“The Servitor,” said Morgan, making a sucking noise around the pipe hanging from his lips, “is the unifying force on the battlefield for the Fallen. More than the Captain, the Baron, the Archon or even the Kell. Destroy the Servitor, and you destroy their communications, their defenses, their supply line and their god. Well, demigod anyway.”
“It seems a weakness,” I replied, gently shifting the pile of papers and books I shared a seat with. Morgan’s little cubbyhole – it would be charitable to call it an apartment – was the most disorganized place I had seen under the care of a cryptarch, maybe in the whole Tower. Ebony floated high over the haze of foul-smelling smoke, scanning pages to open books and maps scattered around the space I took to be the kitchen.
Morgan, in spite of his immense size and belly, navigated the chaos with ease as he prepared a steaming concoction he called tea, although the smell made me want to put distance between myself and it. “Perhaps, but it is also their strength. Like the Mongols and their horse.”
“What?” I asked.
“You’re going to the Mongolian Ruins, yes?” Morgan poured his brew into a chipped cup that displayed dark hair-line cracks across its surface. “Mongolia was once the greatest contiguous empire on Earth. Conquered almost purely by humans on beasts of burden called horses, armed with slings, blades, and bows. In fact,” he said, setting aside his pipe a moment to slurp from the cup, “the Mongols share much in common with the Fallen. They began as a scattering of tribes prone to infighting. Later, they were united under a single leader – a “Khan”, I think it was called – and conquered much of the known world. They revolutionized and modernized Asia, albeit by the blade.”
“What does this have to do with the Fallen?” I asked.
Morgan sighed. “Hunters,” I heard him mutter into his gray beard before he took another slurp of tea. “The Empire did the same thing all great civilizations do: it fractured and was eventually replaced. Likely enough, the Fallen we see today are just that: the remnants of a great empire, clinging to their old way of life, hoping to rise up again.”
Morgan squinted his puffy eyes at me critically. “The horse was what allowed the Mongols to conquer so effectively. But they were susceptible to gunpowder. Such weapons proved an effective tactic.” He put his tea aside and scratched at his beard with one hand while holding his pipe in the other. “I suspect the Servitors are similarly affected by the Light.”
“Why?” I asked, my //curiosity genuinely piqued.
“Well, if the Light is a force, it holds the Darkness is too, yes? And the Servitors…well, we know they produce Ether for the Fallen. But how? And what does that imply about them?” Morgan’s eyes drifted out of focus.
I made to rise, and only just managed to keep from knocking over the stack as I got up. “I thank you for your time, Cryptarch.”
“What? Oh, yes, of course. Always glad to share knowledge with a Guardian.”
“I’ll be back,” I promised. “I want to hear more about your Servitor theory.”
That made him smile, and I suspected I had just won myself an ally with those words. “Of course. Careful in the field, Hunter.”
7 hunters gathered in a single space made quite a sight. We huddled in the cafe beneath the Tower hangar, the noise of the ships penetrating even the sound of the jukebox in the corner. At the head of the gathering was a Hunter that barely reached my chest in height: she wore her blonde hair very short and tied back and dressed in drab colors, the only exception a small gold start emblazoned over her heart. Her orange Ghost floated over her shoulder. “Bob, this it?”
“We’re still waiting on Ka-“
“No we’re not,” she interrupted her Ghost. “Alright everyone, eyes front. You can call me M. Cayde-6 gave me the briefing.”
“Why are we getting an in-person briefing?” asked a stocky human I did not recognize – although that was true of the group as a whole.
M glared at the interrupter with enough heat to make him shrivel back into his cloak. “Because, if you let me continue, I could tell you that the region we’re scouting is in a comm blackout.” She tapped a map on the table with a throwing knife: a huge region south of the Cosmodrome had been blotted with red ink. “And that means nothing past short-range comms. And without satellite imagery, thanks to Rasputin, we only have flyovers for recon. And every flyover has been interdicted. There are a lot of Fallen in the region. It’s possible they are preparing a beachhead for an assault.”
“So send in a couple of real fire-teams,” interjected another, this 1 an Exo. “A few Titans can clean them out before they’re entrenched.”
M shook her head. “Vanguard does not want to commit Titans or Warlocks to the operation. The reports from Luna have everyone worried the Hive are on the move again. We had a new seeder try to take root a few weeks ago, right around the time the Temple of Crota was cracked open.” She did not look at me, but I felt her attention nonetheless. “So unless we have something big enough to warrant a troop movement that size, it’s just us. We’ll deploy in teams of 2.”
“We’re short 1,” pointed out Bob the Ghost.
“No we’re not.” Arianna slid into the seat next to me on the bench. “I swapped assignments with Kalesh. Sorry I’m late.” She smiled at me. Hot //anger flooded my circuits, but I checked it for the moment.
“Your teammate can brief you then,” said M crisply. “Make sure you pack, everyone. Once inside that zone we’ve no communication with the Tower, and ships are likely to be shot down. The objective is simple: find the source of the blackout. If possible, shut it down. If not, communicate it to the Tower. And find out why: the Fallen are hiding something, and we need to know what it is.”
“Why are you worked up about this?” Arianna asked, hands spread at her sides. “I thought you would be happy to have a teammate.” We stood just outside the Walls, our Sparrows humming next to us.
“I do not need the Valherjar watching over my shoulder,” I snapped. “I can handle myself.”
“That’s why you think I’m here? We don’t think you’re capable?” She rolled her eyes. “Morc, the whole point behind units like the Valherjar is for situations like this: fire-teams that have familiar members work better together. It’s better organization than just having Guardians doing as they please, without the need for a military command structure.”
“I need to do this on my own, Arianna.”
She frowned at me and ran a hand through the bristles of her short mohawk. “Morc. There’s no shame in what happened to you. Guardians fall. Ghosts get caught.”
“It shouldn’t have,” I replied, //bitterly.
“You’re right,” she said. “You should have led your family home. You should have gotten help. You should have waited. You should have done anything except hunt that whole nest by yourself. You’re a Guardian, and however brave the Erikssons are, it was your job to protect them, not lead them into a trap. The blood of their fallen is on your hands.”
I thought of tall Leif and strong Olaf when they had fallen beneath the Knight’s blade. More //anger flooded my circuits, but it was a cold feeling.
“But,” she continued, “thanks to you and them, we brought down a Seeder. We stopped a catastrophic move by the Hive on Earth. That’s on you too.” Arianna smiled ruefully. “We’re Hunters. We work alone, I get that. But the Tower stands because of teamwork, not in spite of it.”
Reason filtered through my //annoyance, and after a moment I nodded.
“Now come on,” she said. “If we’re going in on Sparrows, it’s going to be a long ride, and daylight is wasting.” She jumped astride her bike, put on her helmet, and raced away. I got on my own Sparrow and followed her into the Wilderness.