Author Archives: afwall

Scattered – Part III

“If a man is to shed the Light of the sun upon other men, he must first of all have it within himself.”
Romain Rolland


The Cabal machine skimmed over the ground, jostling its rider when it passed over any mound or ditch. Gwen growled at it in an un-Warlock fashion and wrenched the controls violently to each side to avoid the trees. The Hunters were already far ahead,  much more comfortable with their stolen mounts than their companion. Gwen fired the boosters in an attempt to catch up.

“Threshers behind us,” reported Anu. As if that were a cue, slugs began tearing up the foliage overhead and chewed into the needle-covered earth to their right, tracking in their direction. Gwen gunned the engine again and shoved the Interceptor to the left, and narrowly avoided being torn to pieces by the rounds. The bole of a tree exploded and showered the Cabal machine and its Guardian rider in splinters and dirt. The tree groaned in protest as it fell, smashing into its neighbors and splitting with a violent crack on impact.

Another Thresher flew ahead, pivoted sharply and pointed its weapons down at the lonely Warlock. Gwen slammed the Interceptor’s brakes violently, stopping just before the slugs slammed into the ground where she had been going. She jumped clear of the Interceptor before it disintegrated under the Cabal fire.

“Stars above!” Gwen swore as she ran. There was a crash of brush and branches and the distinct grunts of Cabal soldiers as their feet hit the ground. The Harvester that had dropped them off flew away, but the Threshers remained, trying to reorient on their target. She jumped down into a stream bed that had cut a deep trench through the forest. There was no water visibly running through it, but the earth was dark and wet and the stones were slick. Mud splattered her white robes as she ran.

“Warlock, where are you?” Arianna’s voice was tight with tension. Gwen didn’t reply, partly because she was worried that would make it easier for the Cabal to find her, more so because she was out of breath. The heavy thud of Cabal feet behind her sent tremors through her own legs.

Some instinct made her look over her shoulder. There was a glitter of red light in the corner of her eye and she reflexively ducked: a heavy round smacked into the wall of the trench, kicking up mud and shattered rock. She spun around to aim her own weapon back at the Psion, slipped, and landed on her rump in the mud. The ungraceful maneuver saved her life: her head snapped right as if the face of her helmet had been given an open-handed slap, the bullet leaving a long gash in the side.

Gwen raised her pulse rifle one-handed and squeezed the trigger. Firing a rifle with a single hand made it almost impossible to aim, but at this range and in the narrow confines of the trench, she could hardly miss. The bursts of bullets cracked the Psion’s armor like the shell of an egg and it collapsed, ichor staining the mud.

Cabal grunted and shouted and she scrambled to her feet again, slipping and sliding her way down the trench. Up ahead the trench led into a dark tangle of dead branches and vines: the edge of the Dead Zone and the source of whatever poisoned the land.

“We’re not going in there alone, are we?” asked Anu. Before Gwen could answer a splash of mud and a shout behind her galvanized her to make a last sprint for the cover of the woods. The branches snapped and cracked as she hit them, and vines threatened to tangle her feet. Every step was a sudden tripping hazard, and here the light was so faded she could barely see more than a few meters ahead.

“It doesn’t want us here,” gasped Gwen as she pushed through the foliage. “It doesn’t like visitors.”

“What doesn’t?” asked her Ghost.

“The forest.”

The grunts and pounding boots of the Cabal became muted behind them. There were breaking sounds and grunts, but they faded with each step. She risked a look back: she could see beams of weak light cutting through the forest shadows. A tree groaned and was shoved aside, uprooted by the brute strength of the pursuing Legionary: the Cabal were moving through the terrain much faster than she by simply plowing through trees.

“Arianna!” Gwen said into her mic as she scrambled up a rocky bank, stones clattering under her feet. “Miranda! I’m pinging you my location.”

The comms were silent. The air cracked with the sound of slug fire and a round tore up the earth near her hand. At the top of the bank Gwen turned around and aimed her rifle down at the pursuing Cabal. Even in the darkness of the trees she could see six Legionaries following her led by a Centurion. A Legionary hefted a grenade in its meaty fist and cocked its arm to throw.

She aimed and squeezed the trigger, knowing it wasn’t enough. There was a bright flash of Light –

…the Song that echoed into eternity swelled into a choir deep and wide and…

– and Gwen flinched to the side in surprise. A Legionary dissolved into a wash of yellow flame that engulfed his companions. There was another needle of Light –

…life in all its forms beneath the glow of Light to lift their voices into the Void…

– and the other Legionaries burned away in an explosion of heat, scorching bark and leaves to black. Gwen turned to look at the source of the Light, and saw the outline of a figure with a shining pistol in his hand. Another flash –

…the Dark into something new and beautiful with every note that reverberated…

– and the pistol cooled into mere metal and wood. The Centurion crumbled into ash. Gwen stared. She realized her mouth was hanging open and was glad the helmet hid her expression.

The Hunter was an Exo, judging by the glowing eyes under his hood. His Ghost’s shell was a metallic brown and blue and decorated by spikes, and it scanned Gwen with impudence.

“Awoken, female…the bond on her arm is a plasma generator, so I would say she was a Sunsinger. No Light on this one either.”

