I - ACCEPTANCE
"I'm the most qualified for this!" Crow's voice reverberated off of the immense window, making the Vanguard Commander's office feel even more cavernous than it was. At night, the edges of Zavala's office were usually dark, but the miasma of Vex energy that swirled in the City below made it more so. Crow sighed and paced in the gloom like a caged animal. Zavala faced the window and stood, unmoving; a statue carved of larimar, depicting a test of infinite patience. He glanced over at Ikora, her hands gently clasped as she watched Crow with disquieted contemplation. "We know," she said, after what felt like an eternity, "but your expertise and relationship with the Eliksni aren't the only deciding factors here." "Exactly how long am I going to be continually tried in a court of public opinion?" Crow asked pointedly. "And when in this trial will I be given a clear understanding of what I'm on trial for?" Zavala regarded the Awoken's reflection in the window; it reminded him of the near-fatal walk through the gardens not all that long ago. His shoulders sagged. "Crow," Zavala said as he turned to face him. "This is a delicate situation. The Consensus has come down hard on us for welcoming the Eliksni into the City, and I can't have them using you as another bludgeon." "So that's all this is: a political maneuver," Crow pushed. "To protect yourselves. No hard feelings? Nothing behind the looks you give me when you don't think I'm watching?" Zavala stiffened, and Crow sensed the conversational temperature in the room change. "This matter aside, if your past identity became public before we have a plan in place, it could cause considerable harm to you and to the people you care about," Ikora said evenly. "People who have come to care about you," she added. For a long time, no one spoke—and when Crow did, his voice was small. "Then what? I keep hiding from the shadow of the man I was before? Forever?" "Not forever," Ikora said firmly, "but for now." Crow shifted his focus to Ikora and saw the hurt in her eyes. He'd seen it in Amanda's, too, whenever she spoke of the dead. Without another word, he nodded and left. Ikora closed her eyes, and the breath she'd been holding slowly left her. "He's going to Osiris," she warned. "And if Osiris is half the leader he's shown himself to be, he'll tell him the same thing," Zavala said with great fatigue, finally sinking into his chair. In the momentary silence that settled between them, Ikora felt an unspoken reciprocation of their generations-old friendship. "I don't know how long we can protect him," she confessed. "Neither do I."
II - FRACTURES
Zavala stared at the terminal window until the words blurred together. He lowered his head and rubbed his eyes, trying to collect his thoughts. There were reports from Hunters in the field. Increased Vex activity across the system. Coordinated attacks on Vanguard operations. Anomalous disturbances within the City. All on top of Eliksni and Human confrontations within the City's walls. A buzzing hum bloomed to life over Zavala's shoulder, followed by the gentle weight of a Ghost that came to settle there. "Is this the best use of your time?" Targe wondered aloud, which elicited a look from the corner of Zavala's eye. Targe rarely spoke, but when he did, there was always purpose. "I don't recall asking for your opinion," Zavala said as he tried to refocus. "I don't recall giving one." Zavala turned this time to give Targe another look. "You two can't keep doing the work of three people," Targe insisted. "Talk to Ana again." Zavala leaned back in his chair. "Targe, there is no way I am going to convince—" An alert chimed at the command console to his right. "Incoming call from Empress Caiatl," Targe said wearily. "Let it go to depot." Zavala stubbornly rose from his chair. "No," he said, receiving the call. Caiatl's imperial seal appeared on the screen with a notice: AUDIO ONLY. "Empress Caiatl, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Zavala asked, tiredly scratching a hand over his stubble. Targe watched for a