Just Another Day at the Tower
The arched eyebrow spoke volumes. Eva Levante grinned, threatening to break through her deadpan. "The request was simple enough: a shader to commemorate the end of the SIVA incident. Zavala's color suggestion, though…" Her companion held up the cloth, a ghastly combination of fluorescent yellow and blood-red that would have hurt the eyes even if it wasn't laid against a particularly nauseating set of stripes. Tess sighed. "He can make the Hive quake in fear, but that man shouldn't be let within 10 meters of a designer's table." The two women were still laughing when a shudder rocked the Tower. They turned as one in the direction of the far-off sound that followed—a roaring noise neither of them had heard before. The PA blared in the small utility room they'd claimed as a lounge. "Evacuation order 77 is in effect. This is not a drill. All civilians report to designated evacuation areas immediately." Tess was at the door, palming it open when another explosion—much closer—shook them where they stood. Smoke and screams floated down the hallway. Eva's memories of what followed were disjointed. She was running with Tess, gasping for breath. She remembered murmuring the names of her cousins, worrying about them down in the City. She was in a large crowd now, Tess was falling behind as Eva was crushed forward. Another explosion, and a fire door slammed shut. Tess was gone, and Eva found herself with about 30 people in a small cargo bay between Tower North and the Hall of Guardians. A man was trying the far door, shouting that it was sealed. Then the roof came down as a large sphere crashed to the decks. Cabal clambered from the pod, struggling against their bulky armor as they began to fire at the civilians. That's when a dazzling blast of energy took them from behind. The shouting was enough for ten men, but when Eva could see again, only one massive Guardian was there, ending a Cabal soldier with a blade as long as she was tall. The helmeted face of Lord Shaxx turned this way and that, taking in the room. Two quick strides brought him to her side, and with a surprising gentleness, he helped Eva to her feet. "Madam." He intoned, and she could feel the bass of his voice in her chest. "I need your help." At his insistence, she took charge of the civilians as he took point for their little group. With the confidence and looming presence of the Crucible master at her back, it was effortless to keep the others quiet and focused. When they reached an evac site, a trio of anxious-looking Hawk pilots waited with their craft. As the last of the group climbed aboard, Shaxx laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. He towered over her as he said, simply, "Comrade." And then he was gone, back toward the fighting, his massive sword slung over his shoulder. Eva's last view of the Tower as her Hawk pulled away was ruin and flame.
Loss of Light
"Valentina! And her son, Luis! Peregrine district! Apartment Block 10, fourth floor! It's the one…" An explosion nearby cut her off, but she shouted into the comms unit all the louder. "It's the one with the green awning! Please!" The voice of the militiawoman on the other end of the line was emotional. "I'll send a unit! But ma'am, the fighting all across the district is—" "Did I not give you my Tower clearance code?" Eva's own voice scared her. A whip-crack of anger. A pause on the other end. "Yes ma'am. I'll go myself! Tozzi out." Eva slumped back against the wall of the—she raised her head to look around—must have been a bakery at one point. Now the little café tables were barricading the doors and the counter's glass case had been smashed into a far wall with the display racks. The militia Exo she'd borrowed the comms unit from snapped off another few shots over the half-wall that remained on the shop's exterior. They looked back in her direction, anxious. "Can you fire a weapon?" Her helpless look must have been an answer, because they reached out for the comms unit. She slid it across the floor, and they quickly punched in a sequence of codes. Another blast nearby caused the other civilians in the room to whimper and moan with fear. The Exo barked into the unit. "We need Guardian support, corner of the 1400 block Anchor District! I have a large number of civilians here, and our position is being overwhelmed!" They punctuated their transmission by leaning out and firing off another half dozen shots. The Cabal roared back in animal fury. It wasn't more than two minutes before Eva heard it: the distinctive sound of a Sparrow, running full-out. She dared to gather herself into a half crouch and peer out of the building. She was watching just in time to see a pair of them, a Hunter and a Warlock, descend on the invaders like vengeful angels. These two were professionals, she could tell—no swagger to them. They were efficient and deadly, and the soldiers began to fall back. Something happened. Eva couldn't see what it was, but both of the Guardians reeled. The Warlock dropped to one knee, like his strings had been cut. The Hunter shook her head and raised a hand in the air, a distinctive signal, calling for the Light… but nothing happened. The Cabal, like they'd been waiting for this moment, struck hard. The Hunter was bowled over by a charging Centurion and crushed underfoot. The Warlock didn't seem to ever really recover, and he fell to the ground, riddled by the weapon fire of a dozen soldiers. The Exo was standing fully upright now, shocked, and even as Eva opened her mouth to tell them to get down, they fell—a sniper's target. One of the men retched in the corner, horrified. Eva gave herself no time to think. She snatched the comm unit from the ground and pushed past the civilians to a far window. She used the reinforced case to smash out the glass and began hoisting children through once the largest shards were cleared of the frame. She was the last out of the building, and a few stray bullets plucked at the wall near her as she made her escape. They didn't stop running until they were sure no one was following. She had no idea which district they were in, no clue even what the building used to be. Much of the orderly streets and well-tended boulevards she knew had become a maze of debris—the last safe City, a maze of collapsed and ruined structures. The children were huddled up in a great pile as the older folk talked quietly among themselves. Everyone was crying, on and off, but they tried desperately to keep it quiet. A high-pitched chirp across the comm unit startled Eva, and she slammed her head back against the wall behind her. She hadn't even realized she still had it. She reached down and keyed the pad. A hushed voice said "Ma'am?" Her own voice low and shockingly gruff, she answered, "This is Eva Levante. Is this Tozzi?" A pause. "Tozzi's dead. She wanted me to make sure someone got back to you, though." Another long pause. Eva fought the urge to scream. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Levante. Block 10 is just gone. I think some of the automated defenses managed to come online early in the fighting and one of their command ships must have crashed…" Eva didn't hear the rest of the words.
