“Every generation of humans that has ever lived believed they would see the end of the world, whether they called it Armageddon or Ragnorök.”
― James Marquess, Stem: A Novella
“This all seems too convenient,” said Findlay. We were crouched near the coordinates the Warlocks had given us, in the middle of the warehouse district of a ghost town that had sat on the edge of a (now dry) river. “The House of Kings just happen to have a way of hijacking SIVA and these Warlocks call us for pest removal? And they have the coordinates to point us to their camps? It’s weird.”
I grunted. “You’re already developing a sense of cynicism. Good.”
“Maybe that’s my nature.”
I chuckled and sighted down my scope. “4 Vandals and a modified Servitor that resembles the one I saw 2 years ago. They’re using that warehouse as a base, though why pick a warehouse without a roof is beyond me. We can take care of these on our own.” I relayed the information to the rest of the fire-team. “Killing threats is what we do, Guardian,” I told Findlay. “You Titans have it easy on your Wall to keep you safe.”
Findlay grumbled something unintelligible.
“Speak up,” I said.
“Easy for Hunters to say, they just run.”
I laughed. “Needs some work, but good to see you’re growing teeth.” I slapped his armored shoulder. “Now, we’re going down there and kicking some Fallen ass. You ready?”
We scuttled through the blasted streets, picking our way over half-buried detritus to approach the Warehouse. “Now,” I whispered softly. “I’m going to go up top, shoot them from above. The Servitor may take multiple shots, so if I get made before they’re all dead, you charge in there and distract them, OK?”
Findlay nodded, his helmet jostling with the movement.
I began to scale the side of the warehouse, suddenly proud of my ability to move in silence after months on Mars baiting the Cabal. I wondered what else had changed since I had taken my leave of absence. At the top of the building I began to creep across an exposed beam.
The beam shifted and bent down into the open space of the warehouse as my weight torqued it out of position, making a grinding noise that could have been heard all the way back in the City. I instinctively clung to the metal, cursing when I heard the howls of the Fallen below me. Then I was falling.
I landed in the open space in the middle of the Fallen and reached for my hand-cannon, but the holster was empty. I saw the gun going flying away with a kick from a Vandal’s foot, and the Fallen were on me in a moment.
The whole area suddenly lit up with a flash and my vision was distorted with white snow from an EMP burst that overloaded my visual receptors. I rolled to my left, scurrying between where I had last seen 2 of the Fallen and hoped I had dived clear before turning around. My vision cleared in time to see them meet their unfortunate end.
Findlay charged in behind his grenade blast, catching the nearest of the Vandals with his shoulder. The Vandal went sailing over my head and folded into a rusted metal wall like a squashed insect, twitching spasmodically as ether poured out. The Titan seized the next Vandal in both fists, ignoring the sword that scraped against his armor, and twisted its head the wrong way round: it collapsed bonelessly to the dust. The next 2 tried to attack together. The first had its leg shattered with a swift kick, and as it writhed Findlay pivoted, jumped into the air and brought both fists down on the other’s head, crushing it into the dirt. He then hefted his shotgun and put the wounded Vandal down with a shot.
By this point I had scrambled to my feet and recovered my pistol. “Findlay, the Servitor!”
The modified Servitor groaned and began to glow with Void energy, as did the Vandals all around. Findlay charged and leaped: Arc Light crackled around his body and he hit the Fallen machine hard enough to core it like an apple, lightning and heat billowing out from the strike. The Servitor lay in its miniature crater, smoking and broken. The Titan made a show of dusting himself off and looked at me.
“I thought I said ‘distract’ them,” I said huffily, trying to recover some dignity.
Findlay gestured to the remains. “This is how Titans distract enemies.”
Our team gathered around a blazing fire pit as the sun disappeared past the horizon.
“None of the modified Servitors had any dead Ghosts,” said Arianna, summing up our reports. “And none of the Fallen wore King regalia. In fact, we found no evidence of allegiance to any House at all, or any evidence of SIVA-like tech.”
“So, different Fallen? Did the Warlocks lie to us?” asked Magnus.
“Maybe not intentionally,” I offered. “We know that these Servitor mods were originally started by a King. Maybe the Warlocks jumped to a conclusion.”
“This is all kinds of wrong,” muttered Findlay. Miranda nodded her agreement. Only Drake was silent, poking at the blaze with a branch and lifting the burning ember to his face, studying it.
Arianna stared out at the darkness, clearly thinking. “Someone is playing us,” she said finally. “Who or why is the question. At first light we’re going back to that settlement and demanding answers.”
“Why wait?” asked Findlay. We all looked at him. The blonde Titan shrugged, looking suddenly unsure. “I mean, if we’re being used, shouldn’t we get moving?”
There was a moment of silence, and then Drake stood up, tossing his branch into the flames. “The boy is right. Delay only insures that whatever end we are being used for is accomplished. We should return immediately.”
Arianna nodded. “OK. Mount up.”