Jasleen was nine cycles old. She stared out from the top of a hill across a blasted, ashen landscape. This morning, this had been her village. Before the Fallen Ketch and its Walkers arrived. Those were equally ruined, reduced to a trio of smoldering, metallic husks at the center of town.
But Jasleen was alive, and so were her parents, and her neighbors too, thanks to the Titan who patrolled the region.
That Lightbearer, a giant in an iron suit, watched curiously as her father tried in vain to smoke a fire into existence. Her mother stared in silence at the burning ash that used to be their home.
Together, they were waiting for the rest of the villagers to return with dinner. Local berries, if they were lucky.
“You should come with me,” the Lightbearer said to the three of them. “Humanity must unite. There is a foundation forming under the Traveler. Let me take you there.”
“We would never make it,” Jasleen’s father growled, fumbling with his bow drill. “We can’t afford to dream like you can.”
“I would protect you,” the Titan said.
Jasleen’s father ignored him. Her mother, too.
“My neighbor says Dregs eat children,” Jasleen said, to break the silence.
“I’ve seen it,” the Titan replied.
“I feel sorry for them. The Dregs.”
The Titan looked down at her for a moment, then swept his gaze across the ruin of their lives. “What is their suffering compared to yours? You lost everything today. And still, it was a good day, as these days go.”
She craned her neck to look up at him. “What do you mean?”
“Why is it a good day?”
“I did not arrive too late to help. I did not die today—”
“Do you worry about dying?” she interrupted.
“I worry about not helping.”
“Have you ever lost a fight?”
“More than I can count. I am no Ikora Rey. No Radegast.”
“Who are they?”
“Guardians, like me.”
Jasleen shrugged, her skinny shoulders sharp under her ratty tunic. “That’s okay. You’re my favorite.”
“We remember those who help us.”
“Has anyone ever helped you?”
He nodded. “Yes. Oh, yes.”
“Who? The Speaker?”
He thinks for a moment before replying. “No. A Guardian, like me. Saved me from the Fallen when I was young, when I had lost everyone I was meant to protect. That Guardian is why humanity must go to the Traveler.”
Jasleen furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”
“That Guardian’s Ghost and Light showed me a vision of humanity’s potential. The land beneath the Traveler becomes a place of safety. I—”
The foraging party returned with rabbits. They would eat well tonight.
As her mother and father moved to help prepare their dinner, Jasleen undid the bow in her hair and motioned the Guardian to come closer. She wrapped it around the Titan’s gauntlet. “I think that’s going to take a long time,” she said.
“Maybe.” He stared down at his arm. “On that day, I will bring this with me.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Saint,” he said.
“I’ll remember it.”
A woman with gnarled hands and an aged face sat alone on a couch, basking in the dim glow of a Golden Age ruin. She held back a cough as she eyed ancient monitors on the walls and ceiling, which directed visitors to empty offices belonging to people long dead.
It was cold, silent, and dark, and the woman felt she should leave. But just outside, through the doors behind her, an acid rainstorm showered the streets of a dead city.
She had been traveling for weeks, and today she had eaten the last of the hermetically-sealed food from a vending machine she had found a few miles from here. If she could go back, she would; she had taken all that she could carry, but the machine held plenty more. Life in the Golden Age must have been paradise.
Right now she wasn’t hungry, and she felt no fear. It was an odd change of pace—she welcomed the respite.
The room stretched on for a hundred meters in front of her, branching into rows and rows of doors that led to who knew where.
There was enough space in this building to house a thousand families. For a moment she wished her daughter and her daughter’s daughter were still here with her. They had begun their trip together months ago from Varuna, but she had urged them to go on ahead, giving her share of supplies to them. Supplies were heavy, and she was too slow.
There were rumors a human settlement was growing under the Traveler, and the spoken plan was to reunite there.
The spoken plan, at least. She rubbed her hands together to ward off the cold.
And she coughed.
Immediately, something creaked far down the hall. A door slammed open, followed by the sounds of rapid scuffling.
She stood up from her couch and slowly backed away, pulling a plasteel shiv from a sheath strapped to her thigh. Five figures with glowing eyes emerged from the gloom and rushed toward her, brandishing weapons. Two ran like men, massive and four-armed, and two were leaner, crawling low to the ground. The last was small, about the size of a human. It loosed a howl no earthborn mouth could make.
She hoped her child and grandchild still lived, and held her weapon up in silent salute.
The sliding doors behind her opened with a whoosh, and a violet discus cut through the air above her, singing like a sword loosed from its sheath. Three of the creatures dissolved into screaming Void as the disc of Light caromed down the length of the corridor.
As the woman turned to look over her shoulder, an iron monster alight with boiling Void energy leapt over her.
He moved with a grace that contradicted his size, and caught one of the remaining beasts by the neck as it bounded at him. He reeled back, and bam! The thing went limp as he smashed its skull with the top of his helm. Its companion lunged with a crackling Arc Sword, but he stepped forward and kicked its knee out to bring it down to his height, reeled back, and bam! Bam! Bam! He jackhammered the beast’s winged helm with his own. It fell back, dead.
The corridor fell silent.