moment before he dematerialized. "Commander," Caiatl greeted, her voice swelling to fill the room as if she were standing there. "The fleet's long-range sensors detected a growing anomaly located in the vicinity of the Last City." "Why the sudden concern?" Caiatl snorted. "I bear no concern, Commander. But if the Vanguard were suddenly annihilated, it would behoove me to at least be aware." "Of course," Zavala said softly. "Well, we're still here." "For now." The leading edge in her tone hooked him. "Why are you really calling?" There was no response from the other side for a few moments. When Caiatl spoke next, her tone was as measured as before, but lacked any performative airs. "Lakshmi-2's latest broadcast to the City reached our fleet," she said. "You are truly a proud hawk standing in a nest of vipers, aren't you?" "Lakshmi is a politician." "Words are the most dangerous of weapons, Commander," Caiatl reminded him. "It begins as whispering convictions, then full-voiced dissent, and the next thing you know, you will wake with a knife driven into your chest." "Spoken from experience," Zavala jabbed back. "Spoken from experience," Caiatl doubled down, unashamed. "Lakshmi is undermining the Vanguard's authority by diminishing your role in the eyes of the people. Spoken loudly enough and often enough, her words may begin to make sense even to those who are not of the same mind." Zavala sighed, and Caiatl felt its weight all the way across the system. "I trust you to honor the terms of our armistice. I do not trust whomever your successor might be," Caiatl warned. Zavala weighed anger and intrigue against one another, finding the scales a useless tool in arbitrating his response to the situation. He stepped back to the console and did as Cayde might say: just wing it. "This is not the first threat to my authority I've weathered," Zavala said, his voice rising. "So don't delude yourself into thinking otherwise. And don't you dare come at me for whatever remorse you might be feeling about deposing your father." Zavala heard the low rumble of an appreciative vocalization over the speakers. "I do not feel remorse because Calus was my father," Caiatl explained, her tone softening. "I feel remorse because of what Ghaul did to my people. We opened the door for the Hive, handed Xivu Arath a knife, and were surprised when we felt the kiss of steel in our spine." I hate to see a warrior I admire and respect do the same with a less worthy adversary. But perhaps you are not in need of such unsolicited counsel." Zavala looked up, out to the lightless city beyond, and closed his eyes. "And what counsel is that?" What Caiatl said next was not in the voice of an empress, but a friend: "Umun'arath was my most trusted counselor. The Darkness has many hands—will you recognize its caress before it finds your throat?"
III - Gifts from the Shore
Though the metal crate they were carrying likely weighed more than they did, the two Eliksni gave Saint-14 a wide berth on their way to the Eliksni Quarter. "You see how they distrust," Saint grumbled. Amanda Holliday scanned the crate into her datapad, the unexpected shipment of emergency supplies from the Tangled Shore nearly offloaded. "Don't be such a sourpuss," she said lightly. "Mixing with new folk's good for the soul." "I mix!" objected Saint. "But the Fallen… they do not enjoy my company. And I feel the same for them." "Maybe that's exactly why Ikora picked you for this," Amanda said. Though Saint was fully helmeted, she could swear he rolled his eyes. Two more Eliksni came bearing another crate. One noticed Saint too late and stumbled, dropping the crate—its security locks popped as it crashed to the ground. A young Eliksni wearing House of Light colors and a bright orange and blue Vanguard lanyard scampered over in distress. Saint sighed. "It is fine," he said to the Eliksni. "Spider probably sends more surplus from old House of Dusk. Knowing you carry supplies from our enemies is great joke to him." He dragged the crate out of the walkway with one hand and knelt to repair the