Monthly Archives: July 2016

Day 464 – Part 7 (Finale)

“That was Flint’s treasure that we had come so far to seek, and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island


“…requesting aid from any Guardians within these coordinates! Please respond!”

Farstride raised a fist and our fire-team came to a halt. “This is Farstride of the Valherjar.”

“Traveler be praised!” The Guardian’s voice was tight with strain. “This is Irma-6 of FWC unit Northern Paladins. My fire-team is pinned by a mass of Taken and Hive forces. 1 of my Guardians is down and we can’t revive him. Both of us are running out of Light!”  There was a brief pause. “We found a terminal that was locking down a Hive cache. We successfully unlocked the terminal but it summoned Taken.” Another pause. “Look, Far Hide, or whatever your name is, we’ll split the takeaway from this with you, even shares all around if you help me get my team out of here.”

We were already jogging forward, following the coordinates Farstride’s Ghost was pinging to our HUDs. “Understood, Irma-6. Transmit approximate enemy count and reconfirm position.”

Another ping of coordinates. “Double time,” said Farstride and we picked up our pace.

“The Northern Paladins are a tough unit,” said Drake. “Treasure hunting in enemy controlled territory is what they do. If they are in a tight spot this will be a hard fight.”

“House, Morc: you 2 are faster, so go on ahead and reinforce them, we’ll catch up.”

We nodded and started to run ahead. I turned on a heel and pointed at Emma as I ran. “Stay out of trouble and do what Farstride says.”

Emma flipped me off and I took it as a sign she was doing OK in spite of her injuries. I raced to catch up with House.


House stood on the Ogre’s skull and pulled his knife free from its head. He whipped it through the air to sling the ichor off the blade, which had covered most of his steel-colored armor in a thick paste. I shook my hand cannon to make sure none of the ectoplasm from the Taken were in it. The scattering of Hive bodies belied the sheer numbers that we had defeated, as the Taken left little behind when they were destroyed.

Drake knelt over a white Ghost that rested on the chest of another Warlock wrapped in the blue and red robes of a Future War Cult soldier. After a few moments he stood and shook his head. “I am sorry, but his Light is gone. I cannot do anymore.”

Irma-6 knelt next to her fallen comrade. She was dressed in the same colors as the dead Warlock, a tiny Titan that was barely a meter and a half tall. Irma picked up the dead Ghost and cradled it in her hands. The last member of her fire team, a giant of a Guardian that I took to be an Awoken judging by his patterns of speech – there was no way to be certain beneath the Iron Banner helm he wore – rested a hand on her shoulder. Irma-6 shrugged his hand off, and I heard a soft sound I took to be a sign of grief.

“Thank you for trying,” said the second Titan. He thrust out a gauntlet towards Farstride. “I am Leonardo of the Northern Paladins.”

“Farstride of the Valherjar.” Farstride shook his hand. “Sorry we did not get here sooner.”

“It is no fault of yours,” said the Titan. “We split with the other half of our team to investigate this cavern. We found a rune of some sort and matched its energy signature to a terminal here.” He turned and pointed at a large black cylinder that rested on a thick column almost 2 meters off the ground, covered in glowing Hive script. Next to the terminal was a large chest that seemed to have grown straight out of the floor. “A Wizard was here, singing some dirge. We came to the conclusion that this was her laboratory, or ritual circle, and that chest contained her foci. So we decided that we would take it.”

“And then the Taken,” concluded Emma. She was leaning on her rifle like a crutch, and she sounded strained. She had acquitted herself well in the fight, providing covering fire for the rest of us.

Leonardo nodded. “Perhaps she led them, or was summoning them. Either way we were quickly overrun, and they cut off our exit.”

Irma-6 stood and took her place next to Leonardo. “I am taking Balthazar’s Ghost back to the transmat zone.”

“I will deal with the body,” said Leonardo.

“Very well. Do with the loot as you will.” She nodded curtly to our group and turned away, still cradling the dead Ghost in her hands.