The Exo grunted and turned away without a word, heading deeper into the forest.

“Wait!” said Gwen.

“Can’t wait,” said the Exo without slowing.

Gwen scrambled to her feet to follow before he disappeared into the trees.

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Categories: Gwendolyn | Tags: , , ,

Scattered – Part II

“People often believed they were safer in the Light, thinking monsters only came out at night.”
C.J. Roberts, Captive in the Dark


The two Hunters flitted between the trees like sparrows: short, quick flaps of their cloaks from brush to branch and disappearing into the background the moment they were still, even in the bright daylight. Gwendolyn was convinced she stuck out like a streak of chalk on a clean blackboard in her white robes. A branch cracked like a gunshot under her feet and she winced when Miranda turned her head to look back at her. Arianna waved them beneath a tall pine and hunkered down. Her Ghost peeked out of a satchel on her belt.

“There’s an old tower of some kind about half a kilometer away.” Arianna kept her voice low. “We get to the top, set up our transmitter there, and we should be able to get a signal from anywhere in the solar system. I’ll go to the top, you two establish a perimeter. Radio silence until the transmitter is on and the channel is encrypted.”

Gwen nodded. Arianna motioned them on and flitted forward through the scattered shadows cast by the branches. Miranda motioned for Gwen to follow and took up the rear.

The structure was beyond the edge of the trees in a wide field that the forest was slowly reclaiming with saplings and brush. It was a twenty-five meter tall round tower of rusting metal with a domed top and crowned with antennae that stuck out at odd angles, some leaning like they would fall. It was joined to a scaffolding of metal that had tracks and gears designed to raise a large square frame up and down the side. An ancient staircase wound around its shell to a narrow platform at the top of the tower.

“It’s a launch platform,” whispered Anu in Gwen’s ear. Her Ghost sounded excited. “Probably for satellites for private companies or family use back in the Golden Age.”

At the foot of the tower Arianna motioned them to different points before scaling the tower stairs. Gwen knelt and pointed her rifle back the way they had come and waited. As the minutes passed she settled her breathing and listened: the wind sighed through the ancient trees and stirred the grasses, birds called to one another, and she could faintly make out the sound of water running over stones somewhere.

Time ticked by. A squirrel scrambled up a nearby sapling and watched her with curious eyes. Then he hunched with his tail over his head and chattered at her. When she didn’t respond he jumped from the sapling to a nearby bush and disappeared.

The light from the sun dimmed for a moment. Gwen was filled with a sudden sense of loss: she remembered trying to sing in the burning library and how Sol did not answer her call. It was like being caught in a blizzard, blowing on the ashes of a cold fire and seeing no spark flicker to life. The thought made her shiver with cold and she shut her eyes, and tried to imagine the heat of Light at her fingertips again.

The darkness behind her eyelids slowly filled with a deeper black, a hollow feeling of space so vast she felt as if she was suddenly in free-fall to some unimaginable depth. Sparks of Light spun past like distant stars as she rushed down, down-

“Transmitter online.” Ariann’s voice cut into her consciousness and Gwen snapped back into reality. She stood up and turned toward the tower, shaking a little.

“Did either of you…feel that?” asked Miranda.

“That weirdness a minute ago? Yeah. Come up to the top, there’s something you’ll want to see.”

They climbed the rickety stairs to the top. The transmitter had been attached to one of the antennae and blended in with the other aging equipment. Gwen’s Ghost opened a channel to receive on the new encryption, but only static came through.

Arianna was looking into the distance with a scope and motioned them closer. She handed the scope over and pointed out to the forest beyond. Miranda took it and stared for a long minute. Gwen couldn’t see what it was they were looking at.

“That’s the shard,” Miranda said after a long moment. She handed the scope over to Gwen.

“Yeah. I think we should go take a look.”

“That’s a long way. Shouldn’t we get back to the ships? If we get a signal we’ll need to move.”

“I think we have time,” said Arianna. She looked at Gwen. “What do you think, Warlock? You felt it too, right?”

Gwen looked through the scope: on the edge of the horizon was a great white and gray piece of metal, crowned in clouds and what looked like flashes of light. She nodded at Arianna. “Yes. That’s a piece of the Traveler. I’ve read about it.”

Miranda sighed. “Chasing weirdness with everything else going on right now.”

“Weirdness is all we have left at this point, Meer.”

Miranda shrugged. “OK. Hope you like walking, because that’s a long hike.”

Arianna laughed. “Oh, we’re not walking all the way.” She pointed south.

Gwen followed her pointing finger and saw a Cabal cruiser in the sky a few clicks away.

“I think the Cabal can spare a few rides, don’t you?”

Categories: Gwendolyn | Tags: , , , , , ,

Scattered – Part 1

“Stories are Light. Light is precious in a world so Dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some Light.”
Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux


“Gwen, I think they’re arguing.”

Gwendolyn opened her green eyes and blinked couple of times to center herself. “Who is arguing, Anu? About what?”

Anu, her silver and green Ghost, spun its shell a couple of times. “The Valherjar Guardians. It sounds like they’re in disagreement.”