locks. As Amanda scanned the damaged crate, the young Eliksni came closer. He eyed Saint warily, then held up a sheaf of paper like a shield. "Manifest," he stated haltingly. "Thank you," Amanda said with unforced brightness. She tapped her datapad. "I've got it digitally." "You got it digitally," echoed the Eliksni. He fidgeted for a moment, then proudly held up the badge on his lanyard, which read TEMPORARY. Amanda smiled. "What've you got there?" "Authorization for unloading of supplies from Tangled Shore. Of supplies sent from Spider," he said. He leaned in slowly, looking carefully at Saint and Amanda. "My gentlemen," he added slyly. Amanda snorted so abruptly that Saint fumbled with a lock, crushing it in his hand. Saint looked up. "Can you two not be quiet?" "C'mon now," Amanda admonished Saint lightly. "I don't hear you practicin' your Eliksni, and this fella's doing his best to bridge the gap." Amanda turned back to the Eliksni. "That ain't exactly right, but you speak our language pretty well," she said. "Thank you," answered the Eliksni, clearly eager for conversation. "Do all Humans here serve Spiderkell?" "Serve Spider?" Amanda spat. "Spider's nothing but a—" and the five spirited words that followed were replete with hard consonants. The Eliksni froze, wary of her tone while not understanding her words. Amanda caught herself and took a breath. "…which is our way of saying he's a kind and generous individual," she said to the Eliksni, who nodded along with her. "This lock has been ruined by distractions," Saint said as he rose to his feet. He removed the lid and looked inside, then lifted a loose coil of rubbery tubes. "Servitor plugs, filters, Ether circulators…" The Titan made a confused noise. "Something wrong?" Amanda asked. "Not at all," mumbled Saint as he picked up a small golden cylinder trailing braided sapphire cords. "This rebreather alone is worth more than my ship." Amanda moved toward Saint and looked for herself. She recognized a few necessary survival items—condensed prefab ceramic plating, vapor distillers, generator couplings—but amongst the tubes and filters were otherworldly treasures: A nanomesh sphere filled with thick pink liquid. A chrome conduit splitter with entropic plating. A glimmering opal sparkling in a nest of delicate lavender sponges. "The hell is Spider playing at?" Amanda said to herself. She called out to the Eliksni: "Are they all like this?" "Yes. Each one is very full. Full of delights, from our culture. From our home. We are very thanks." He cocked his head and clicked. "Thankful?" Amanda nodded. "Let me see that manifest," she said, taking the papers from the Eliksni. He nodded and rejoined the other workers. "They will still need many of our resources to stay here," Saint said as he carefully resealed the crate, "but this will make things easier. I am surprised Spider is so generous, even to his own people." Amanda frowned at the manifest. "This doesn't make sense," she said. "There's a note at the top: 'Don't know what half this stuff is, but it's got to be good if Spider had it.' It's all written by hand, and there aren't values for anything on here." Saint looked at the papers over Amanda's shoulder. "The crates came from Spider's storehouse," he said. "If he did not send them, who did?" "Look at this listing!" Amanda continued. "This item says 'best osmosis filters (hidden in his bottom drawer).' This item is just a row of question marks. Here's one listed as 'a clock thing.' This line says 'noisy cube: smells bad but everybody likes it.' And what's with this signature?" Amanda squinted at the shape scrawled at the bottom of the form. "It's a… ship?" she guessed, handing the paper to Saint. The Titan turned his head as he looked at the drawing. "Aha!" he cried, slapping the paper with the back of his hand. "Look, is bird!" Amanda looked again at the uneven charcoal lines and could just make out a wobbly black bird. She let out a long breath and shook her head. "Awful artist," she said, "but I guess he's an all right guy." And suddenly, she was smiling.