Leonardo sighed. “Well, there are 5 of you, and 1 of me. The terms were an even split, and we Paladins honor our agreements.” He motioned to the chest. “Take your pick. I will take what remains.”

House walked over to the chest and lifted the lid. He reached in and rummaged about for moment. I heard things clanking or rattling as he moved them. Then he drew out something small and square, and after turning it over in his hands a few times, nodded. “This will do.”

Drake went next. He rifled through the contents for a few minutes and then drew out what appeared to be a heavy neck chain. He pocketed it and withdrew.

I looked at Emma. She shook her head weakly. I went over and looked into the chest. It was deep – surprisingly so – and had a strange collection of items inside. A stack of what looked like ingots of metal made of material so black they sucked in Light took up nearly half the chest. The other half had neatly arranged items organized in a way that I couldn’t quite grasp, but it was clearly with purpose. There was the skull of a Thrall encrusted with stones and what might have been jewels, resting in a pair of skeletal hands like an offering. Several pieces of jewellery were scattered with different items in the chest. A bolt of cloth, thick as a blanket and made of some fur I could not identify was dyed a color that was well outside the perception range of most mammals, and I had the impression even my own eyes couldn’t see every shade.

There were a variety of different blades, each with a different shape of hilt and edge, some clearly not made for human hands, some that might have been. I lifted a couple of these, and noticed near the bottom of the stack a particularly large weapon. I gently cleared the others from the stack and hefted it. The material was a metal I could not identify and much, much heavier than any sword had a right to be. The blade was double-edged and had a wicked point meant for thrusting, and overall nearly 2 meters long. The hilt was too thick for human hands to be comfortable, and the cross-guard was small relative to the size of the blade. I realized it wasn’t a sword at all, but a monstrous knife made for some behemoth as a backup weapon. Whatever creature had wielded this would have been a giant in their own right. I would have to reforge the hilt to make it feasible for 2 hands, but it would do. I rested the blade on my shoulder and stepped away after surreptitiously pocketing one of the shinier jewels.

Farstride took several of the ingots and the thick pelt. “This will make some fine armor if we can get someone to forge it,” he said. Freyja transmatted his loot for easy transport.

Leonardo took a few things I did not see, then he closed the lid. “Some of those things are best left here,” he said, and Drake nodded in agreement. “I can lead you back to the transmat zone.”

“We would appreciate that,” Farstride admitted.

“This way,” said the Titan, and we followed him out. As he passed Balthazar’s body he extended a hand and Arc energy leaped from his fingers, lighting the body. It disappeared into ash.

“Light be with him,” said Drake. We all murmured agreement. Then I offered Emma a shoulder to lean on and we trudged out in silence.

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

Day 464 – Part 6

With our backs to the wall, the Darkness will fall
We never quite thought we could lose it all
Ready, aim, fire, ready, aim, fire
An empire’s fall in just one day
You close your eyes and the glory fades
Ready, aim, fire, ready, aim, fire away (fire!)
Ready, aim, fire, ready, aim, fire away

Ready Aim Fire, Imagine Dragons


“Do Guardians not bring anything besides guns?” demanded Emma. Even under her helmet I could feel her glaring daggers at me as she leaned on me for support.

“Well, usually that’s enough,” I said, trying not to sound //sheepish. “Although now we are out of ammo.”

“Traveler save us all,” she muttered. “Stop for a second.” I obliged and she sat on the ground, one leg stretched out in front of her: in spite of the sealed suit, the leg was clearly resting at a strange angle just below her knee. Emma then pulled the pack on her back around and opened it up. She reached in and took out a white cylinder about half a meter long. “Ghost, help me.”

Charlemagne and Ebony looked at one another for a moment, then Charlemagne floated down to her eye level. She held the cylinder up to the little blue Ghost.

“What is…” He scanned the object. “Oh! I see.” There was a flash of a transmat and Emma groaned in pain: the outside of her deformed leg became covered in a hard casing, and there was a sound of mechanical whirring. The leg straightened out and the casing blew out a small cloud of gases as it tightened down. Then Emma sighed with relief and her head lolled back briefly.

