“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.”