Gwendolyn rolled her head a couple times, feeling the slight pops in her neck from sitting still for so long. Then she stood up, stretched, and pulled aside the curtain to her enclosure.

Her little living space was one of nearly a dozen such partitioned spaces beneath a canopy stretched between the two “longboats”: winged troop transports that were several times the length of a standard one-person jump ship. They had been painted in Dead Orbit colors, but the paint job had been covered by branches and camouflage canvas to hide them beneath the trees. The inside of the longboats were housing the civilians, but the canopied space was for cooking fires and spaces for the Guardians to sleep. She passed one of the cooking fires as she walked the length of the longboats to their stern. A couple of teenagers hunkered over a small spit. One of them peeled off a strip of meat from the spit and skewered it on a sharpened stick, then offered it as Gwendolyn passed. She smiled and took it with a silent mouthing of “thanks.” Raised voices traveled to her ears from the stern space, muffled by the tent fabrics but unmistakably agitated. She followed the sound, Anu floating over her shoulder.

“…leaving them behind.”

“It’s been a week, Telrik. We’re not leaving anyone behind.”

Gwen pulled aside the tent wall and stepped into the weak sunlight. Four Guardians were gathered around tail fins of one of the longboats. Two of them perched on the fins themselves: both were Awoken Hunters. One was bald and relatively silent, flipping her throwing knife end to end in her hand. The other sported a bright red Mohawk and was opening her mouth as if to speak, but was cut off by one of the Titans that stood opposite her.

“We’re moving on rather than making an effort to find our people. That’s abandoning them. I won’t do it, and neither should you.”

All Titans could fill a room: even smaller, squat Titans had a presence that was unmistakable and inescapable, a part of their nature that demanded attention and respect. Still, the green-armored giant speaking was a towering presence even by Titan standards, a massive wall of muscle and metal that would give even a Cabal pause. His hair and beard were ragged from days of wilderness living, and his little green Ghost at his side was quiet. Next to the green giant stood another Titan, this one an Exo in gold-plated armor. Both Titans had their rifles out and looked ready to march on a moment’s notice, packs on their backs and blood-lust in their eyes.

“Telrik,” said the Mohawk hunter, her voice tired, “we can’t just assault the City in the condition we’re in. There’s four of us and four thousand or more them. If we had our Light we would already be moving.”

“I won’t leave our leader, Arianna. I’m going, whether or not you agree.” Telrik looked at the other Hunter. “How about you, Miranda? Want to help find Farstride and the others? Heisenberg and I would welcome the help.”

The bald hunter stopped flipping her knife. “I don’t do suicide missions, Telrik. Especially when I know that there’s no point. They’re dead. That Warlock there,” she pointed at Gwendolyn with the tip of her knife, “brought back Morc-35’s journal. Just what do you think that means?”

Telrik turned his head. “That she found a dead Exo,” he said. “That’s not proof it was Morc. It’s not proof the others are dead.”

Miranda sighed. “Warlock. That Exo corpse you found: describe him, please.”

Gwendolyn finished chewing the strip of meat she had been given and thought for a moment. “Steel and leather armor. Red cloak. Broadsword nearby. His body was damaged, but it looked like his exoskeleton was blue.”

“Blue Exo with a red cloak and a sword, Telrik. Morc’s dead. The others probably are too.” Miranda resumed flipping the knife.

The Titan sighed and looked at Heisenberg. “Ready?”

The silent Exo nodded, and both Titans turned away. “We’ll be on the frequency we established a couple of days ago.”

“It’ll be no good if we don’t set up a transmitter to get that far out,” countered Arianna. “At least wait until then. Or just wait until we hear from House and Magnus.”

“Everyday we wait it’s more likely we lose them. We’ll call you in a week.” Then the two Titans marched away, soon disappearing into the trees.

“Idiots,” said Miranda under breath.

“Can’t make a Titan do something he doesn’t want to,” sighed Arianna. She looked at Gwendolyn. “Sorry you had to see that.”

Gwen shrugged. “As you say, Titans are difficult to redirect. What is your next step?”

“Find a good place to set up our long-range transmitter,” said Arianna. “That evacuation order we heard was incomplete, and if we try to use the longboats to signal we’ll just draw the Cabal. There are too many civilians here to risk that.” She sized Gwendolyn up with a head-to-foot gaze. “We could use a third to round out our fireteam. With everyone scattered to the winds, we’ll take all the help we can get.”

“Just let me get my rifle,” said Gwendolyn.

Categories: Gwendolyn | Tags: , , , , , ,

Epilogue – Vol. 1

“And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got – you’ve got some of the Light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’
‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later – or sooner.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers


I fled through the woods, and the Cabal followed. The war-beasts’ snarls echoed strangely off the trees, making them sound closer than they really were. I placed my back against the bole of a tree and reloaded my pulse rifle. My hands were covered in scratches and dirt, and I suppressed a laugh at the idea of going into one of the Tower’s libraries in my current condition.

The thrum of a Thresher overhead proceeded the wind of its passing, stirring the trees as if they were in a storm. I was on their sensors – I had to be – but the foliage was thick enough to prevent a direct line of sight. Still, the hovering Thresher was a beacon to the enemy: “it’s here, the Guardian is here!” I pushed off the tree and kept running. Thank the stars for all that time in the Iron Banner, it had built my endurance up. Even so, I couldn’t outrun the Cabal forever.