“Pain killers should be kicking in now,” said Charlemagne. “That’s a very clever device! How long does healing take?”

“If I have regular caloric intake, the injections take about 2 weeks to repair the bone. Longer if I have less to eat, since it runs on my body’s energy levels.” Emma stood to her feet, using her rifle as a crutch to lever herself up, then put weight on the broken leg. After a couple of test steps she nodded. “There. Now I can function.” She bent down and reached into the bag once more, pulling out a spool of thin wire and a grappling hook and small metal anchors. “Standard climbing apparatus for Dead Orbit crews in case of crashing in inhospitable terrain.”

“It would behoove us to have something similar in the future,” Drake admitted.

“You think?” said Emma.

“Hey, we did just save your life. A little gratitude wouldn’t hurt,” I said.

“Actually, by my count, I saved yours. For the second time. And with this, I am saving it again.” Emma positioned herself where we had landed from our jump down into the cell. “OK, Ebony, help me aim.” My Ghost obliged, giving her pointers for the angle and approximate distance – it was impossible to tell from down below –  and she fired the grapple into the air over our heads. The wire followed, then went slack when the hook landed. She tapped a button on the side of the gun, and then tugged on the wire: it went taught.

“Good to go,” she said. “I’ll go first, put some extra anchors up there just in case. The firing device is also a reel, so I will send it down in a moment.” Then flipped a switch on it and began to ascend.

“Handy!” said Charlemagne. Drake nodded his agreement, then looked at me. “Are you all right?”

I shrugged to communicate //nonchalance, even if it was false. “I will be fine.”

Drake nodded again. “Darkness is only the absence of Light, Morc-35. In times like these, it is best to remember that.”

“Thanks…? I think,” I said, //unsure what else I should say.

“I-”  Drake was interrupted by the return of the grappling reel. I motioned for him to take it, and he ascended to the faint light overhead, leaving me alone with Ebony and my thoughts.

“She was Taken. We might not have to deal with her again,” said Ebony.

“I don’t think it is that simple,” I replied. Ebony did not comment. Eventually the reel returned. I grabbed it, flipped the switch, and we rushed upward. The edge of the platform appeared and I reached for it.

A gauntlet seized my wrist and hauled me into the air before I could react. I fumbled for my knife to cut the attacker.

“Blimey, House! Look what I copped!” said Farstride in a terrible cockney accent as he dragged me over the edge. “It’s a bloomin’ Exo!”


“We had a rough landing. Thankfully we were close enough together that Farstride’s Ghost helped revive me,” House explained as he handed me an ammo pack. We had gathered on the bridge outside the cell. “Our Ghosts detected a spike of Light from the cell, so we guessed it must be a Guardian.”

“That would be Drake flash-bombing the 100 or so Thrall down there,” I said, loading my revolver.

“Well, there is good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” asked Farstride.

“Good news would be well received,” said Drake.

“The good news is that our assault accomplished its objective: the transmat zone is secure, Guardians are flooding the Dreadnought as we speak, and our distraction was enough for a Guardian to punch through to the closed off parts of the ship. We believe they might already be on their way to face the King.”

“What’s the bad news?” I asked.

“We have lost at least 4 dozen Guardians thus far since we landed – several to a section of the ship I haven’t seen yet, but analysis received indicates its a focal point for powerful Hive entities: they’re calling it the Court of Oryx. There is no word if the Guardian on their way to face the Taken King has survived. Also, we are lost.”

“Wonderful,” I said, making sure to inject the inflection with as much //sarcasm as I could muster.

“It’s not all bad Morc,” said House. “More Guardians are landing every hour. Chances are we will meet up with a group of scouts in time.”

“Nothing for it then,” said Emma. She hefted her rifle over her shoulder. “Let’s get out of here, hmm?” Without waiting for us to answer she turned on a heel and began walking toward the end of the bridge.