IV - Conspirators
Arach Jalaal narrowed his eyes with impatience as Dead Orbit's head of logistics struggled to satisfactorily account for the faction's supply caches. The pair had been wandering around the massive Hangar for an hour while an enormous ship was being loaded in the background. Jalaal had seen the celestial disappearances and the encroachment of the Black Fleet as clear signs that Dead Orbit's final exodus must soon begin. He had ordered a redoubling of departure preparations, but found the faction's rank-and-file struggling to keep pace. Jalaal cut off his subordinate's bumbling presentation. "This is insufficient. Earth will soon be behind us, and Dead Orbit will have to survive on the supplies that we provide." His mild tone and half-lidded gaze underscored the gravity of his words. "Supplies that you are in charge of tracking. You do understand that, don't you?" A furious blush spread across the administrator's face. He bowed his head and scuttled away as Jalaal crooked his head in annoyance. Behind him, a raspy voice floated up from the maze of towering crates: "Leaving us so soon, Jalaal?" He turned to find Lakshmi-2 and Executor Hideo. The Future War Cult leader stood formally, hands clasped before her, while the head of New Monarchy browsed the shipping crates with casual interest. "This is an impressive collection. I had no idea Dead Orbit was so well funded." Hideo gestured broadly to the crates. Jalaal shrugged. "It's a life's work, Hideo. Everything we'll need to re-seed the Human species elsewhere. You should join us." "We're fine where we are, thank you," Lakshmi interjected. "As a matter of fact, that's why we've come." Jalaal bowed his head and gestured toward the Hangar exit. The trio ambled outside. "Hideo and I are concerned about the current Vanguard leadership," Lakshmi began carefully. Jalaal allowed himself a mirthless chuckle. "Yes, I've heard your open editorials. You're becoming quite the demagogue. I never knew you held such strong feelings about the Fallen." "If it's incitement to speak the truth, then so be it," Lakshmi fired back, sharper than intended. "The Fallen have been a useful catalyst, but that doesn't mean we are wrong." "Perhaps not about the Vanguard," Jalaal replied, "but the Cult is hemorrhaging members. And I doubt it's your best and brightest remaining." "Those who wish to leave are free to do so," Lakshmi said with a pointed glance toward the Dead Orbit ship. "We'll be stronger without them." "Zavala and Ikora have been ineffective since the Speaker died," Executor Hideo cut in. "The disappearance of the planets caught them unprepared. They're allowing Guardians to use the Darkness. And now they've cut a deal with the Cabal? It's just too much." "We must have leadership whose point of view is more closely aligned to that of the people," Lakshmi said. "And who do you propose, exactly?" Jalaal stopped the trio at the corner of a broad thoroughfare, where the rumble of cargo movers masked their conversation. "Saladin was our first choice," Hideo added with an ill-concealed smirk, "but he's not as cutthroat as he seems. Appears the Iron Lord has a soft spot for Commander Zavala." Lakshmi gave Hideo a look, as though he had revealed too much. "We are now considering Saint-14," she said, pointedly bringing the conversation back to the present. Jalaal raised an eyebrow. "Who else is committed to your little coup?" "We have somebody in a position of influence. Someone who can ensure an orderly transfer of power," Lakshmi answered. "That person would have to be very clever indeed," Jalaal said gravely. "For your sake. Ikora Rey is not a target to miss." The moment stretched as Jalaal measured the situation. He had long considered what a change of leadership might mean for Dead Orbit; for the resettlement and survival of the Human species. And as always, the allure of personal power—a position of eminence in a dying society—was a constant temptation.