Hiding at Home
Eva checked the time on the small comms unit she clutched to her chest. It seemed impossible, but it had been under two hours since she'd been sitting and laughing with Tess. Time had stretched for her, like the taffy candies some of the vendors sold during the Dawning festival. She would have sworn it was days ago. Longer than that, when she'd been sitting in her cousin's flat, hugging Valentina. Saying goodbye to Luis… "Eva, we don't owe them anything." A gruff cough, one of the other civilians. Everyone's voice was a grinding imitation of itself; ash filled the air, and no one could clear their throat. Eva clasped a rag to her mouth as she answered, croaking. "How dare you?" Her voice rose with her anger. "Your whole life they've kept you safe, and now you want to just abandon them?" The subject of their dispute lay collapsed on the floor of the warehouse. A quartet of Guardians, all of them wounded and bleeding from within their flamboyant armor. Even as she weighed the future of their little band, she couldn't help but appreciate their fashion sense. The Hunter, of course, had put in the most effort. The man arguing with her was paunchy and fashion-illiterate, wearing a bland functionary uniform: part of the Consensus staff. He scowled at her and grated out, "We can barely move the lot of us around, let alone all of us and a bunch of wounded, powerless Guardians. Why should we risk our—" "You don't think they've risked their lives a hundred times over for you?" She pulled the rag away from her face and coughed a mass of phlegm and ash to the side. Her mother would have died all over again of shock. "We have to keep moving, we have to keep them with us, and we have to hold out. Whatever this is, it's temporary." He grimaced, but she pressed on. "When they regain the Light they'll…" Her diatribe was cut short by a blast of static on the comm unit, so loud she dropped it on the floor. The reinforced case took the blow, and so everyone around clearly heard the deep voice of Commander Zavala when he began to speak. "Citizens of the Last City. Hear my words." Like a people dying of thirst, the civilians moved in to circle the comm unit. Zavala had been a pillar, a beacon of hope all their lives. Surely he would… "We are abandoning the City. We have evacuated everyone we could, but the Cabal now hunt Guardians in the streets. If you are able, you should make for the wilds." Eva felt as if she'd been physically struck. "The Cabal have affixed a device to the Traveler and severed our connection to the Light. We cannot hold the City, and we cannot protect you." There was a long pause, as if he was weighing his words carefully. When he spoke again, Zavala sounded very, very tired. "We are setting a rally point elsewhere in the system—watch for a broadcast. We will return to the City someday, but… I do not know when." Another pause. "Be safe. Be brave." And he was gone. To their credit, the group did not yell or shout. Even though it had only been a matter of hours, they were all alive because they'd learned not to give away their position. They did cry, though. Tears streaked trails down faces covered in ash; those faces looked from one to another as they sought to understand, to comprehend. Eva did not cry. As she stared at the comms unit, all she could think about were Zavala's shoulders. She'd often joked with him about the size of the pauldrons on his armor, that massive protective plate on his left shoulder. And now… for some reason, she thought she understood. The weight on his shoulders… Eva stood, and all eyes turned to her. She flinched a little. Then, choosing her words carefully: "Most of them are leaving. So we have to help them." She gestured at the Guardians. "If we can keep them alive, they can protect us, keep us safe." She looked around the group, found people nodding. "Where do we go?" one woman asked. Eva looked back down at the comms unit. "The Cabal will have heard that. They'll be watching the walls, expecting us to try to leave." She looked up, out at the room. "So we stay here. We make for the edge of the City and try to find somewhere the Cabal won't expect us to be." The seamstress reached down and pulled up the comms unit, slinging it over her shoulder. "Everybody up. It's a long way to Twilight Gap."