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Theories of a Hunter – Confession

As you read, you feel a small lump in the binding of the journal. Turning it over, you notice a ragged seam on the edge of the lump. You pick at it, and a small data chip falls out. Plugging it into a compatible device, the following audio transcript plays…

 

Therapist: You are very quiet this session. I don’t think I have seen you like this since you first started coming here.

Silence for 63 seconds. Background noise is audible, what might be traffic.

T: What happened on the Dreadnought? When you called you said you had seen her again. I thought you meant a fellow Guardian. What did you mean?

Morc-35: The Wizard.

T: The Wizard you called – shuffling of papers – Skadi?

M35: Not my name for her. You can thank my comrades for that.

T: Naming things gives us power over them: it helps us define them, set borders on their existence. A nameless thing, or something that has its name hidden, takes on a greater aspect in our minds than it should. This is part of the reason cultures throughout Earth’s history have placed great value on people’s names.

M35: I am an Exo. I can calculate the abilities of a Wizard. I know the average distance they stay off the ground, the amount of damage a bolt of Arc energy from their claws can do, the average number of Thrall and Acolyte spawn they have at their disposal-

T: And none of that changes the fact that you were afraid of her. Who can blame you after the incident at the Seeder? It is the whole reason you sought therapy in the first place – a brave decision, and unusually self-aware for an Exo. Many of your people do not acknowledge the human aspect of their intelligence.

M35: You speak of her as if she is in the past tense.

T: Is she still alive?

Silence, lasting 9 seconds.

M35: I do not know.

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Day 464 – Part 5

“There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers


“Ammo!” I threw down yet another grenade and the bolts of Arc light chained through the crowd of Thrall. The bodies tumbled into the ring of corpses piled all around us, and bought me a few precious seconds to reload once more.

“That’s it! We’re out!” said Ebony as I chained the clip into the machine gun.

“What?” I cried, raising the weapon to mow down another wave of Thrall.

“That was the last pack! I have nothing left to transmat!”

I shoved the bore of the machine gun into a Thrall’s gut and pushed it back before firing a round into it. “You have to be kidding! What about Drake’s?

“Charlemagne?” I heard Ebony ask as over the sound of my weapon.

“We have a few special packs left.”

“Give!”

I kicked a Thrall that got too close in the knee and clubbed it with the barrel of my weapon. It collapsed as another sprang over it, and I speared that with its own weight on the barrel, then tossed both aside. Ebony dropped my shotgun into my hands and I spun in a rapidly shrinking circle. All the while Drake chanted on, and I had to dance around him. Then the gun ran dry. I brained another Hive beast with the stock, then dropped that as well, freeing my sax knife with my left hand and pulling my sword over my shoulder with my right. I channeled Arc light through both, and lightning grounded off the weapons with a crack of thunder.

Slice. Cut. Kick. Another grenade. I could feel my Light pouring out through the blades like conduits, but nothing refreshed it. The cold and //sluggishness began to creep in again in spite of Drake’s chant.

Then the Hive stopped. The Thrall crouched on the corpses of their comrades, dozens…maybe hundreds…like wingless vultures, their eyes glowing in the dim light. They clicked and chattered, but none entered Drake’s circle.

“C’mon!” I shouted at them, flourishing my blades. “Come get some!” In the relative silence I could hear the susurrus again, still assaulting us. Then a laugh, and the Wizard floated to the edge of the circle.

The Wizard looked much like I remembered her, if more ragged and bloodied. A chunk of her crest was missing over the right side of her brow, as if something large had attempted to bite her. “Hunter,” she purred, if she spoke at all, although nothing of her maw moved with the word; I heard it all the same.

“Wizard,” I taunted, and gestured her forward with my blades. “C’mon. I am here.”

“And how fortunate for me,” she replied. She began to circle Drake’s casting area, still sparking where her sorcery met his Light. “I had thought that it would take longer to bring you here. When your precious humans fell to the Dreadnought it was too good to be true. I brought them here, and your Warlock there,” she gestured at Drake with a claw, “followed their signal. How lucky that you picked them up so quickly.”