V - SABOTAGE
Two dozen Humans, their faces mostly covered with makeshift masks, slunk into the Botza District under cover of darkness. Some were armed with weapons, though most carried workaday tools like crowbars and wrenches. They planned to infiltrate the Eliksni Quarter and find evidence of aggression. If that failed, they would send a clear message that the House of Light was unwelcome in the Last City. Knives tore into banners. Noxious fumes filled the air. Paint cans rattled. The hum of the machinery around them disguised the sounds of their labor while hushed voices conferred in terse, conspiratorial tones. "I think this is their food," a young woman whispered to her male companion while warily looking over her shoulder. She didn't see anyone as they crouched by a large Ether tank, but she imagined the Eliksni crowded together in a nearby building. Did they even sleep? "Here, give me a hand with this," her companion said, pointing to what he guessed was a control panel. Together they pried the face plate off, revealing a mess of wiring beneath. They shared a furtive glance and began pulling out wires by the fistful, hands shaky, their blood pounding in their ears. A low whistle like a bird call fluttered through the night air. When they looked up, a Hunter stood over them only a few paces away, his face shadowed by a cowl. He held his Hand Cannon at hip level, aimed straight at them. Their co-conspirators, drawn by the sound, gathered in their periphery, mentally calculating their chances. Not a single one liked the odds. Even those who came armed expected to fight the Fallen, not a Guardian. The Hunter called out in a half-whisper: "I don't want any trouble." The woman stood frozen as the young man beside her moved toward the Hunter, his jaw set. "No!" his companion hissed. "Are you crazy?" She grabbed his arm to haul him behind the ruined Ether tank, but he wrenched free. The young man stepped slowly toward the Hunter. "You're on the wrong side of this thing," he started. The Hunter pulled back on his Hand Cannon's hammer with an audible click. "I don't think I am," he replied. Unwilling to test the Hunter's mettle, the young man called over his shoulder. "Let's go." The Hunter narrowed his eyes. He watched as the young man slinked past him and spat at his feet. Something old and terrible rose up inside of the Hunter; it took all of his focus to steady his hand. The conspirators peeled away from their hiding places, one by one, disappearing into the dark. Some hissed choice insults and dispersions at the Hunter under their breath, though none dared to look at him. In just a few minutes, the block was deserted except for the Hunter, who stood alone in the street until his Ghost complied over his shoulder. It chirped with concern. "You wouldn't really have shot them, right?" The Hunter hesitated as he holstered his weapon. "They needed to know I was serious, Glint." "But you weren't," his Ghost insisted. Wordlessly, the Hunter began making his way through the destruction. Someone would sound the alarm soon—he didn't want to be there when they did. "Tell me you weren't serious," his Ghost said again, lagging behind, "…were you?"
VI - UNDERSTANDING
Ikora Rey strode into the Future War Cult headquarters. It had the air of a church—hushed and reverent, but the air of sanctity was undercut by the intrusion of Vex technology. Wires climbed like vines across the ceiling, and the air was filled with the faint smell of ozone. In the middle of the room, reclining on a seat reminiscent of both throne and operating table, was Lakshmi-2. Her face was obscured by a helmet that connected to the mess of wiring above. Studious Cultists shuffled about with their heads bowed, glancing suspiciously at Ikora. As the Warlock advanced, a Cultist held up a single finger, commanding both silence and patience. Ikora's eyes narrowed. The Cultist whispered into a small microphone next to the Device. Its subaudible hum had been inconspicuous, but once it powered down, the quiet felt overwhelming to Ikora. Lakshmi sat in repose, presumably orienting herself in the current timeline. "Leave us," she said without opening her eyes. "We'll resume at 14:25." Her subordinates filtered from the room, looking past Ikora as if she were invisible. Lakshmi finally opened her eyes, and fixed them on the Warlock. "I assume you're here to bargain." "I'm not." Ikora's tone was calm and cold. "I'm here to issue a warning of my own." "Warn me?" Lakshmi laughed, her voice thin. "If we have any further incidents on account of your incitement, I will personally find a remote, icy moon to leave you on." Lakshmi tutted. "Only small minds classify prophecy as provocation." She stood up and smoothed her garments. "Certainty in the face of the unknown is the provenance of zealots." Ikora eyed the Device. "And the insane. This isn't a debate." "And yet, you are still here. Come, Ikora, you've not seen what I have." Lakshmi gestured to the Device. "The Botza District under assault for a second time. Saint-14, pinned down by gunfire. And you…" she trailed off, "screaming for help over the comms." "How many of your prophecies have gone unfulfilled, Lakshmi?" Ikora snapped. "I wish you could hear yourself; how afraid you sound." "All those years studying under Osiris, and you're still so naïve," Lakshmi replied. Ikora's anger flared. She advanced on the Cult leader. "Cut the B.S., or suffer the consequences. Understand?" Undaunted, Lakshmi's artificial eyes shone bright. "Understood." Ikora stepped back and let her anger pass out of her with a sigh. "Then we're done here." She turned on her heels and strode out. As she left, Ikora wondered whose prophecy she had just fulfilled—Lakshmi's or her own.
