 19 times in the space of 2 hours. We need rest. We need to get back to the Traveler. Eventually they will wear us down. That, or we summon our ship and fly out.”

“I will not abandon them,” I said, acid creeping into my tone.

“I am not suggesting we do,” replied Ebony with weary patience. “But the Tower has not sent any reinforcements. If we fly back, we can get heavier firepower to bring down the Hive quickly.”

“The Hive will overwhelm them the moment we leave.”

“We are not invincible, Guardian.”

I heard the crunching of boots in the snow and turned to look at the others. Father Eriksson led the ragtag group, a mere 12 of us left. With the exception of myself, all of them carried long sniper rifles and heavy knives: I carried only my hand cannon and knife, as my shotgun ammo and machine gun had run dry hours ago.

“We are ready.” He looked at the others, his white hair glowing slightly in Luna’s waxing light. “We are not going to run,” he said to Emma. He turned to Leif. “And we are not going to stand and fight so we may die.” He turned back to look at the trio of Hive on the far ridge. “We came out here to hunt Hive.” His mouth split into a wolfish smile. “So we’re going to hunt Hive. And make them regret coming after us.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Day 71 – Finale

The line of Odin’s Offspring
Lay not slack on the gunwale,
When the huge ocean-serpent
Uncoiled on the sea’s bottom.

The encírcler of all regions
And Jörd’s Son sought each other.

Prose Edda, Snorri Sturlson

“Wasn’t this part of the plan?” asked Arianna.

“Sure, but I don’t have a heavy weapon!” Telrik replied.

“What do you mean?!”

“My Ghost can’t transmat while it’s tied up over there!”

“Seems like a pretty big flaw in the plan!”

The ground shuddered beneath the Gate Lord’s feet when it materialized and the air charged with Void energy when its shield came online. We all 3 split for cover behind columns. I had only just taken up a position when Harpies began flitting in our direction, trying to herd us back into the open. I picked a couple off, then hefted my machine gun from my shoulder.

“How come you have yours?” Arianna asked me over the comms from the other side of the cavern.

“My shotgun is down there with my Ghost.”

“Why can’t they transmat?”

“That would require them to come off the conflux,” Telrik answered for me.

“Oh. Yeah, I can see why having another Guardian along was a good idea. But why can’t they transmat while on that conflux? And why do we need all 4 down there?”

“You’re asking questions now?” I snapped //irritably as I loaded my first drum onto my heavy weapon.

“Just saying, a little forethought might not have hurt.”

“Ask the Warlocks, it’s their brilliant plan,” Telrik snarled as he put down a couple of Goblins.

I heard that,” said Drake.

I rounded the column and opened fire: the heavy rounds chewed through Goblins and Harpies with equal ferocity, until the tree-trunk leg of the Gate Lord interposed itself between me and the advancing army. I ducked for cover just before the next Void blast shredded the ground I had been standing on.

“Arianna, we’ve got to get that shield down!” Telrik was putting steady fire on the huge Minotaur, which seemed entirely unfazed by the bullets. It turned its huge eye on the Titan and took aim.

A blast enveloped the Minotaur, followed by a cloud of smaller explosions, rocking the Vex back on its heels. It turned toward Arianna in time to take another rocket to the face, and again it was pushed back. Its shield visibly pulsed and winked out, and a half-second later a shot echoed over the noise of the Goblin weapons: a bullet slammed into the bronze chassis and tore a fist-sized chunk out of it. Telrik now stood on a column and he put a total of 3 rounds into the Gate Lord before its shield returned, all in the space of a few seconds.

For my part, I was too busy shredding the smaller Vex with my machine gun to aid in the attack on the big unit. I braced my feet and emptied the weapon into the advancing army, herding them away from my allies.

“That wasn’t worth the ammo,” said Telrik, dropping down next to me and providing me cover while I reloaded. “We need some Void Light up here, Farstride.”

Drake and I are just down here knitting, watching your show,” said Farstride, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I’m serious, Farstride. That or you need to let my Ghost go.”

The comm was silent for a moment. “Fine, I can hold them, I think. Drake’s on his way to you. Make it count.

I rattled off a few rounds at a Hobgoblin that had materialized out of a black cloud. It hunkered down into stasis and I let it go, trusting Telrik to shoot it down when it stuck its head up again.

Drake ran up the stairs, his robes snapping in the breeze of his passing. “Let me get set up,” said Telrik. “It’ll be you, Arianna, then me, check?”

“Understood.” Drake casually shot an incoming Harpy. “Move left,” he said to me. I looked up in time to see the Gate Lord firing at us and darted away, energy ripping at my armor, but I cleared the worst of it.

Telrik scaled the tallest column. “Arianna, how many rounds can you put down?”

2, maybe 3,” she replied, shooting down a flock of 4 Harpies in short order.

“Alright Drake, on my mark. You ready?”


I put down my machine gun, already empty again, and began blasting at approaching Goblins with my hand cannon. “Please hurry, I’m almost out down here!”

“3,” counted Telrik. “2…” He fired a series of rapid shots at the Gate Lord, his sniper rifle booming. “Mark!”

Drake sprinted forward, brought his hands together, and jumped: his palms filled with Void energy, Light pulsing into a silent vacuum. When he reached the apex of his jump he thrust both hands out and a ball of Light flared into existence, growing into a globe of deadly energy that struck the Gate Lord like a bomb, snapping its shield and leaving a damaging field of Void Light in its wake. Before the explosion had even faded away 2 rounds of Solar Light followed in rapid succession and bathed the Gate Lord in fire. The fire was still burning when Telrik threw himself from the top of the pillar at the Vex: the air crackled and lit with white Arc Light, and then he shot forward with blinding speed into the Gate Lord.

The Vex’s chest cavity imploded with the force of the strike, its body caving in on itself for a brief instant: then its back armor exploded into a shower of bronze and boiling fluids, its limbs crashing to the earth like felled trees. Telrik struck the ground with a thunderclap that rocked the cavern and wiped out the 6 Vex units that had the bad luck to be standing there when he arrived. The Titan stood up from the wreckage and pumped his fist into the air. “WHO’S NEXT?!” he thundered in challenge.

Show-off,” I heard Arianna quip.

I stood //stunned at the display of Light from the 3 other Guardians and almost missed the Vex reaction: dark clouds appeared in the air, and the Vex vanished into twinkling energy. The Ghosts began chattering excitedly.

We have it! Well, we have something…”

“We had something…” corrected Freyja.

“At least…”

“…data processed faster than…”

The Ghosts fell to bickering before Farstride interrupted. “I am calling this brilliantly crafted plan a success!” he said, walking up the stairs to us. The Ghosts flocked behind him, each going to their respective Guardian, still arguing about something over my head.

“Drinks on me!” he continued. “And bragging rights, promotions and swag for everyone!” He led the others down the stairs toward the exit, but I looked over my shoulder at the huge gate, which winked out and went silent.