“Liar. Drake said nothing about them.”

“Oh, doubtless he thought them dead when he saw I killed the male. That 1 was…troublesome.” She laughed, and this was an audible sound. “And your little female, she is yet here.”

“Show her to me,” I demanded.

The Wizard hissed. “You are in no position to order me, child of Light.”

I flipped the knife in my hand and hefted it as if to hurl the weapon at her. “I am going to kill you today, Wizard. The only thing you can change is how quickly.”

She shrieked and brought her claws together, as if applauding, still floating in a circle around us. “Such worship! Our King’s tribute flows ever upward, and you, in His place of power, you obey His laws! For this I will be rewarded!”

“Shut up!” I shouted at her.

“Your friends die in numbers not seen since our princely god laid waste to your Moon! I can hear their screams. Your Tower hurls more and more at the Dreadnought and still they die, feeding our King!”

I called the last of my Light, and the glow of the blades cast an aura of Arc heat all around. I braced myself for the leap.

The rifle crack was so loud I thought the stone beneath my feet had broken. The Wizard crumpled to the ground with an angry shriek, sparks and fluid leaping from the wound. The whispered chant ceased. Drake’s own prayer rose into a shout, and he whipped his hands apart and thrust them, palms out, in opposite directions. The globe of Light expanded outward in a wash of power, vaporizing the crouching Thrall into atoms.

The Wizard screamed and crabbed away on the ground, burning all over with violet Light. Another rifle shot skipped off the stone near her head and she scuttled away from it.

“Hold still, you bitch,” snarled Emma, limping into the glow with an ancient sniper rifle pointed at the Hive monster. She cycled another round into the chamber.

“Mine!” I shouted, and stalked over to the wounded Wizard. I raised the sword overhead.

“We are not finished Hunter!” The words were screamed into my mind as the Wizard curled on the ground, her eyes glowing with hate as she glared at me, jerking like a wounded spider.

“Just DIE!” I shouted, and brought the sword down.

The Blight opened up with a howl and the Wizard was sucked away into the Darkness. My sword struck the now empty space and shattered into a half-dozen pieces. The glow faded, and I sank to my knees, staring at the smear where the Hive monster had been Taken from me.

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

Day 464 – Part 4

But a shot in the dark
One step away from you
Just a shot in the dark
Nothing that you can do
Just a shot in the dark
Always creeping up on you

A Shot in the Dark by Ozzy Osbourne


“You are not going down alone.”

I tried to dislodge Drake’s hold on my cloak. “Bloody hell Drake! Someone has to stay up here in case a Guardian gets close enough for a signal!”

“We can worry about that later. I am going with you.” Drake’s tone was firm.

“Drake-”

“I have seniority. I am going with you.” The Awoken crossed his arms.

“You’ll stick out like a candle in those red and gold robes,” I said, trying for something biting.

He snorted at me, but his helmet blocked his expression.

“Fine,” I said. “Let’s go.”


“It’s so Dark down here,” said Charlemagne softly. The blue Ghost shone a beam of light into the gloom like a knife cutting black cloth.

“Too Dark. Our signal input is practically gone.” Ebony was invisible except for his little diamond eye in the center of his orb.

“Enemies?” asked Drake.

“Lots of movement,” said Ebony. My HUD lit up red on the edges, but nothing was close. Not yet.

“Any sign of Emma?” I asked.

“No.” Charlemagne looked back up to the weak light we had left behind. “Are we sure she’s down here? What if it was a trick?”

“We would have to have come anyway,” I said, recalling Arianna’s words to me almost a year ago: “If you find something like a family, protect them for all you are worth. Because when you die for the last time, they may be the only people who notice.”

We strode through the darkness, looking for signs of the enemy. The clicking and growling of Thrall echoed all around. The ground squished underfoot in some places, and I imagined what we might be walking through.