VII - Ripe
I walk through the City on broken legs. I am conspicuous, but the people here grant me many affordances. I chose this form well. I sway and catch myself on a low stone wall. I am ready earlier than anticipated, but I must still learn the next step. I look up toward the false dusk I have hung, but it is not yet finished. I am afraid, but it is thrilling to engage in something new after all this time, something unknown. I close my eyes tightly so they do not bulge. The feeling passes. I open my eyes and search the faces of the people around me for familiarity. I did not mean to. I twist inwardly with disgust. When they first reached for me, I reached back in acid mockery, and they opened themselves to me in stupid, naked innocence. I was giddy. My fingers raked their minds. I forced my will through them using only words and met no resistance. Their naiveté was beyond description, and I feasted until my eyes welled with black tears. Now I reach as often as they do, and when they reach back, I am thankful. I speak with them. I seek their company. Their companionship. This is not pity, for I know pity. What is this— I drop to both knees, clear my mouth, and vomit. The thin black fluid turns to vapor and disappears. I clench the gangling black mass that threatens to unspool recklessly from within this shell of flesh. My new arms are too thin, too weak. My new shell still bound with thick mucus. Not yet, I say. A moment of blackness, and then… A man places his hands on me, on my shoulders, on my back. He asks if I am ill, and he sees my flat eyes, my teeth black with ripeness, and he prepares to scream. I let him keep his mind. I push breath up and through my ruined mouth and speak a simple lie. He stops, smiles, laughs. Shakes his head. He points a finger at me in mocking admonishment before walking away. I swallow the fatty morsel of his ignorance and it gives me the strength to stand once more, cover my face, and resume my walk. I feel this form splitting beneath its wrappings, held together weakly by wet strands of sinew. And from deep inside, stirred by that latest scrap of deception, I hear the oily growl of the Worm. Even here, basted in deception both ample and rich, the Worm cries ravenously. It has grown grotesque, skin taut, overfed, and still it howls for more. It commands me to keep it alive. I look up, beyond the flickering net of darkness, and see what rests just beyond. Waiting for me. The Worm roars.
VIII - GILDED KNIVES
They say the promenade of the Core District never sleeps. In times of celebration, it was a parade ground meant to extol the virtues of the Guardians and show the people of the City the faces of their often-distant defenders. To see it empty was almost unheard of since the Red War. Executor Hideo of New Monarchy walked alongside Lakshmi-2 of Future War Cult, observing vendor stalls decorated in neon lights that flickered intermittently as they passed. But there were no vendors, no proprietors. Hideo glanced over his shoulder at the four Future War Cult security officers that followed behind them at a respectful distance. "Do you remember the last time this street was empty?" he asked. "Yes," Lakshmi said with a heavy heart. "They called me a fool then as well." She did nothing to hide the contempt in her voice. "We make mistakes in circles, Hideo. Walking in a loop of our own self-made despair." Before he could formulate a response, Hideo spotted the reason for their walk through the Endless Night: a towering behemoth of chrome and lavender cloth, hunched over in an abandoned plaza. Saint-14 focused on the birds underfoot, scattering a handmade mix of seed on the ground while he cooed contentedly at the pigeons. "You have chosen poor night for walk," he observed as Hideo and Lakshmi approached. "Do you need escort back to Tower?" Hideo shook his head. "No, Saint. We went to find you in the Hangar, and Ms. Holliday informed us that you had come here to…" He eyed the birds. "…contemplate." "Birds are uncomplicated. Good conversationalists. They give me room to think," Saint said with a smile in his voice. "How can I help?" "The Consensus has struggled, as of late, with some of the Vanguard's decisions regarding the City's security. We wanted to expand that conversation to include you," Lakshmi said. "But not Arach Jalaal?" Saint asked, a more pointed and cunning response than either Hideo or Lakshmi anticipated. "No," Hideo quickly confirmed. Lakshmi verbally maneuvered around Hideo's answer like water around a stone. "This is about ensuring that the best interests of the City are at the forefront of the Vanguard's mind." Saint fixed his helmed visage on Lakshmi. "The Eliksni." A statement, not a question. "The Vanguard are a military force, and the Consensus does not doubt