“What is it?” Drake asked me.

I looked at him, //pensive. “Do you really think an intelligence beyond the bounds of Time even really cares what we do? That we’re even a threat at all?”

The Awoken did not answer immediately. “I think…I think there are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said finally.

“You can say that again,” I replied, and followed him out. I am not paranoid: I did not look over my shoulder at the gate again.

I did not.

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , ,

Day 71 – Part 2

“It’s just men and ants. There the ants builds their cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until men want them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That’s what we are now – just ants.”
H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

We approached our target zone on Sparrows, dismounting a mere kilometer away, and then only because the path became too narrow for the machines. We walked in single file, into the mouth of what looked like a natural cavern blemished by out-thrust blocks of Vex tech. Arianna took the lead, then Farstride. Drake was dead center of the file, Blue chattering with Ivory over his head. Telrik was next, and I took up the end of the file.

“You should have gone with the rocket,” said Telrik over his shoulder. “If we run into any big units you’ll wish you had more stoppin’ power.”

“If I’m the doorman, crowd control might be an issue,” I replied, hefting the machine gun in my hands for emphasis. “Ever seen a Minotaur attack on its own?” I didn’t tell him I had never actually seen a Minotaur attack anyone.

“Fair enough,” said the Titan. “If you – Brutus!” He interrupted himself.

Brutus the green Ghost was hovering over a beam of energy, wire-thin, that ran from one side of the narrow passage to the other overhead and scanning it, then zipping down to scan it again from another angle.

“Brutus!” repeated Telrik, stopping. The others continued walking ahead of us.

“What? Oh, I was just wondering if this was some kind of relay that might feed back into -”

“Brutus, c’mon!”

“But, but-”

“Come, now.”

Brutus sighed and floated down. “But this is boring,” I heard it mutter.

Telrik jogged to catch up to the others who had disappeared through an opening that widened suddenly, and I hurried to close the gap. I caught up in time to hear Drake speaking. “We met resistance by this point the last time we tried this. It is much quieter.” Farstride grunted in reply.

We stood in a wide open space, lit in orange hues of light from overhead. High in the ceiling was a gap wide enough to reveal the Venus sky, stars dim: the storm had passed, but the evidence of its passage dripped throughout the cavern. A double row of 12 columns to our right and left, no 2 of the same height and unevenly spaced, ran the length of the room to a set of wide stairs. On each side of the room, behind the columns, were 3 Vex teleport gates. At the top of the stairs were another smattering of columns around a wide open space. The last gate, easily the largest I had ever seen, crowned the far side of the room, almost flush against the back wall. The walls of the cavern were made of Vex machinery, outcroppings and ledges all humming with power. And dead center of it all, reaching up to the ceiling, was the Vex conflux.

“Let’s do it,” said Farstride. Arianna jogged forward, took a running leap, and skipped off the air to the top of a column, then hopped from column to column until she stood on the tallest above the stairs. She settled into a crouch and readied her scout rifle. The rest of us approached the conflux and let our Ghosts out. They flitted around the conflux, like hummingbirds around a stalk of flowers. I could see Arianna standing on the column, bringing her scope up to her eye every few seconds.

I took a moment to go over my gear, and idly listened to the Ghosts, who had struck up a chatter that was difficult to follow.

“…numbers match a sequence of pi. Might explain their thought process,” said Farstride’s Ghost, Freyja.

“How?” asked Brutus.

“If Time is circular, and they’ve built their whole process on this idea…” said Ebony.

“Oh! I see!”

“We might be able to give that info to the cryptarchs, let them…”

“Something’s happening,” said Drake. The Warlock’s words were barely in the air before the gates all around us hummed and filled with watery illumination one after the other, as if some invisible pulse were traveling along their network, waking them up. What happened next takes longer to describe than the events themselves.

“Incoming!” The warning crackled over our comms in unison with the whisper of teleporting Vex stepping through the gates, and I thought Arianna had meant to warn us about the Goblins that were now advancing on our position.

Farstride thrust out his hands and the world around us shimmered with Light a hairsbreadth before the first pulse crashed into our position, a wave of sound and energy that would have easily annihilated all four us and our Ghosts. We all started back from the attack – except for Drake, who stood still and poised, as if this were all quite normal and expected.

“See?” said Farstride, nodding triumphantly. “I told you this was a trap!”

“No…no you didn’t!” spluttered Telrik. Even with his helm on I could imagine his expression of disbelief.

“Sure I did!” said the other Titan cheerfully as he checked the cylinder on his hand cannon. “When Drake said, ‘It seems much quieter than our last attempt’, I said, ‘It’s probably a trap.'”

“No. You. Didn’t!” insisted Telrik. “That’s malarkey!”

“Anyway!” Farstride continued, “Arianna, what do you see?”

2 big Hydras came out of the main gate, that’s what’s bombing your position,” the Hunter reported. “And there are Minotaurs coming down the stairs to back up those Goblins that are surrounding you. Sniper nest on the far column behind you, I can’t tap them from here.”

“Morc, take out that sniper nest. I’ll take care of the Minotaurs when you give the all clear,” said Telrik, as he locked and loaded his auto rifle.

I crouched for a moment, drew my knife, and activated my camouflage. My vision warped as light bent around me and I darted back the way we had come, nimbly side-stepping the attacking Goblins preparing to press through the shield to take on the Guardians inside.

Over the comms, Farstride started giving orders. “Telrik, reinforce Arianna when you take out those Minotaurs. Arianna, we need those Hydras distracted before this shield comes down.

Already on it,” she replied. Over the sound of Goblin-fire I heard an explosion, followed by a staccato crackle of smaller explosions. The noises repeated, and the ground under my feet ceased shaking.

A running leap took me to the top of the shortest column and I spotted the snipers: a pair of Hobgoblins were on a large outcropping near the entrance, peppering the bubble shield with fire. I ran and skipped from column to column and jumped at them just as my camouflage faded.

The first reacted fast enough to snap off a shot, but it went wide. The second didn’t even have time for that: I stuck my landing and rammed my knife into the space between its chassis and head, tearing it off in a shower of sparks and boiling fluid. It jerked like an injured bug and I kicked it from the ledge, letting gravity do the rest.

My own chassis registered heat and stoppage gel solidified over the injury where the close-range shot had ripped through the armor on my upper arm. //Fear. I drew my hand cannon and gut-shot the other Hobgoblin the moment it cleared leather.

The damn thing hunkered down into a glowing ball of Solar energy, and I stumbled back as it washed over me. I dropped off the ledge and caught the edge with a hand, waiting for the stasis to subside. When the heat dissipated I popped up onto the ledge again and shot it 3 times, shattering it into several pieces. “You’re clear!” I said into my comm and surveyed the scene.