I heard the first of the war-beasts crashing through the brush behind me. I spun, dropped to one knee and raised the sight to my eye. The pulse rifle bucked in my hands and the charging monster dropped. I pivoted to the left, squeezed off a few more rounds, and the next went down. The rest of the pack, seven or more, barreled forward in spite of the shots. I started running again, trying to gain more distance.

One of the beasts snapped at my robes and I hammered its skull with the stock of my rifle. I jumped over it as it fell, twisted as I went down and fired at the next war-beast. I landed hard and rolled up against a tree trunk.  I raised my rifle and fired one-handed while I tried to get my feet under me. The muzzle-flash lit up their teeth and carapaces as they attacked, snarling. The smell of blood and burnt flesh was overwhelming. Three of them were on me in moments.

Well, I guess this is it.

One of the war-beast’s head exploded. The second stumbled as its rib-cage collapsed. I shot the third in its gaping maw and kicked away the corpse, aware of the sound of more gunshots filling the woods. Muzzle-flashes lit the spaces between the trees. Overhead the sky lit up like dawn, and the Thresher fell from the air trailing smoke and fire to crash half a kilometer away.

“You OK?”

I blinked my eyes, clearing the afterglow from the explosion. A Hunter, hood drawn up and a rifle in hand, offered me a hand up. I took it: he was human, pale, long haired and was dressed in steel-colored armor with a saber on his hip.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome. I’m House, of the Valherjar.”

“You are Valherjar?” I reached into my satchel and pulled out the leather-bound book I had found a few days before on the corpse of a dead Exo. “I think this belongs to you.”

He took the journal and frowned at it. “Hey, boss!” he called over his shoulder. “I’ve got an Awoken over here!”

Figures melted into sight out of the Darkness: Titans and Warlocks and Hunters, all bunched together. House handed the journal to one of the Titans. “She says this is for us.”

The Titan flipped through the journal. “This belongs to Morc-35. Where did you get it?”

“I found it on his body.”

The Titan shook his head. “Well, I guess we all knew. Did you see any other Guardians with his body? Any Ghosts?”

I shook my head. “No. His body was alone.”

The Titan was silent a long moment. “We’ve established a base camp nearby. You’re welcome to join us, if you like.”

“Thank you.” I bowed. “I am Gwendolyn, Warlock of the Vanguard.”

“If there still is a Vanguard, sure,” said the Titan. “But for now, welcome to The Chosen Dead.”

Categories: Volume 1: Finale | Tags: , , , , , ,

Finale – Finale

Further on up the road
Further on up the road
Where the way is Dark and the night is cold
One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know
And I’ll meet you further on up the road.

~Johnny Cash, Further On Up The Road


Morc-35 stared up at the Tower overhead, glowing with flames and crowned in smoke. A hand slapped his shoulder, shaking the Exo from his stupor. “C’mon, we’re out of time!” Findlay was running ahead through the City streets as only a Titan could. Morc followed, his cloak snapping in the breeze of his passing as they abandoned the battered Tower.

“Those ships are here, just like Morc promised,” Miranda reported. “We’re loading up civilians now.”

“They take off as soon as they’re full,”  ordered Farstride. “Make sure the pilots have House’s comm frequency.”

“I can’t believe we’re running,” said Telrik.

Morc and Findlay barreled into the loading area where two large ships in Dead Orbit colors sat and carried their crates to the nearest waiting ship. Emma Eriksson was directing traffic to her longboat and pointed them at the cargo flaps, spaces too small to hold people but big enough for ammo crates.

“Enough ammo to last an army,” said Findlay proudly.

“Get airborne, Fin,” said Farstride.

The younger Titan spluttered. “But -”

“No ‘buts’,” ordered Farstride. “You’re going with Arianna and Miranda to keep the civilians safe. We’ll regroup once we know what the Vanguard plan to do. Then-”

Morc-35 lost track of what Farstride was saying: the world filled with a sharp ringing tone and he stumbled as something…ripped out of him. A figure of Light stood at his side, wrapped with tendrils of what looked like dark goo and starlight. Then it evaporated, and Ebony fell to the earth.

“Ebony?” the Exo sank his to his knees and scooped up his Ghost. “Ebony?!”

The little Ghost didn’t respond as he turned it over in his hands: its eye was faded and dark. The ringing noise subsided, and Morc stood to his feet. He felt…light: as if some strange burden he had not been aware of had lifted, or a broken part had finally been fixed. It was equal parts strange and exhilarating, tainted only by the horror of his Ghost’s sudden silence. He looked at the others as his senses came back to life.

Every other Guardian was on their knees as if something had suddenly struck them. Only Heisenberg-3 was standing. The loading of the ships had ground to a halt, and the civilians were either staring in terror at the fallen Guardians or running for their lives.

“What the hell’s going on with you?” shouted Emma. She was kneeling next to Drake and shaking him: the Awoken had taken off his helmet, revealing eyes that were wide and hollow. Emma turned to the Exos. “What is this?”

