“One sibling this annoying is misfortune! What warlock has cursed me to have two?”
“Would you leave like a thief in the night?”
“I didn’t hear you approach, Father.” I turned around.
“I doubt that.” Father Ericksson walked up to me, his cane shuffling through the snow. He had not had a cane when I had last seen him. Nor had he been as bent as he was now, almost double, as if he carried some unseen weight on his back. Rill walked at his side, almost hovering.
“It would have been nice to have seen you before left again.”
I ducked my head. “I am sorry. The war…” I trailed off: the words sounded hollow even as I spoke them.
“The war between Light and Darkness existed even before the first gods, Morc. Do not get so caught up in it you forget the larger picture.” He motioned me to follow and began to walk away from The Hand of Tyr. Rill frowned at me as she passed, taking a satchel to the ship.
“You’re sending her with us?” I asked as we walked.
“Emma is to be your fire team’s pilot, and I do not like when one of our people flies alone, even with Guardians. Were it not for your insistence on privacy, they would have flown together to retrieve you from Mars. They are as close as only sisters can be since the hunt that wounded you all.”
I cocked my head and looked at him. “Emma told you.”
“She did.” Father Ericksson stopped walking and sighed. “I have an entire clan to watch over, Morc-35. The health and mind of each is important to me. Even that of an Exo.”
“I don’t know what telling you can do to help,” I said.
“Perhaps nothing,” he admitted. “But I would ask you this: do not go. If your each subsequent death brings you closer to some unseen edge, then going into battle is beyond foolishness. Stay here, speak to the Warlocks, and let them help you.”
“I’ll be helped when that Wizard is dead.”
“Are you certain?” He stared at me hard. “The realm of death belongs to the Hive. Do you think destroying something that is Taken will be enough?”
“It will be enough for me.”
He studied me for a few moments more. “I see you cannot be dissuaded. Very well. But when this mission is over you will return to the family, and you will speak to a Warlock before you go haring off after that Wizard again; I know of one who is discrete and will help you without telling the Vanguard. You may take your revenge after.”
I nodded. “Yes, Father.”
He patted my arm, and I felt the frailty in the gesture. The strong warrior chief I had met 2 years before had been replaced by a feeble man. I burned with questions as to what had happened, but felt //ashamed I did not already know. Perhaps I had been gone too long.
“Be swift, Morc-35. Time is growing short. For all of us.” He turned and walked back toward the Iron Temple. I watched him go until he was out of sight, then returned to the ship. The fire team was stowing their spare weapons and extra gear on board.
Arianna whistled sharply to get everyone’s attention. “Head count. The Ericksson’s here,” she gestured to Emma and Rill, “will establish a forward base and maintain our Sparrow uplink, so we’ll have mobility.”
“I don’t have a Sparrow,” said Findlay weakly.
“You do now,” said Rill. The other Guardians turned to look at her. “Morgan gave Morc-35 an Eververse voucher as payment for the tactics assessment you dropped off for him. He traded that for a Sparrow for you.”
“Uh…wow, thanks,” said Findlay to me.
“Titans are slow enough without a Sparrow,” I told him.
Arianna resumed her briefing. “After we’re in the mission zone it’s short-range comms only. If the Kings are involved we can be certain they have tricks up their sleeves, and the fact that someone out there has our names means they might be able to listen to long-range comms, so we’ll need to keep everything low-key and encrypted. No use of names and coordinates over audio: tight-beam everything between your Ghosts as much as possible and have them pipe it in. Clear?”
“OK, buddy-system in case we get separated: Magnus, you’re with me. Drake, you’re with Miranda. Morc, you get the new-boot.”
“Why do I have to be paired with the Titan?” I demanded.
“Consider it a punishment for being so hard to find.”
“I’m a punishment?” asked Findlay.
“All aboard!” Arianna transmatted into the hold and we all followed her.