The air was filled with the crackle and roar of weapons fire. Drake and Farstride stood their ground near the conflux. Drake circled the conflux with his back to it, taking down Goblins with snap shots, using an economy of movement and poise. Farstride was less restrained, spinning and shooting at targets of opportunity that came too close to the conflux. A small army of Vex chassis’s littered the ground around them in an almost perfect circle: nothing was getting to the Ghosts.

Telrik was moving steadily toward the big gate, his auto rifle chattering as he cut a wide wedge through the Vex. He seized a Goblin by its bronze crest and bodily hurled it into a column, crunching it into a mangled heap, then casually strafed it with bullets as he passed. His advance only slowed when the 3 Mintotaurs closed into range, their heavy Void weapons giving him pause. He lobbed a grenade at them and they likewise halted their advance as bolts of lightning filled their immediate area.

Arianna had her hands full as well. The Hyrdras were fully focused on her, but she skipped from point to point, cracking off shots of opportunity or the occasional grenade.

I picked up my knife from where I had dropped it and jumped from my own position. I used the columns as stepping stones. As I passed Drake and Farstride I shot a couple of Goblins below me, and then when I was above Telrik’s head I prepped my own grenade and hurled it at the center Minotaur. The air crackled with Arc energy and the scent of ozone and burnt bronze. The Minotaurs broke ranks, teleporting forward aggressively to end the threat. Telrik charged, firing, and rammed his fist through the leg of the nearest. It collapsed at his feet with a groan and he emptied his rifle into it. I paused and opened fire, bringing the shields on a Minotaur down. It roared and teleported back to get an angle, a pulse of Void energy thrown my way. I leapt to another column, closer to the Vex beast, and emptied the rest of my gun into its chassis. It sparked and stuttered back. While I was reloading, Telrik’s gun rattled below my feet and it collapsed. I looked for the third, but it was already down.

I jumped down to join the Titan and we ran up the rest of the stairs in time to see Arianna…well, I can only describe it as an impressive performance.

She stood on one of the far columns, putting precise rounds into the floating Hydras, both of which were of above average size. Their Void weapons split the air with crashes and she jumped over their attack to another column. Then she threw her fist into the air and it filled with bright Light. Arianna leapt into the air right at the nearest Hyrda and fired a Solar round that passed through the Vex like a hot needle through butter. She skipped off the air and somersaulted over the Hydra, firing the next round straight down through its dome. The machine split and cracked open like an overripe fruit and released a wall of flame that engulfed its ally in Solar energy. Arianna landed in a crouch with her back to the surviving Hydra, a hand splayed on the ground, the other behind her pointing the Solar gun at the Vex. Without even looking over her shoulder she pulled the trigger: the shot finished what the fire had begun, and the second Hydra exploded in a wash of Light and heat.

“And that, gentlemen,” she said as she stood up to face us, “is how it’s done.”

 Behind her, the large gate hummed and crackled. The Ghosts’ chatter filled the comm waves.

We got something incoming…

…the gate network is going active…

…coalescing! It’s activating a defense!

Arianna turned and we all saw the air fill with the faint outlines of a Minotaur chassis. A very, very big chassis. Behind it, the gate whispered as Goblins poured out like angry ants from a disturbed nest.

Telrik summed up my feelings on the matter: “Aww, crap.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , , ,

Day 71 – Part 1

“Unity is a beast in itself. If a wolf sees two little boys playing in the woods on one side, and a big strong man on the other, he will go to the one who stands alone.” ~Suzy Kassem

Rain washed over the hull of my newly refurbished Regulus in a steady drone, the voice of a storm that had spent its fury well before my arrival but that still had plenty to say, when we dipped down into the atmosphere of Venus. My Ghost transmatted us to the coordinates we had been sent in the Ishtar region, several kilometers away from the Academy and in sight of the Ishtar Cliffs. The local flora squished beneath my boots and water rose to my ankles as we materialized into the storm. I drew my cloak around me and began walking through the downpour. “How about the Sparrow?” I suggested as I half walked, half waded through the squishy undergrowth.

“We have some climbing to do, judging by the second set of coordinates,” said my Ghost.

“Why not just transmat us there then?” I grumbled.

“Something about security measures. I suppose it’s to throw off any Fallen watching flight patterns.”

I sighed. My Ghost’s prediction proved true: the ground began to slope upwards for several meters and then became almost sheer, soft-looking embankments that made climbing look like a dubious enterprise. I studied them for a few moments, to get an idea of where the handholds and footholds might be, then jogged forward. When I reached the end of the slope I bounded upward, found a landing point, then bounced off of that to the next, following my Ghost’s promptings when a change of direction was needed. In this way we scaled the slope in good time, eventually reaching a small overhang about 6 meters end-to-end that 2 humans could walk on shoulder to shoulder, but only just; the dirt was packed smooth from many feet and only slightly damp, thanks to the overhead lip of the cliff that made climbing further up almost impossible without gear or transmat. To my right, below the rain and clouds, I could see the base a Venusian volcano across the bay. The Citadel wasn’t visible here, but its ominous presence could be felt, even when out of sight.

My Ghost floated to the opposite end of the overhang and disappeared into a gap that reminded me of a jagged knife wound cut straight into the side of the earth. I followed it, and the tunnel before me made me feel //claustrophobic. The dim light from outside faded almost to nothing once inside the cramped tunnel, and my Ghost lit up the way. I followed, bumping my hand cannon’s grip with my elbow for reassurance.

Faint voices floated down the tunnel to greet us a mere 2 meters inside. Within 8 meters the tunnel opened up into a surprisingly geometric space made of gray stone and broken up by columns of white metal, flecked black with age. A Vanguard banner hung on the back wall, tattered and faded from long days in the field. The center of the room was dominated by a round table made of the same white metal as the columns, burnished a smooth, dull sheen from constant use. The table was decorated with maps and lit by an overhead light that hung from the low ceiling. The corners of the room were filled with crates. Some were open, revealing weapons, ammo, or other supplies, but most were closed. All were stamped with some variation of the letters “FWC”: Future War Cult.

The room was occupied by Farstride, Telrik, and Drake XII. Drake, dressed in subdued red and purples, his light blue hair impossibly neat in spite of the damp air was the one speaking, his blue Ghost hovering at his side while he pointed at a set of diagrams spread on the table. Farstride listened from the far side of the table, his own white Ghost tracking the motions of Drake’s hand in much the same way the eyes of its Guardian did. Telrik sat on a pile of crates in the back corner of the room in full armor, a long-barreled sniper rifle in his hands not quite pointed at the entrance when we arrived, and his eyes half-closed – in spite of his laconic appearance, I had the impression he was actually very aware of the entrance and everything else in the room.

“Oh, hello!” A verdant Ghost greeted us with a chipper tone. It bobbed and floated before us. “You’re the new boots! Welcome! I knew you were coming, and I have to say, it’s wonderful to meet you!” It spun on its axis. “This is a War Cult supply dump provided to the Vanguard to support operations here for long-term troop deployment in case of-”

“Brutus.” Telrik’s tone was chiding, the kind you would use on an errant puppy. “They just got here.”