A Thrall shrieked, and a glowing orb charged out of the black, bobbing from side to side as it ran.

“Cursed!” I shot the incoming orb and it staggered. I shot it again and it exploded, washing pale green light throughout the cell. The flash illuminated dozens of Thrall racing towards us, some caught in the explosion, and my HUD went almost solid red all around.

“Incoming.” Drake’s voice was cool and collected, and he pivoted on his heel to guard our flank, his gun spitting fire as he moved. “More Cursed.” I had no time to respond: I was too busy shooting or otherwise putting down attacking Thrall. Ebony and Charlemagne floated overhead, shining light into the dark to expose as many Thrall as possible.

Cursed Thrall screamed and exploded. Other Thrall raced in, swinging claws and rending the air with teeth as they closed. It went on for several minutes, and we burnt through a considerable amount of ammo to keep the hordes at bay. Eventually the cell grew quiet, but there were still red indicators at the edges of my HUD.

“Think they’ve given up?” I asked.

“Doubtful,” said Drake. “It is more likely they are revising their tactics.”

“We should move while we still have the chance then,” I suggested.

“No,” said Drake. “They left off the assault because we have a strong position. Let us wait until they try again.”

I was about to argue with him. Then a roar filled the cell, and a 3-eyed figure charged out of the gloom, the edge of its weapon cutting a false light through the Dark. I darted aside from its attack and pivoted. Drake jumped straight into the air and hung there, shooting down at the Knight. It thundered its rage and threw up a shield to block his shots.

“Hey!” My shout caught its attention, and the Knight turned its head to look down the bore of my shotgun. I pulled the trigger and shattered the monster.

More shrieks from the Thrall, and they swarmed in again.


“They have to run out sometime,” I insisted. I buried my knife to the hilt in a Thrall’s skull and it dropped like a stone to the ground.

“Clearly this cell is much larger than we anticipated,” said Drake. His rifle barked almost incessantly.

“We’ve been at this for hours,” I said. “They attack, wait, attack, wait.” I shot another Cursed, and its demise extinguished a group of Hive.

“Wearing us down for something,” said Drake. His rifle fell silent, and the red marks on my motion tracker cleared up.

“For what?” I demanded. Drake did not reply. “Any sign of Emma?”

“None,” said Ebony.

“The deeper we go into the cell, the more our Light is cut off. And our chances of escape,” added Charlemagne.

//Anger coursed through my circuits. “Wizard!” I shouted into the dark. “Wizard! I am here! Come face me, or are you too afraid without your spawn?”

Shrieking laughter echoed through the cell and died away into unseen hollows and cracks.

“Blood of the Traveler!” I was //enraged now. “Coward! You can kidnap a girl but won’t face a Guardian? Are you afraid my friends will come for you again? Well, we’re locked in here, Wizard! Do your worst!”

“Umm, maybe we shouldn’t taunt the thing that has us locked in a cage with it?” suggested Ebony.

“What’s that noise?” Charlemagne had begun to swivel side to side, his lance of light cutting the darkness.

A susurrus flowed around us just on the edge of hearing. It crept through the dark to wind its way around our ankles and into the microscopic cracks in our armor. The whispering was undefined – no words I could understand – but it was insistent, demanding, and constant, pausing for neither breath or movement. A cold //dread followed it, freezing the fluid in my joints and filling me with //hesitation.

Drake suddenly knelt to the floor and cupped his hands together as if cradling a child’s ball between his palms. “Cover me,” he said.

“What? What are you doing?” I demanded.

“She’s draining our Light,” he said. “I can hold her back, but they will attack us now. It’s up to you Morc-35. They are coming.” Then he began to murmur a dirge, or perhaps a prayer, and the space between his palms glowed with Void Light. Warmth seeped back into our immediate space, and violet sparks floated and died like miniature storms all around us in a nearly perfect globe.

And then the Thrall screamed again, and the ground shook beneath their rushing claws.

 

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