their commitment to defending the City beyond its borders." Lakshmi carefully worded her approach. "But we have come to doubt that a military force is the best governance for the City inside of its walls." Saint squared his shoulders as if presented a challenge and looked between Hideo and Lakshmi. His stoicism twisted Hideo's stomach into knots. "We would like to propose a restructuring of the City's leadership. Placing the Vanguard as the authority for what goes on outside the walls…" Hideo gestured toward the mountains. "And respective leadership here inside the City." He motioned to Saint. "This is bad plan," Saint said without any attempt at obfuscating his feelings. "Surely you understand that tactical options in the field do not always apply unilaterally in a civilian quarter," Hideo pleaded. "On top of that, the Vanguard is stretched too thin. They cannot be the leadership they need to be." Saint balked. "Then why come to me? I am no politician." "But you are a leader," Lakshmi countered as she placed a hand over her chest. "A hero. A symbol to the people." Saint drew in a steady breath and grew silent. "It may not feel like the right choice because of your personal feelings toward Commander Zavala and Ikora. Change can sometimes feel distasteful. But I know you aren't one to ignore your sense of duty." Saint looked down at his feet, at the birds, at the seed. "I must speak with Osiris," he asserted. Lakshmi briefly regarded Hideo and nodded. "Give your partner our regards." "I will," Saint said stiffly, scattering the last of the seed in his hand to the birds before departing the plaza. Hideo and Lakshmi waited under the watchful eye of the Traveler until Saint was gone. "If he tells Zavala or Ikora…" Hideo said through clenched teeth. "Osiris will stop him from doing anything so stupid," Lakshmi said, the softness in her voice gone. "And if he is so shortsighted as to refuse us as Saladin did…" Hideo's stomach twisted again.
IX - PREDICTION
In the days that followed Quria's defeat, the sky lightened, and so did the City's mood as the Endless Night began to slowly lift. Lakshmi-2 stood high on the City walls, watching adventurous citizens mingle with the Eliksni. She focused her attention on an Eliksni peddler, who had fashioned several small robots from discarded scrap. A small gaggle of children stood across the way, clearly interested in the robots as they moved aimlessly, but too frightened to approach. Lakshmi knew that the peddler would sell one of the robots, but none of the scrap, and end the day discouraged. It's a bright new day, she thought. "It's a bright new day," a deep voice called out. Lakshmi turned to see the former Warlock Osiris striding along the wall toward her. "What a strange choice of words," Lakshmi answered. "The Darkness is closer than ever." And in the darkness, it's sometimes difficult to tell friend from foe. She remembered this conversation from her time in the Device. Many of the potential futures it showed her led to this moment. Osiris was growing predictable. "It is," Osiris said. "And in the darkness, it's hard to tell friend from foe." Lakshmi smiled inwardly. They were still well within the standard deviation. "I'm surprised to hear you say that, Osiris. You are normally blessed with such uncommon clarity." "My perspective has changed since I lost the Light," Osiris began slowly. "Time is suddenly finite. It makes everything seem more… changeable. And if my perception can change, perhaps my enemies can as well." "The folly of mortality." Lakshmi gestured to the scene below. "Those people could never understand time as we do, Osiris. You've peered behind the veil. You've seen the Vex simulations stretching endlessly. You understand that history is changeable… but also inevitable." "I used to be certain of that," he agreed. "But now I have to wonder, if history is inevitable, why am I constantly surprised?" Lakshmi chuckled. She had heard his comment before, of course, but her premonition had not adequately conveyed his fatuousness. "And what do you think, Osiris? Will this bright new day last?" She nodded toward the Eliksni settlement. "Are we meant to share the Light with the Fallen?" As if you would know, she thought. You no longer deal in predictions. "I've given up on prediction, Lakshmi. I put my fate in the hands of the Traveler now more than ever before." He gave her a sidelong glance. "And what do you say? Is this a new dawn?" Lakshmi recalled the vision she had so fervently sought within the Device. The realization of her righteous victory over the Eliksni—historical and preordained all at once. Her life's work, crawling minute by minute from the future into the present. "No," she replied. "This is just a flash of lightning before the coming storm."