“I just wanted them to know-”

“Door,” said Telrik firmly.

“All right,” sighed the Ghost. “I can do both,” it muttered and floated back up a half-meter. A moment later it did a scan pulse.

“A Hunter that can arrive on time,” said Farstride. He and Drake both looked at us now, their talk halted for the moment. “Will wonders ever cease.”

I tossed off a half-salute by way of greeting, and Farstride snorted. “Stand down, soldier, Zavala isn’t watching over our shoulders here.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” said Telrik. “Old Blue Eyes is more paranoid than anyone else in the Tower. Even Cayde.”

“Doubtful,” said Drake. “I suspect the old Hunter hides much behind his wit. Such as it is.” He spoke with a tone that made me believe he had a respect, albeit grudging, for the Hunter member of the Vanguard.

“We can gripe about the bosses later. Just waiting on Arianna now,” said Farstride. “When she gets here we can begin.”

I looked around again. “That makes just 5 of us,” I said.

“Telrik there counts for 2,” said Farstride.

“Is that another comment on my height?” asked the other Titan.

“I would never kid about someone’s appearance. By the way, you got some mud on your helmet when you came through the door,” Farstride said, pointing to the green and silver helm sitting on a crate next to Telrik’s knee.

“Did not,” said Telrik, studiously watching the door.

Farstride shrugged and turned back to the table, the hint of a smile on his face. When his back was turned, Telrik stole a quick glance at his impeccably shiny helmet.

I removed my hood and helmet and walked over to stand next to Drake, who nodded at me in greeting.

“New arrival,” said Brutus from its post over the door.

An orange Ghost floated inside, followed by the newcomer. They also wore a hood and cloak, but in darker browns and blacks, more suited to woodlands and rusted environments than my stark red cloak. A scout rifle with a large scope was slung over one shoulder and a sidearm was slung low on one hip in a cross-draw holster, flanked by a brace of throwing knives. A second set was on the opposite hip, almost hidden beneath the tuck of the cloak, and a third set on a single vambrace just above the left wrist.

“Arianna,” said Farstride. “You’re here sooner than I expected.”

The new arrival approached the table and drew back her hood before peeling off her helm. She was an Awoken, her skin a purple hue in contrast to Drake’s faded blue skin. She had even less hair than the Valherjar’s human leader, who was content to merely buzz his hair short: her skull was shiny and smooth with the exception of a short red mohawk that ran to the back of her skull.

“Farstride, you’re still alive,” she quipped. She nodded to the others and then looked at me. “You must be the new Blade-dancer.”

“What gave me away?” I asked.

“Only Blade-dancers dress like targets because they can cloak, so they think they won’t get hit,” she said. When I did not rise to the bait she grinned. “He doesn’t talk too much. I like him already.”

“Now down to business,” said Farstride.

Arianna’s eyes flicked over the group. “We’re short a Warlock.”

“Couldn’t make it.”

The Hunter sighed. “Where is he?”

“European Dead Zone, last we heard. Still working on that Golden Age church-temple-thing the Vanguard sent him to check out.” Farstride spun one of the diagrams to the center of the table. “We have enough Ghosts to get it done. We’ll just have to watch our corners more closely.”

“This leaves us with only a single medic and no Sunsinger if things go to crap,” said Telrik.

“Can’t help it. Now, briefing. Let’s get everyone up to speed. I think I am right in naming our 2 Hunters in this case.” Farstride looked at us. “Do you both know about the battle at the Black Garden?”

I nodded. Arianna shook her head.

“A Guardian hit the Vex,” said Farstride. “The very center of the Vex’s power. Pulled it right into our reality, into the Light of the Traveler. The Warlocks, specifically New Monarchy Warlocks, have concocted a theory.” Farstride gestured to Drake.

The Awoken took his cue. “We think the Light has a specific effect on the Vex and their ability to manipulate Time. To simplify, the Light introduces errors into the Vex processing code, causing possibilities the Vex can’t calculate.”

“Is that so?” I asked. //Curiosity had gotten the better of me, and I could not help myself interrupting. “Does that not imply the Vex mind is more fragile than previously thought?”

Drake nodded. “It is almost impossible to prove. But it provides hope that the Vex can be beaten. If the Vex can manipulate Time, why not just reset the clock – as it were – every instance they lose? Something constrains them. But the Vanguard want proof before they mount a large scale assault on the Vault of Glass.”

“The Vault?” Arianna’s voice took an edge. “Nobody gets near the Vault.”

“Not yet. But we will, and soon. Our mission is to bring data back to the Vanguard to support or undermine this hypothesis before a raid is launched.”

Telrik whistled. “I’ve tried to get near the Vault a few times. That’s not something to do lightly.”

“That’s where we come in,” said Farstride. “We tried this once already with a 3-man fireteam: we drew out some Vex units while a Ghost was linked to a conflux to record any changes, then took them down to see if it affected them. No such luck. At least, none we could see.”

“It might not be possible to see results without a large scale assault,” Drake’s Ghost interjected.

I realized every Ghost in the room was a different color. “Ebony,” I whispered to my Ghost as the Warlock’s Ghost droned on.


“Your name is now Ebony. At least in groups.”

“Ebony” sighed softly. “Warned you,” I murmured, //smug.

“…of course, killing a planet taken by the Vex is almost impossible, and could have serious repercussions. But a large unit is possible,” Drake’s Ghost finished.

“So, we’re hitting this series of gates here,” said Farstride, tapping the map. “6 regular gates, and a single central gate.”

“Waking a Gate Lord. Gutsy,” said Arianna. “With 4 Ghosts on the conflux gathering data, that will slow down revive time if someone goes down.”

Farstride pointed around the room at each of us in turn. “Arianna, you’ll be point, and our medic since your Ghost will be free. Drake, you’re on the conflux, obviously. Telrik, mid and long-range support as needed, but stick close to Drake and myself – his Ghost is running the show. Morc,” he said to me, “you’re the doorman, and if needed, assassin if we get pinned and Arianna or Telrik can’t fish us out with a scope.”

I nodded that I understood. Farstride clapped his hands together. “OK, everyone: let’s do this. Take whatever ammo or supplies from the crates as needed, compliments of the FWC. We ship out in 5.”

Categories: Morc-35

Day 70

“You only live twice: once when you’re born, and once when you look death in the face.” ~Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice

The shadow cast by the Traveler filled every nook and corner I could see. Even as the light of the morning sun cast its first rays into the City, the thickest shadows remained out of its reach.

“You grow used to it, in time,” said a gravelly voice at my elbow over the hum of the crowded street.

“Father Eriksson,” I addressed him, using his clan’s honorific.

