“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,
“…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.