Heisenberg-3 pointed at the Traveler. “I’d say that has something to do with it.”

The Traveler’s form was covered in a golden glow, the great Cabal machine clinging to it like an enormous tick.

“We have to go, now! Before they occlude the airspace!” Emma waved at the remaining civilians. “Help me get these Guardians aboard! Do it!”

Humans, frames and even an Awoken jumped out of the longboats and began running to the fallen Guardians, lifting them up in pairs and scooping up their dropped Ghosts and weapons. Magnus, Telrik, and the Awoken Hunters were all but dragged to the ships.

Farstride shook off his helpers. “No, I’ve got it.” He picked up his pistol and took off his helmet as well. “Someone get me a rocket launcher.”

Morc-35 reached into one of the cargo flaps and tugged two launchers out, along with some ammo. He handed one to the human. “Can you fight?” he asked.

“Long enough,” replied Farstride as he loaded his weapon. “New plan. Everyone get on board. I’ll provide air cover.”

“One won’t do it,” said Morc-35, loading his own rocket launcher. “We should get on top of one of these buildings, shoot down any Threshers that get too close.”

Gunfire erupted at the edge of the platform: Drake was on his feet again, his pulse rifle barking at charging Cabal scouts with Findlay at his side.

“Take off!” shouted Farstride. He waved at Emma. “Take off, take off now!”

Emma clambered into the cockpit and the doors to the longboats closed, the civilians and remainder of the Valherjar inside.

Findlay rushed a Legionary and smashed the monster’s face with a fist, sending it to the ground. He shot another with his rifle, then drove the butt of his weapon into another. A war beast tackled him to the ground, and Findlay caved its skull in with a hammer-blow from both fists. Another war beast gripped his leg with its jaws and began dragging him away before Morc-35 lost sight of him in the pack of animals.

Drake was steadily backing up into the loading zone, his rifle chattering as he delayed the Cabal.

“Threshers!” said Farstride, raising the rocket launcher to his shoulder. Morc-35 followed his motion and locked the weapon onto a low-flying ship. The rocket flew free and struck the engine of an attacking Thresher, sending it careening away. For a few, harrowed seconds, the human and Exo fired and reloaded as fast as they could while the longboats behind them fired up their engines and began to lift off the platform. Then there was a blast of heat and the ships were away, skimming the rooftops of the Last City, racing for the Wall as fast as they could.

Morc-35 pointed his heavy weapon at the attacking Cabal foot soldiers and fired, scattering them with the explosion. “Out,” he reported and tossed it aside. He drew his sword: the blade wasn’t entirely devoid of stored Light, and the heavy edge could still cut.

Drake had retreated and the three now stood back to back on the platform: once Titan, Warlock, and Hunter, now just Human, Awoken and Exo. More Cabal were rushing in. Farstride fired another rocket before tossing it aside. “Also out.” He pulled out his pistol and checked the cylinder. “I have enough to make them pay for it.”

“We can make for that high-rise,” said Drake. He pointed with his rifle down the street. “It’s a library, plastisteel and stone. We could regroup there and make a run for the Wall.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Morc-35.

“Go, go!” They broke formation and ran. Morc-35 suddenly discovered he was the fastest, easily outpacing his organic companions. A Phalanx stepped out from between buildings in an attempt to block their retreat. The Exo leaped over his shield, pivoted, and opened his armor with the blade, leaving the Cabal in the dirt. Then he ran on.

Rounds skipped off the ground around them as Psion snipers tried to take them out. Farstride fired back at them over his shoulder without looking as he ran. Morc-35 turned around to check on his companions.

Drake stumbled and fell, a burnt hole in his chest from a sniper. His rifle clattered on the paved street.

Morc swore and ran back. He picked up the Phalanx’s shield and braced it to cover the fallen Awoken. Farstride grabbed Drake’s shoulders and hauled him behind cover of a building and Morc followed.

“Drake? Drake, buddy, talk to me.” Farstride patted the Awoken’s cheek. “Drake?”

The Awoken’s head lolled to one side and hung, his eyes wide and sightless. His Ghost rolled from his open hand and stared overhead at the silent Traveler.

Farstride grabbed the Ghost and pocketed it. “We’ll come back. Maybe if we can restore its Light…”

The thought was cut off as more rounds smacked into the wall over their heads. They ran, leaving Drake’s body behind.

More Cabal blocked their way at an intersection. Farstride fired, his hand cannon thundering. Several of the Phalanxes collapsed with pristine shots to the head, opening a gap. “Go, go!” he shouted.

Morc-35 ran through the opening, slicing at exposed Cabal armor. A war beast attacked and he split its head open with a blow. Farstride pressed in behind him.

A soldier landed in front of them, blades swinging wildly. Morc parried, ducked, and buried his blade in the gap beneath its arm. Farstride blew its head off with a well-placed shot. He jumped over the body, and another Cabal landed. It skewered the human on its blade and lifted him high overhead, then threw him down to the ground and smashed him underfoot.

Morc cut the head from the soldier and stood over Farstride’s corpse. More Phalanxes rushed in, shooting over their shields. The Exo bent to look for the Ghosts, but saw nothing but blood and smashed circuitry. Then a shot took him in the chest and he fell, his sword spinning away.