He grunted a greeting. “You came down from the Tower,” he said in his own tongue. My Ghost had deciphered the language his people spoke among themselves as a bastardized dialect of Swedish that had changed over centuries of use. Once it had gotten the finer points of the speech it had in turn taught me – one of the advantages of being an Exo.


“Some of your kind never set foot in the City,” he said. He swept a calloused hand to take in the bustling morning crowds, coming and going from their respective homes of the living district we stood in. “I think sometimes you Guardians forget what you fight for, regardless of why you fight.”

“Are they not the same thing?” I asked.

He chuckled in his thick beard, a raspy sound. “Oh, hardly.” He jerked his head in the direction of the street. “Walk with me.”

I fell in step with him. Humans, frames, and even the occasional Exo gave us room to walk – though whether for my sake or Father Eriksson’s I could not say.

“Has Dead Orbit asked anything of you yet?”

“Not yet.”

“They will.” It was a promise.

“Why do you support them?” I asked.

He turned his head to look at me, green eyes crinkling with what I took to be assessment. “Does it matter?”

“Not really,” I admitted.

He shrugged. “My family is one born to move,” he said. “Long, long ago, before the City, even before the Traveler, we roamed the sea. We explored, we fought, and every now and again, we settled. It was the same in the Before Time.” A phrase I had come to recognize as a reference to the Golden Age, the “Before Time” had an even more mythical quality among the Erikssons than even Old Earth. “We traveled from planet to planet. We had ships, beautiful ships, to touch the sky with.” He looked around. “Before the City, we traveled the settlements. And we did not come here for a very long time. My brothers and sisters, we were the first to settle here. Britt was one of the first to be born inside these walls.” He stopped to look around, and the people moved around him, as if he were a rock in a river of humanity.

“And Dead Orbit fits into that how?” I asked, when his silence had stretched several minutes.

He shook himself out of his thoughts. “Dead Orbit builds a fleet to take us beyond this world.” Father Eriksson looked up at the Traveler hanging silent overhead. “Perhaps they are right, and our world is lost. But even if they are wrong, and this old planet can be saved, my family will travel the skies once more. It is our way.” He shrugged again. “That is why. Their beliefs may be…fatalistic. But their goal is close enough to my own.”

We resumed walking. “And what do you think of them?” he asked me.

“It seems irrelevant now,” I said. “I have already pledged my allegiance.”

“Allegiances can change.”

“True,” I admitted.

“So?” he pressed.

It was my turn to stop and look up. “I want to know,” I said. “I want to understand why this is the way it is.” I pointed to the Traveler. “Where did it come from? What secrets lie beyond us? What has it not yet told us?” I looked Father Eriksson in the eye. “When we have beaten back the Darkness, if the Traveler cannot tell us, then I want to find out for myself. The answers have to be out there.”

The old human smiled. “The answers might be closer than you think.” He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the brightening rays creeping over the lip of the walls. “Do you leave the City again soon?”

“I am joining the Valherjar on an operation tomorrow,” I said.

“I have heard of them,” he said. His tone was difficult to judge, but I thought he might be smirking. “If you come back alive, when the the Winter celebration begins, you may come with us. We go beyond the walls to hunt the Devils most years. But this year, I hear there are new threats.” He grinned and touched the seax on his belt, identical to the one I had taken from his son’s hands that now rested on my own belt.

“You know of the Hive being on Earth again?” I asked in a low tone.

“Oh, aye,” he chuckled. “It’ll be fresh sport for the year.” He reached up and clapped me on the shoulder. “You will be the first Guardian to accompany us if you come. Consider it a thank you, for bringing my son home.”

“You thanked me already with the ship.”

“No,” he said with a firm shake of the head. “That was your rightful prize for battle. This is proper. Not every member of our family is by birth. Perhaps you will consider taking your place in it.”

I finally grasped what his offer meant. “I would be honored. But your…clan does not seem fond of Guardians,” I said cautiously.

“Not all,” he admitted. “But do not mind Britt so much. She will heed my words. Come back Guardian. And do not forget why you fight.” He turned and joined the moving throngs of humanity and was swept into their flow, disappearing in moments.

“Well, that was interesting,” my Ghost said, finally breaking its silence.

I nodded in agreement.

“While you were talking, I received word from the Tower shipwrights: your ship is ready. We can meet the Valherjar at the rendezvous whenever you are ready.”

“Well,” I said. “Better not keep them waiting too long.”

Categories: Morc-35

Day 63

“Out ahead of them, Arkady began something very like a marching song, chanting lines answered by the other ferals, their voices ringing out across the sky, each to each. Temeraire added his own to the chorus, and little Iskierka began to scrabble at his neck, demanding, “What are they saying? What does it mean?”

“We are flying home,” Temeraire said, translating. “We are all flying home.”
Naomi Novik, Black Powder War

“Regulus 99-C. Needs new skin on the starboard wing, the warp drive needs some new parts but at least it’s all there, and the controls have something on them I need about an hour to wash off my hands. It’s just beautiful, to be honest. Where did you find

him?” Joseph the shipwright had completed a third circuit of the jump-ship, taking notes with each pass. He had a funny habit of swiping his pen through his messy hair before making a scribble.

“Him?” I asked.

“Oh, definitely a him,” the shipwright confirmed with a nod. One of Holliday’s people, he seemed unusually positive in spite of his haggard appearance. “So, how did you find him?”

“The Eriksson family,” I replied.

Joseph paused to look at me. “Eriksson? That clan that runs with Dead Orbit?” His tone bordered on incredulous.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

Joseph swiped his pen through his hair, more slowly this time. “You mean to tell me that the Eriksson’s gave you a ship?”

“I had to get it myself, actually.” //Irritation.
“Don’t you see? They’re Dead Orbit. Well, they make most of their business through Dead Orbit, anyway: a jump-ship fetches a huge amount of glimmer with them. How did you convince them to give you a ship?”

“I pledged allegiance to Dead Orbit.” I turned my head slightly so that the black and white circle of the faction that had been dyed onto my red hood was visible.

“Still doesn’t explain them just giving it away,” said Joseph, unconvinced.

I recalled the funeral pyre that “Papa” Eriksson’s boy had been given. As it turned out, the patriarch of the Eriksson clan was brother to the old woman, Britt Eriksson, that my Ghost and I had tracked to the university weeks before. A stocky old man, white of hair and beard, he looked as if he could have stepped out of an Old Earth epic. He listened gravely to his sister’s retelling of the battle. It had been his youngest son’s first venture into the Wilderness. //Sadness. When the story was over, he said I could take one of the prizes they had sent their people to retrieve –  2 largely intact, buried jump-ships hidden beneath the university. Mine required parts and power for my Ghost to even move, an operation that took several trips back and forth to get it back to the City. But the ship had stood out to me, even if it was the more ragged of the 2.

“They owed me a favor.”

Joseph waited for me to elaborate. When I did not, he shrugged. “A few days.”

“A few days until what?”