X - MEMORIAL
The air up on the wall was thin; Lakshmi was right about that. Mithrax stood in silent observation of the memorial above the main concourse. He leaned against an iron railing, watching Guardians and citizens alike moving below, Eliksni with them. A Dreg approached the memorial and led his child to stand among the mourners. Urged forward by a gentle nudge, the child gingerly placed a gilded eggshell at the memorial's base. Gold soldering sealed a myriad of fractures, making a once broken egg whole again. Mithrax's throat tightened at the sight. It was a memorial for a child. Lost. The walkway behind Mithrax groaned as Saint-14 cut a large silhouette against the clear sky. Shoulder to shoulder, they stood. Neither spoke. They watched as Ikora and Zavala conversed with departing mourners. The Dreg and his son approached, and with a bittersweet smile, Ikora made certain to introduce them to Zavala. Big, stern, stoic Zavala took to one knee and spoke to the child, eye to eye. "I never thought I'd see the day," Saint finally said, unable to look away. Mithrax responded, not with words, but with a fluttering purr-like rumble and mirrored Saint's posture. "Do you think this will hold? An alliance, fragile like glass, held in a fist?" Saint asked. "Only the Great Machine knows what will come from over the horizon. We must be content with our own limited perspectives," Mithrax said with conviction. Saint nodded. Down below, Amanda Holliday drew their attention as she knelt before the memorial to light a candle. She stood and stepped back, lingering. Mithrax and Saint watched in silence as she rose up on her toes and began scanning through the crowd. As if she were looking for someone. She gently pushed through the throng of people and reached out to another mourner in a white cloak. Both recoiled in surprise, Amanda seemingly apologizing to the cloaked woman at some misunderstanding. They exchanged brief words, awkward laughs, sympathies. When Amanda caught sight of Lord Saladin, however, she took her leave and disappeared into the crowd. Mourners parted around the Iron Lord, respectful of his space and reputation as he laid a handful of spent shell casings at the memorial with reverence. The offering's meaning was lost on Mithrax. When Saladin rose from the memorial, he turned and looked up at the pair on the overwatch, his face cast in shades of doubt, remorse, and uncertainty as he quietly departed. "I do not know that one," Mithrax said with a look to Saint. "He seems… unhappy." Saint slowly shook his head. "Lord Saladin," he clarified. "He has lost many. Lost his heart, his hope. Lost so many, he believes he stands alone, even when surrounded by others. I understand his pain. I see…" Saint thinks on how Osiris would describe it. "…his cautionary tale." Mithrax heard the ache in Saint's voice. "And how are you?" Saint tensed at the question. The railing in his hand creaked as his grip tightened and bent the metal. "I am fine," he lied. "Indeed," Mithrax said with his best affectation of sarcasm, then placed a hand on Saint's shoulder. "It is not above a warrior's station to feel pain. Not above a warrior's station to express spirit-wounds." Mithrax's grip firmed on Saint's shoulder; reassuring, stabilizing. "Not above a warrior's station to break." Saint nodded in half-hearted agreement. "I should go," he said in a tone Mithrax didn't quite understand. "Thank you, Kell of Kells. You are true friend." "Go well, Saint," Mithrax said with concern. "Find your lost phoenix."