“Damn it!” The Exo pulled his knife free and tried to stand, but his legs didn’t respond to the command. A war beast charged in, snarling. Morc-35 buried the knife in its face and it was wrenched away by the creature’s convulsions. Then something heavy stepped on his back and pressed down, and there was only Darkness.

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

Finale – Part 1

If we do not live another day,
Say this over our pyre:
“They died like High Guard Lancers,
With their faces to the fire.”

~Regimental Hymn of the 13th Imperial Lancers, CY 4233 (The Widening Gyre, Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda)


The last pages are water-stained and washed out. A folded map is tucked into the back, along with a small data drive containing records and communications logs. With these clues and some careful study, you piece together Day 1,131…

The Twilight Gap rang with the sound of gunfire and the occasional explosion from a thrown grenade. Morc-35 perched on a stone and watched the four-versus-four match unfold. The late day was overcast and it was beginning to rain. The approaching storm made a beautiful backdrop for the Crucible match unfolding.

Farstride, Arianna, Telrik and Drake, as Alpha team, had taken the outside area of the map and peppered anyone who stepped out with sniper fire. Bravo, consisting of Magnus, Miranda, Findlay and Heisenberg-3 were biding their time, hurling explosives and cornering anyone brave enough to enter their zone.

“They’re massing for an attack,” Morc-35 muttered to his Ghost, Ebony, as he looked through a hand-held scope. “Magnus has them bunched up in the back corner. Any second now he’s going to-”

As if on cue, the sound of a great metal anvil being struck announced the charge of a Sunbreaker: Heisenberg came barreling out of the building swinging his hammer, racing for the outside, followed by Miranda and Findlay.

Farstride fell back from the charge, pulling Telrik and Arianna into his shield, and Heisenberg’s hammer glanced off the bulwark. They began to dance inside the bubble, daring them to charge.

Findlay took them up on it, running straight at the bubble of Void Light.

There was a brief, mad scramble to get out of the eager Titan’s way before he smashed the fortification. Arianna went down, but not before she had stuck a flaming knife in Findlay’s helmet: he walked a single step before face-planting into the dirt and his Ghost appeared next to Arianna’s.

Farstride and Telrik had split up, covering the others in a wide field of fire. Heisenberg was still holding his hammer and he hurled it at Farstride: the defender disappeared in a wash of fire and smoke. Heisenberg turned to attack Telrik and had his head blown off for his trouble.

Miranda skipped off the side of the building with the all the grace of a dancer and launched an arrow of Void Light at the Titan. The shot went wide but tethered him. Telrik stood his ground and sniped again, sending her spinning away. She ducked behind some boxes and ran back inside. Telrik focused on the tether, trying to cut himself free.

“Where are the Warlocks?” asked Morc.

“Coming,” reported Ebony.

Telrik had just nullified the tether when Magnus appeared above his head, spitting fire from a hand cannon. The exchange of gunfire was brief and Telrik went down. Magnus floated down to reload, and then disappeared into an explosion that rattled the whole arena as Drake abandoned his hiding place to launch a Nova bomb.

“Score?” asked Morc.

“4,325 to 4,100 for Alpha. 00:42 on the clock.”

“Gonna be close, as always,” said Morc.

The Ghosts had switched sides, leaving Bravo team on the outside. There were some cheers from Bravo: this was the favored side of the arena, giving the contestants ample room to funnel an attack. But Alpha had the lead, and didn’t need to expose themselves to win; and they had the better snipers, meaning Bravo would likely have to rush the fortified position to even the score.

There was another boom, this one louder than the Nova bomb and it made everything tremble. Morc lowered his scope and looked South into rain that was beginning to fall in sheets. Black shapes marred the skyline, coming in low and fast under the cloud cover, missiles zooming in ahead of them. “Holy crap!” shouted Morc. He leaped down from his position and ran for cover at the tram building as another explosion went off, showering him with dirt and debris. The gun emplacements began to fire, answering the attacking ships with thunder of their own.

“Match is over! Alpha team wins!” Farstride called as he ducked into the tram building with Morc.

“No fair!” Magnus yelled back.

More of the Valherjar poured into building 3 as small ships swept overhead. “We have to call this into the Tower!” said Arianna.

“Can’t, those comm issues we’ve been having all day haven’t been patched yet,” Drake said as he loaded his weapon.

“I don’t think it matters!” shouted Telrik. “I’m sure they know or will soon. We have to get off this hill!” Then a gun emplacement exploded, and the Twilight Gap crumbled.

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

Day 1099

“My dear young lady,’ said the professor…’there is one plan which no one has yet suggested and which is well worth trying.’
‘What’s that?’ said Susan.
‘We might all try minding our own business…”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe


“Victory is a matter of will!”

“You ever get tired of Shaxx saying that?” asked Rill.

“It’s just a prerecorded announcement,” I replied, not taking my eyes from the screen. “Although I’m pretty sure he believes it.”

Henrik, Rill’s boyfriend, grunted and swigged from a brown bottle. “Victory is a matter of weapons and skill.”