I turned to look at the newcomer. A towering human, brown of hair and goatee, and decked out in green and silver armor with a rifle slung over his shoulder approached us, a Titan both in name and appearance. “Until my ship is ready,” I told Telrik.

He gave the Regulus a critical look. “I’ll say. How did you get it here?”

//Amusement. “I carried it here. On my back.” I said it with my most deadpan tone.

Telrik blinked, then barked out a laugh. “Well, to be honest, it looks like it. But glad to see you found yourself a ship! Perhaps now you’ll be able to test your mettle somewhere besides the Twilight Gap.”

I recalled the last time I had been in the Crucible. //Chagrin. “Perhaps.”

“Any improvement?” he asked.

“0.98.” //Frustration.

“Hmm. What’s your win rate?”

“Ghost?” I asked.


Telrik looked thoughtful. “Well, it’ll be a hard sales-pitch, but it’s possible. Just let me do all the talking.”

//Consternation. “Talking? You mean now?”

“Oh, didn’t I mention? Farstride is on his way. I think someone else is coming too. I’ve told the Valherjar about your performance during that week in the Iron Banner. They’re interested.”

//Nervousness. //Hesitation. “Well, I mean, I might need more time to reach the standard…”

“Bah, you can still tag-along with us, even if you’re not made a member outright.”

“Tag-along”. I could almost feel my Ghost’s gaze. //Irritation. “It can wait, I-”

“Oh, there they are.” The Titan raised his hand and waved 2 figures over. Another human and an Awoken meandered through the docked vessels.

“Farstride, Sir Drake,” said Telrik. “This is Morc-35, that Hunter I was telling you about.”

“Greetings!” said the human, thrusting out a hand. Also a Titan, though he wore armor that was lighter than average for someone in the field. I shook it. “I’m Farstride, leader of the Valherjar.” He gestured to his side. “This is Sir Drake XII.” The Awoken bowed slightly at the waist and placed a hand over his heart, and I saw a Warlock’s bond with the sigil of the New Monarchy on his upper arm. “Telrik says you were quite fierce in holding some zones when Lord Saladin last opened up the roster.”

“I would like to think I put in a good effort.”

“Well, to be honest, I was hoping to get someone who could sing.”

//Confusion. “Sing?”

“Or dance,” said Farstride. “We have dance-offs in the Tower sometimes. I always win.”

I looked at the others for clarification. The Awoken rolled his eyes. Telrik snorted and intervened. “Farstride, seriously. You said yourself we’re short on Hunters. And we need at least a fifth man for the op later this week.”

“But if he can’t dance, what’s the point?” asked Farstride.

“Ignore him,” Drake said to me, sotte voce. “You’ll get used to it.”

“Alright, alright,” said Farstride, raising his hands in a gesture I took to be surrender. “What my tall, green friend says is true: we need a fifth, and preferably a sixth, person for our operation this week. A Hunter would do nicely, and I’m told you’re a Bladedancer.”

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“Well, we’ve got a spot. What’s your Crucible score?”

“He’s over 1.0,” said Telrik.

“And?” pressed Farstride.

“0.98 in kills. But c’mon, he brings his team to victory. I’ve seen him carry a match.”

Farstride raised his eyebrows. “High praise coming from you.”

Telrik shrugged. Farstride considered a moment, then shook his head. “We don’t leave for almost a week. And your ship needs some work, I see.” He pointed past me at the Regulus. “So it’s a bit of a moot point anyway. You bring that score up to a flat 1.0 and you’re in: Telrik vouches for you, and that’s good enough for me. If you survive the op, then you can consider yourself Chosen.” He thrust out his hand again. “Deal?”

“Deal,” I said, and shook his hand again.

“Well then, better get to work,” Farstride said. “Ragnarok waits for no one.”

Categories: Morc-35

Day 37

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work. ~ Mark Twain, alleged.

First entry. Day 37 since my resurrection. Since I seemed to have plenty of time on my hands, I was tasked by the Vanguard to seek some refugees that had left the City.

“Why would someone leave the walls?” I asked my Ghost while I examined a set of tracks that were fresh enough to have been made within the last day. Definitely human-shaped feet. At least 4, and we were seeking 6.

“Scavengers,” suggested my Ghost.


“Guardians are not the only ones who profit by bringing materials back to the City.” My Ghost spun and flickered next to my head, looking down at the tracks and back up at me.

I looked up to make eye contact with the floating cyclops. “Then why are we searching in this particular case?”

“They have been absent an unusual length of time. A family member sent a request.”

“And the Vanguard just happened to respond? Why not just tell them they knew the risks?”

“If they know the right people, the right factions, they might have leveraged a favor. Or pressure. I am not in a position to comment on the politics of the City to that level.” My Ghost flickered, as if making a curt gesture.

I stood. “Analysis?”

“5 humans, at least 1 has not hit puberty, and they are carrying a lot.”

“They brought a child?”

“If it is a family trade to scavenge, it is not unlikely. To live in the City, everyone contributes.”

I touched the grip of my hand cannon with my elbow, assessing, listening to the hum of the Sparrow behind me and the chatter of living sparrows beyond that blending into the susurrus of the wind-blown trees. “No Exos? No transportation?”

“Just footprints, and they seem too shallow for Exos. Also, a group of Exos that large? That would be Guardians, or at least that would be my guess. If they are Guardians, they will not likely need our help.”

“Why not?” I felt something flicker through me. //Annoyance?

“A fire-team that size is probably not looking for a tag-along.”

“Tag-along? So because I am freshly resurrected I am a tag-along?”

My Ghost made a sound I took to be the human equivalent of a sigh. When no elaboration was forthcoming I returned my attention to the tracks. “Only 5. This is not our group, or at least not the entire party.”

“Even so, groups like this have a network,” said my Ghost. “They supply merchants and foundries in the City. Even if they have rival interests they might know something.”

I nodded. Your Ghost will guide you. The Speaker had made a point of me listening to the little Valkyrie that had raised me to the field of battle. “Think you can plot an approximate location?”

“Given their direction, pace and numbers, I think I can get it close. We could catch up to them in minutes if we keep our eyes open, but we can scan as we go to be sure.”

I mounted my Sparrow and gunned it, following the trail down into a valley filled with hardwood trees. Lines of sight became shorter and shorter as we went further into the forest, covering the Sun and leaving us in shadow. Even so, I noticed the symmetry in our path. “Are we on a road?” I asked.

“It would seem so. A byway at one point: there is metal and other materials just a few centimeters beneath the dirt. It is possible this group has been this way before and is returning to a favorable cache.”

I slowed the Sparrow again and my Ghost floated a meter over my head, then began a scan, its collective parts fanning out into orbit around its core. “So what do I call you?” I asked.

The Ghost’s scan ended and it floated down to eye level. “‘Ghost’ will suffice.”

“Seems like there are quite a few of you.” I gave it a critical look. “Like you are all copies of something.”