He turned and asked quietly, “Where do you hail from?”
“Patch Run,” the woman replied.
He nodded. “Lin sent me to look for you.”
The woman scoffed and sheathed her weapon. “She was supposed to go to the Traveler.”
“She made it. All the way,” he replied. “They both did.” He raised his armored hand, wrapped tight with a purple cloth, and keyed a switch on his helmet. “Jumpship will be here shortly. We’ll get you home.”
“Who gave you that ribbon?”
“An old friend. Probably about your age, now.”
“How long do you people live?”
“We don’t know.”
The woman stared at him, then tore a piece from her lavender-colored sleeve. She stepped forward and tied it to a hinge of his pauldron.
“What is this?”
“Your friend is clever. If I leave this with you, I’ll live forever.”
He chuckled. She did not.
“Make a mark on this world,” she said. “Don’t waste the time you have.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
They were quiet a moment.
“None of this bothers you?” he asked, gesturing at the bodies and the raging storm outside.
“Everything bothers me,” she said, sitting back down on the couch.
“What was your name again?”
“I will remember it.”
They listened to the rain as they waited.
Three children, two Awoken girls and a Human boy, slept against a rampart on the City wall. They were standing in for their parents, members of the City volunteer militia. They weren’t old enough to carry weapons, but the boy clutched a remote access switch that would alert every guard in the district.
He would need to be awake to trigger it, though.
So Saint-14 stood watch in their stead. He would leave when his patrol cycle began in the morning.
The children woke when the sun broke the horizon. They pretended not to see him, but when one of the girls tore her handkerchief in two and tied one half to the Titan’s pauldron, the other two did the same with scraps of cloth and fabric.
He asked for their names, but they weren’t supposed to give their names to strangers, and all parted amicably.
The Titan leapt atop the smoldering wreckage of a kit-bashed airship, a stripped-down Arcadia Class incapable of escaping orbit, and tore the Golden Age-polymer canopy right off the cockpit.
He pulled a startled Awoken from out of the pilot’s cabin as the airship’s remaining engine crackled and roared. With the Awoken in his arms, the Guardian tumbled deftly off the Arcadian airframe and took off at full speed away from the wreckage. The Shock Cannon that tore the ship out of the sky had started an Arc reaction in the engine power cells that would—
The shockwave overtook him and tossed him into the air. He rolled to his feet as he landed, dropping the pilot as a dome of Light snapped into being around them. A sleet of debris and shrapnel rolled across the Titan’s Ward of Dawn.
As the metal rain faded, so did the Guardian’s Light. The two stood up. The Titan pulled a Daystar SMG2 from a back holster, checked to see if it was loaded, and handed it to the Awoken. “You are lucky. The Fallen shot you down twenty miles from the Traveler. They will not bother you again. Head due south,” he pointed, and turned to leave. But the pilot tapped his shoulder guard.
The pilot untied a bandana on his arm and held out the strip of plum-colored cloth.
“I have nothing else to give,” the pilot said. “That ship was my life.”
The Titan stared down at the man. “You’ve found a new life. Go to the Traveler.”
“It’s bad luck to not give Saint-14 his due.”
Saint grasped the cloth. “What is your name?”
“Georges,” the pilot replied.
Saint turned back towards the desert.
“I will remember it.”
Saint stood at the gateway into the Infinite Forest.
Six Fronts. Twilight Gap. Boyle Pass. The breaking of the Weapons of Rain.
Other Guardians always seemed to remember where and when they found the engrams that revealed the most treasured pieces in their arsenals. The Gjallarhorns and the Dark Age antiquities. He had difficulty with that.
But he could name almost every person who had awarded him an accolade over the course of his Guardian career.
They covered every nook of his armor. They adorned his ship, the Gray Pigeon.
He had never talked about them, and, as he looked up at the yawning translucent field before him, he wished that he had.
I never found Osiris, but I’ve killed enough Vex to end a war. And they, in turn, struck a fatal blow: they completed a Mind with the sole function to drain the Light from me. It worked very well.
Don’t worry. (Not that you worry much). It took them centuries to build, keyed to the unique frequency of my Light. And I sit atop its shattered husk.
I mourn that I will never reach the heights you have. To me, you represent everything a Guardian can become. Yours is a thriving City. So different from mine. My whole fourteenth life I fought to make my City yours. I never finished.
All I have left is this weapon. The Cryptarchs say you crafted it yourself, built it out of scraps and Light and sheer will, inside the Infinite Forge. I’ll make sure it finds its way back to you. When you gave it to me, I swore I would make it my duty to follow your example.
I’m still trying.
Panoptes, the Infinite Mind, was dead.
And so was Saint-14.
Osiris looked down at what remained of his friend.
The Infinite Forest shimmered around him.
The Vex had built a dais to carry the body of Saint-14. The Titan had been stripped of Light. There was no obvious killing wound on his armor. Perhaps they had repaired it.
Sagira ran a beam of Light across the body.
“Saint carried these ribbons everywhere,” she whispered.
“He called them his ‘accolades,’” Osiris replied.
“What were they for?”
Osiris was quiet for a long moment. He sat staring at the tomb.
“I never asked.”