I didn’t disagree with him and stood up. “I’m getting another drink before the match gets too far along. Anyone need a refill?”

“I’ll take another,” said Emma. The others shook their heads. I made my way to the bar, hood drawn still drawn up, and slid my glass to the frame behind the bar. “Need another of Cosmodrome IPA, too,” I added. The frame blinked and dutifully began to refill my glass.

“I didn’t know Exos could drink,” said a voice at my elbow. The speaker was Awoken, pale blue skin and jet black hair that had the slightest bluish tinge that contrasted starkly with her pure white robes. Her Ghost’s shell was gold and green, depicting a committed Iron Banner contestant that matched her shining green eyes.

“Thought you Warlocks knew everything,” I quipped.

The Awoken rolled her eyes and threw up her hands in a mock defensive pose. “Oh, you’ve wounded me, oh witty Hunter. Seriously, are you really one of those?”

“One of those what?” I asked //tersely.

“One of those guys who thinks if they’re insulting and standoffish it’s somehow endearing?”

I blinked at her, suddenly //flustered. “You’re defensive.”

“Really? Someone makes a casual observation and your first reaction is to put them down for being different from you. Which of us has their defenses up?”

I opened my mouth to retort…then rethought it. “OK, you got me. My mistake.” I drew my hood back and stuck out a hand. “Morc-35, of the Valherjar and the Erickssons.”

“That’s better.” She shook my hand. “Gwendolen, Vanguard. My friends call me Gwen.” She looked at one of the large screens in the half-empty taproom. “So that’s your unit fighting in the Iron Banner, Shores of Time match?”

“Yeah.” I glanced at the screen. Farstride, Findlay, Heisenberg and Telrik were tearing through the competition as only a team of Titans could. Magnus was holding ground near the B-Zone, and a random sixth Bladedancer, unaffiliated as far as I could see, had rounded out the roster for the match. “They’re moving up the rankings pretty well this tournament.”

“Why aren’t you with them?”

“I’ve been out of the Crucible for about a year now. The Iron Banner would eat me alive.”

“Ah. So it has nothing to do with your fear of not being able to revive?”

A host of different emotions roiled through me before I locked down the answer. “You’re the Warlock that Father Ericksson told me about.”

Gwen nodded. “He’s given up trying to convince you to see me, so he asked me to find you. He says you need help. I would like to try, if you’ll let me.”

I took my refilled glass and the bottle from the bar where the frame had placed them. “I’m not a specimen for you to study. Go ply your magic tricks elsewhere.” I turned to leave.

She placed a hand on my arm. “Morc-35, listen: if your condition is what it sounds like, you may be infected with something. Which means you might be curable. Your family is worried about you.”

I shook off her hand and walked back to the table and placed Emma’s drink in front of her. I sat down and studiously kept my back to the bar and Gwen.

“I’m telling you,” Emma was saying to Rill, “these matches are rigged. Look at that!” She pointed at the screen with the scoreboards, showing the different rankings of each team of contestants. “There is a clear bias of matching teams that are imbalanced with one type of Light against teams that have 2 of each energy type, and the teams with 2 of each almost always win.”

“That’s a load of BS,” Rill shot back. “Look at the bracket for the next match: the Fifth Circle is almost purely Golden Guns and Sunsingers, and they haven’t even lost a match yet!”

“Well sure, when you have 3 Guardians who can self-revive it’s impossible to take territory back from them. If this were a Clash tourney they would be just as badly off. My point still stands.”

“Whatever. You’re still going down. The Northern Paladins are winning.”

“Because the Valherjar are almost all Arc-types and the Paladins came with a rounded team. Rigged.”

I checked the score on the match we were watching: 8325 to 7650 with 2:31 on the clock. Although the Valherjar held only a single zone, they were closing the gap through attrition – an effective strategy for a team comprised mostly of Titans. Another screen in the bar flipped over to the match to provide an additional angle and we got a good look at Telrik rushing an enemy zone: he hit with a Fist of Havoc and scattered half the enemy team. In moments Farstride reinforced his position with a shield. A few seconds later and another rush, and all 3 zones were held by the Valherjar, turning the match into a massacre.

The final score was 10150 to 9950. The bar erupted into cheers and groans, and the Iron Banner brackets shifted with the new standings.

“Woo!” Emma slammed her drink on the heavy wood table and stood up on her chair, dancing. “Valherjar, Valherjar! Woo! Enjoy that extra delivery shift this weekend while I’m sunning myself, sis!”

Rill leaned her head on Henrik’s shoulder and shut her eyes. “Damn it. I’ve haven’t had a weekend off in almost a month.” She looked at Emma. “Double or nothing if they lose their next match.”

“You’re on!” Emma dropped back into her chair, laughing.

I risked a look over at my shoulder. The Warlock was gone, as far as I could see.

Emma noticed the look and followed my gaze. “You lose something?”

“Someone,” I said. I turned in my chair again to watch the next match.

“So did you talk with her?” asked Emma.

I glared at her. “Please say you didn’t tell that Warlock where to find me.”

Emma had the good grace to look embarrassed. “I thought-”

“Blood of the Traveler.” I kicked my chair back and stood up. “I don’t need this, Emma.”