Spin, flicker, blink. “The same might be said of Exos like you. Constructs, copies of their human creators.”

//Annoyance. //Curiosity. “So why did you raise me, then? If all Exos are the same, it would seem to make little difference.”

“You are not. You are each unique.”

“Are Ghosts not?”

“A conversation for another time.” My Ghost floated up again to resume the scan.

“If you do not give me a suggestion I might have to come up with one myself.” //Smugness.
The Ghost stopped to look down at me. “Nothing new, but the tracks continue on the path.”

I put the Sparrow in gear and we resumed our pursuit. After several kilometers the trees ended sharply and the Sparrow’s thrum echoed off the walls and glass of old buildings. I braked and turned the machine sharply so we came to a stop in what appeared to be a kind of town square. “Analysis?” I asked again.

“A…university, or museum, I think.” The Ghost flickered and fluttered about, spinning in the air once or twice. “I am not detecting any power sources. But there is tech here.” It turned around again and paused. “And smoke.”

I followed its gaze: a column of black smoke rose beyond several buildings away. “That’s not a campfire.” I loosened my hand cannon in its holster and stepped off the Sparrow. “Is there a way over there that you can see without us going through the open?”

“This way.” The Ghost floated off across the plaza and I followed its contrail of Light. Grass, dry and brittle, crunched beneath my boots. There was no birdsong here.

The entry my Ghost had chosen had once had a set of double-doors that had long ago been smashed in. In the stone of the arch over their shattered remains was an inscription. “What does it say?” I asked softly, pointing.

I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.” My Ghost looked at me. “A university, then.”

“If you say so.” I stepped over the warped frame of the ruined doors and followed inside into the shadows. A triple-flight of stairs went up to a floor made of marble or some similar stone, supporting columns that in turn supported an arched ceiling with skylights so covered in detritus that no illumination got through. My Ghost shimmered and a beam of light pierced the gloom, showing rows of the columns. Old chairs, desks, and an empty pot that might have once held a plant were scattered among growths of vines thicker bigger than my own body interspersed with cobwebs. I followed my Ghost past them all into the depths of the building. It paused more than once, searching, then taking me down corridors past classrooms and nooks. Eventually we came to a library, shelves destitute of anything except the occasional forlorn book – whatever tech had been here had long ago been stripped from the desks. The room was shaped in a circular fashion with the ground floor open to the ceiling. The second and third floors had an open view to look down on the rows of desks that filled the open space; a coliseum of learning.

“There,” said my Ghost, nodding toward the far side of the room. The bobbing light revealed a wall of windows, and just beyond, the smoke column. I could not see the exact source, blocked by a low-roofed structure, but we were much closer than before. I picked my way across the room to one of the windows which had been smashed outward and stepped through. My Ghost extinguished its light and followed. We both stood still a moment and listened.

“Anything?” I asked. //Nervousness? Correction: //Caution.

“Not yet. It is very quiet.”

“Agreed.” I crossed the open space to the other building in a few strides and sought a hand hold on the wall and scrambled up. The roof itself was sloped, so I crouched and crept to the crest to gain a view of the tableau below.

There was a group of 6 tents, and not simple ones: they were made of heavy materials in a drab green, resistant to weather and wind in the wilderness and easily housing a single person in relative comfort. Well, I thought they might have all been that way: 4 were on fire, smoldering heaps that had been set to the torch. Near the tents were several corpses piled together.

“No movement,” said my Ghost.

“Anything else?” I asked, still examining the scene.


“Where?” //Alertness. //Fear?

“2 Dregs beyond the far side of the ring of the camp. Dead.”

I scanned until I saw them. One was missing a large portion of its head, the other had nearly half its body removed in a gruesome fashion. “High caliber rounds.”

“Possibly. They might be bait.”

//Caution. “If the Fallen were here, where are they now?”

“Perhaps they looted what they wanted and left.”

We waited exactly 10 minutes before I scrambled over the roof to the other side and put boots on the ground. Nothing stirred to challenge us. I picked my way over to the undamaged tents and peered inside. Both were empty of people, only cots and some bundles left behind. Next I checked the human corpses. There were 9, and 1 was indeed a child.

“5 on foot plus 6 tents,” I said. “A rendezvous. Our group was meeting another.”

“Perhaps from a settlement,” my Ghost agreed. “Or a trade they did not want anyone in the City knowing about.”

I looked at my Ghost. //Curiosity. “You think it is possible?”

“The Tower is only an arm of the City, however important,” said my Ghost. “The rest is an entity much larger than you might think.”

Is my Ghost rebuking me? A matter for another time. “This means there might be 2 survivors.”

“Or the Fallen took them.”

//Puzzlement. “Are they in the habit of taking prisoners?”

“If they thought they might be key to getting something they wanted. Perhaps something they scavenged.”

I approached the Dreg still in possession of its head and knelt to examine it more closely. The wound was ragged and burnt, and I was convinced that it had indeed been shot with a high-caliber round. The bullet had ripped off an arm and a chunk of its torso, leaving ether spattered in the dirt. //Puzzlement. There was no sign it had been dragged, meaning…

//Chagrin. With slow deliberation, I raised my hands and stood to my feet. “We are from the City,” I called out. My Ghost spun about in surprise. “I am a Guardian. We mean no harm.”

I heard a shuffle behind me and turned. An old human female – at least, I judged her to be old by the wrinkles in her face – glared at me through an eye down the barrel of a sniper rifle almost as long as she was tall. Behind her was a human male, approximately 10 years of age, clutching in both hands a single-edged knife big enough to serve him as a short-sword. He was wide-eyed and visibly shaking. Both were dressed in non-descript clothes that blended well with the green and brown of the nearby woods.

“Guardian.” The old-woman’s voice was heavily accented. “Like storm-crow. Always following in the wake of battle to pick over lost treasure. The Dead seek the dead.”

“We are here to help.” I spread my hands wide.

“You look like the devils who kill family.” She spat. “Take off hood and helm.” She motioned with the rifle for emphasis.

I obeyed, taking slow, measured movements to pull off my hood and remove the helmet and goggles.

“Blue, like Awoken. But machine.” She squinted and her wrinkles deepened further. “Explain why you here.”

“We are looking for the refugees who left the City 4 days ago,” I explained.

The old woman bristled. “Not refugees. Merchants. They all dead. We go back to City when nightfall.”

“Clandestine trade. Thought as much,” said my Ghost.

“Tell little spirit be quiet or I shoot it.”

//Fear. “We mean no harm,” I repeated. “We want to take you back to the City. Your family is worried.”

“Papa?” asked the youth. He said something in a language I had not yet learned. The old woman spit out several harsh words and he fell silent.

“The Fallen may come back,” I said. “We need to go.”

“Will find own way home. You. Go. Now.”

Again the youth spoke. Another discussion broke out, harsher than before.

“What now?” asked my Ghost while they argued.

“Seems like we do not have much choice but to leave,” I replied softly.

“Well, we-” The Ghost broke off suddenly and whirled. I heard it a moment later: the deep thrum of engines, just on the edge of sound, coming from the direction I had ridden my Sparrow down.

//Fear. //Excitement. “Fallen!” I said, sharply enough to get the attention of the others. They stopped to look at me. “Pikes, coming this way.”

The old woman cocked her head and listened. “You bring Devils to us!” she spat.

“Inside the library!” I grabbed up my helmet and cloak again. “Now!”

The old woman took off at a surprising pace, the youth in her wake. I followed, and we reached the broken window to the library just as the first pikes whipped around the corner and into the clearing. A shout was followed by spats of Arc energy from the Fallen war machines, and what few undamaged windows there were shattered into a rain of glass and hot stone.

We ran between the desks on the ground floor, seeking cover among the stacks. “Up the stairs, second floor!” It was a circular staircase made of steel with only enough room for a single person to run up at a time, hidden in the back of the library from the windows by rows of bookcases. Fallen shouts and howls echoed eerily from outside. We sprinted up the steps and I ran to the end of the row, took cover behind a case and pulled out my hand-cannon, peering through the banister as Fallen Dregs poured into the library, howling and shrieking: 9 of them. 3 Vandals followed.

“We run no more!” hissed the old woman next to me. I startled as she thrust the barrel of the rifle past me through the banister. “Will not die coward!”

I seized the weapon’s barrel to stop her. Too late. Too slow. The rifle roared and its discharge punched a Dreg crawling into the building back outside in a shower of ether. With shrieks of glee – or maybe hate – the Fallen swarmed forward, seeking a way up to us.

I looked over my shoulder at the stairs. The youth was crouching behind me, his eyes nearly bugging from his head in terror, the knife still clutched in his hands. I slid the hand cannon across the floor to him and took my shotgun in both hands. “Pick them off as they come through, I will hold the stairs.” I reached the stairs as the first Dreg stormed up and I took its head off with a shot. Another pushed past it. I killed it too. And another.

Later, when we returned to the Tower, I asked about their fervor. Why attack? Why waste so many lives in pursuit of us? The answer I was given was this: “They are like moths, and the Traveler their moon. But you are a candle flame: if they cannot reach the moon, you will do.” Perhaps the old woman was right: perhaps I should have just left.

“Out of ammo!” I shouted at my Ghost, and hammered a Vandal’s face with the stock of my empty weapon. //Fear. //Panic?  I kicked the wounded Vandal down the stairs to collide with his fellows.

I took a moment to assess my allies. The woman was still shooting through the banister down into the open space of the library. She was also shouting at the youth, who hunched over the gun I had slid to him, his hands covering his ears. She swatted him and he cringed, but he made no move for the weapon. The wounded Vandal recovered enough to charge the stairs again. I whipped out my short knife and lodged the blade in its eye, then kicked it down once more.

I turned toward the humans. The old woman suddenly jerked against the banister and cracked her head. She collapsed with a moan, the gun ripped from her hands by a claw. More claws gripped the railing and a Fallen Captain clambered over, a sword in his last hand. He threw the rifle off the edge with a contemptuous flick of the wrist and planted a boot on the woman’s leg. She shrieked. The youth finally reacted and picked up his knife, but was seized in 2 arms and bodily lifted off the ground.

I charged, scooped up my hand-cannon from the ground and pointed it at the Captain. He jumped back, nimbly balancing on the rail, clutching the youth, blade against his captive’s throat. He shouted an order and the library became quieter.

“I think he wants you to surrender,” said my Ghost.

//Anger. “No.” I motioned with my gun. “Put the boy down. ”

The Captain snarled and made a gesture. His captive quivered, still clutching the knife and looked at me with what I can only describe as a pleading expression. “Put him down,” I repeated. What happened next was difficult to process, it was so quick.

The old woman moaned and tried to stand. The Captain snarled at her, distracted a moment. I took a step. The boy reacted: he turned the knife in his hands and thrust down, the heavy blade catching the Fallen in its knee. Ether welled up around the blade. The Captain shrieked, slipped, and fell off the railing.

I ran to the edge. Too late. Too slow. When I looked over, the Captain was already on his feet, stumbling away while his crew provided covering fire.

I leapt over the railing and crouched next to the boy. His head lolled at an unnatural angle. Blood poured down his shirt and pooled around him, and his eyes stared sightless into the void. I felt a surge of //rage. I took up the knife from his broken grasp. It was big and heavy. It was enough.

A leap put me across two of the desks and I cut the first Dreg down, a snap of Arc energy reducing him to fine powder. The next 2 shrieked and dodged. I caught one with a hand and pinned him to the nearest desk with the blade and its body vanished with a flash of Light. I skipped off the desk and cut the head from the other as it fled. The Captain was through the window, limping for the pikes behind his fleeing Vandals. I pulled my hand-cannon free of its holster again and began firing measured shots at the Fallen Captain’s back. A bullet sparked off his helm and he stumbled, then turned, his own weapon in hand, and shot back. I closed the distance, still shooting, until I was close enough to leap in with the knife.

He caught me with 2 hands and roared in my face, raising his own blade. I sank mine to the hilt into his upper arm-pit, 1, 2, 3 strikes, and the sword fell from his damaged grasp. I was bodily lifted and slammed against the Pike, once, twice. I reached for the tie of his cloak around his throat and twisted it, tightening it. A fist pummeled the side of my helm. The Captain roared again – and then his head disappeared in a shower of ether. We collapsed, the corpse pinning me momentarily beneath the still-humming Pike.

I pushed the body off and looked toward the library. The old woman was limping back inside, using her rifle as a crutch. The Fallen were gone, and after a moment I followed her inside. She crouched over the youth. “He was weak. Not strong. A coward.” She touched the boy’s pale hair, now dyed with his own blood.

“He fought at the end.” The words seemed inadequate.

“It was not enough.”

I shook my head. “It was enough. It was his battle to win.”

She thought for a moment, then nodded. I knelt, took off my cloak, and wrapped the boy in it before lifting him from the ground. “I will carry,” said the old woman.

“You can barely walk,” I said.

“I will carry. His papa will expect it.” She took the body from me and limped toward the exit. //Admiration.

I balanced the boy’s knife in my hand a moment. The triangular blade was blackened from the energy that had flowed through it. It would need to be reforged and strengthened with spin metal, but it would do. I slid it into my belt and followed the old woman outside. As she tied the boy’s corpse to the Pike, I knelt and examined the Fallen. His blood-red cloak was still intact. I stripped it from him and wrapped it around my shoulders.

“It fits,” my Ghost commented.

//Amusement. “I agree.” I pulled the hood up and it swallowed my entire head. “Well, almost.”

My Ghost flickered. “You’ll grow into it.”

I almost laughed.

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