“Morc – ”

I drew my hood back up and left the bar.

Ebony spoke in my ear. “Far be it from me to disagree with you,” he said. “But if the Warlock is right, I am in danger as well. We should talk with her.”

“Shut up,” I snapped.

“Guardian – ”

“Shut. Up.”

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

Day 797 – Finale

“We are all subject to the Fates. But we must act as if we are not, or die of despair.”
Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass


The wind blew between the empty huts and into their doors and windows, kicking up dust and dirt. We walked through the settlement, as silent as the empty buildings.

“Where is everyone?” asked Findlay.

No one answered. We found the entrance to the underground compound and descended the slope. The light strips were dark, and our Ghosts lit the way. We found the central corridor, now empty and abandoned.

“Let’s check that nanite room,” said Arianna.

We wandered through the compound until we located the place where the Warlocks had tended their machines. The room was empty but for a large chest, covered in intricate filigree and sealed with a heavy lock.

“A trap?” asked Miranda.

“Doubtful,” said Drake with surprising confidence. He motioned to his Ghost. After a moment there was a pop of displaced air and the lid shook. He opened the chest and revealed six glowing engrams, the empty space around them covered in enough Glimmer to make a common citizen of the City comfortably well-off for the rest of their days. A scroll perched on the Glimmer next to a small amulet. Arianna picked the scroll and read it aloud.

“We thank you Guardians for the service you have rendered us and our people. Enclosed is treasure we hope is enough to compensate you. As well, we leave you a talisman: ask it a question of your future and it shall answer truthfully. Be warned, it may only be asked once, and it will bind to the one who asks. The nanites in its structure house the Light that is so precious to our kind, and will serve you well.

Again, we thank you. May your path through the Dark lead you to the Light.

We all looked at the treasure. “Equal shares,” said Arianna. “Anyone want the amulet?”

No one spoke. “Guess we’ll give it to Rahool then,” she said, and pocketed it.

We each took our share. The engrams certainly lightened the mood, and conversation picked up as we departed the abandoned complex.

Findlay sidled up to me. “So, what happened?” he asked. “I don’t get it.”

“At a guess?” I said. “They were under siege, and they sent us out there so they could have time to evacuate. I’m sure there’s more to it, but it’s all I’ve got.”

“So there was no SIVA?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Maybe they just told us that to get us to come out here.”

“And the Kings?”

“Again, your guess is as good as mine,” I admitted.

“That is…a really unsatisfying conclusion,” said Findlay as we stepped into the light of dawn.

I laughed. “Welcome to a day in the life of a Guardian.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , ,

Day 797 – Part 6

“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.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , , ,

Day 797 – Part 5

“What hast thou to ask? | why comest thou hither? Odin, I know | where thine eye is hidden.”
Anonymous, The Poetic Edda


I let my fingers graze the wall of the tunnel as we descended, feeling the perfectly cut surface beneath them, seeing as much as feeling the tiniest fractures in the stone. It was rare to see this level of craftsmanship in the City, unheard of to see it beyond the Wall (unless you counted the Warmind compounds). The tunnel was perfectly lit by thin light strips hidden where the seams of the ceiling and the floor met the walls, a stark contrast to our descent in its sister compound when the Fallen had attacked the other settlement. I had so many questions.

Our guide was silent. Her red robes swished from side to side with each step, and the years of dust and filth that had accumulated on them were a stark contrast with the clean spaces we walked through. Her Ghost was also silent, and their hushed behaviour had desecended over our whole group.

Eventually the sound of voices echoed up the tunnel to us, and we reached a thoroughfare that branched off in many directions. What looked like a cross between a market and a city square under a great stone dome, with a single yellow globe casting a sunlit aura over the whole space, was crowded with people going about their business. It was almost a city, albeit a small city. As we passed through the crowd of people parted to either side to let the red Warlock pass but paid us no more attention than a brief glance.

“You’d think they see Guardians everyday,” said Findlay. Our guide laughed, and the weight of silence was broken.

“Why did you call for us? For Guardian aid?” asked Arianna as we walked through the crowd.

“All will be explained.”

“Wonderful, cryptic Warlocks,” muttered Findlay. I elbowed him in the ribs and he silenced.

We were eventually led to a large circular room, and found 2 more Warlocks, similarly attired, hovering in a strange tableau. Strands of neural networking crowded the space from ceiling to floor and glowing with pulsing energy, and the Warlocks floated between them, running their fingers over the strands as if coaxing them.

“Welcome to the heart of our settlement,” said our guide. “I am Lyra, and these are my sisters, Persephone and Cassandra.” The other warlocks descended to our level – it was impossible to tell the difference between the 3. “We have called you here to ask for your help, and provide insight if you so desire.”

Magnus reached out and hovered a hand over the strands. “Nanite constructs.”

“Constructs that the Kings have finally come to understand, thanks to the SIVA outbreak.” Lyra gestured to the nanite strands, some as thick as trees. “SIVA will seem like a rash compared to the plague that will spread if we don’t stop the Kings. That’s why we summoned you here. Help us Guardians, and you help yourselves.”

Categories: Morc-35 | Tags: , ,

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