The New Normal
Just getting to the outskirts of the City was an ordeal. Every day, they saw the Cabal's control tightening. Civilian groups or the odd Guardian tried make a break for it only to be brought down by a swarm of ships hungry for a kill. The streets were no safer, with patrols moving in tandem and tanks rumbling through district centers. Years of supporting the Guardians, of listening to their idle chatter, had filled Eva's head with details about these horrific invaders. She realized they were doing rigid block-by-block sweeps, unimaginative and plodding. Just as described at the Tower. Their group hid and observed and moved only when the Cabal did. In that careful manner, they arrived at the far reaches of the City—parts long abandoned, where Humanity was just a shadow cast upon the walls. Eva found herself in consultation every day, organizing foraging patrols back toward the center. Evenings were spent suggesting strategies for the upcoming days. And to her great satisfaction, she spent nights sitting with a needle and thread, trying to make sure the survivors would stay warm on the move. As the three Guardians recovered (they lost the Titan on the way to the Gap), they started offering more guidance. At their suggestion, the survivors never stayed in the same place more than a day or two. They posted lookouts every night and turned on the comms unit only every other day to listen for broadcasts. For chance transmissions. For hope. Eva was there in the room when the Guardians heard Zavala's voice—his short, terse statement played over and over. "If there is any Light left in the system… we rally on Titan." She shut the door so the other civilians wouldn't hear and listened as they had it out. The other Warlock, Tam, identified herself as Trinh's sister. They were adamant that they try—somehow—to get offworld and head for Titan. The Hunter, Ramos, was just as adamant they stay. Their discussion wound down and came to a slow stop with all three Guardians looking at her. She held up her hands and said, "I trust you all to do the right thing." They stayed. And quickly became integral to the success of their… operation. What had begun as simple survival became an organized effort to evacuate civilians from the Last City. Foraging parties inevitably came back with more people than they left. Scouting parties probed the edges of the City and found avenues of escape, places where the Cabal were lax in their patrols. Eva found that the same skills she'd used to plan holidays at the Tower were invaluable in organizing this underground movement. She cobbled together boards from old classrooms to create a schedule and wrote on the backs of old forms and newsletters to make "delivery packages" of civilians and the occasional Lightless Guardian. Day in, day out, this became her quiet routine. She faded into the background of the Underground: plan, move, sew, repeat. Even when contact was finally made with the Farm and getting survivors to the EDZ became the goal, Eva was always there making sure the trains ran on time. After some thought, she asked that her role not be spread around. She got word to people like Tess that she was alive, and that was enough for her. She had the chance to get out of the City dozens of times. But every time she thought she'd take that exit, go with that convoy, she stopped herself. Settled back. Did the work. That was how the months of the Red War passed for Eva Levante.
The Good Fight
"Abuela? Ma'am?" It was quiet, almost a whisper, but enough to wake Eva. For a spinning, disorienting moment, she thought she was sitting in her living room back in Peregrine district. Her favorite afghan over the end of the couch and Carlos standing over her… but that wasn't Carlos. The concerned face of the Hunter, Ramos, looked down at her. More than a few of the Guardians that went through the Underground had taken to calling her grandmother, but Ramos had stuck with the group through all the long months of the war. He was very protective, sometimes smothering, and she sighed as she rubbed at her eyes. "I'm up. I'm up. What time is it?" She sat up on the old couch she'd been sleeping on, wincing as she tried to sort the knots she'd developed sleeping on her side. "Almost 0700?" His voice was low and a little sheepish. She glared at him. "You were supposed to wake me an hour ago." His grin was lopsided. "You needed the sleep." She stood carefully and tottered on unsteady legs, turning her face away so he couldn't see her annoyance. "Are they waiting?" "They've only just arrived. One of the reasons I waited. They're not expecting you for another 10 minutes." Trying to justify himself. Eva sighed again. "Thank you, Ramos. You're right; I did need the sleep. I was up again too late last night. Go tell them I'll be right down." "Yes ma'am." He sounded happier, and his footfalls as he left the room were light, confident. Eva stepped into the bathroom off the main living quarters of this second-floor flat. Her morning routine sorted, she poured some water out of one of the ration canisters into the stoppered-up sink so she could wash, try to feel a little less like she'd slept on a half-rotten couch in an abandoned building. Water dripping down her nose, she reached blindly for one of the pieces of scrap cloth they used for towels and dried her face. When her eyes cleared, she found herself looking at a stranger. Eva had always been on the thin side. She could still remember her mother chiding her, telling her to eat and clean her plate. Now the woman staring back at her was positively gaunt. Bags under her eyes, hair chopped brutally short, and her clothes! The clothes she'd been wearing the day of the attack hadn't lasted two weeks, never intended for living rough. The homespun outfit she'd stitched for herself would never have passed muster back at the Tower, but… out here they had to do. At least she'd been able to salvage her trademark shawl. Something to remind her of better days… As she drifted into the living room, Eva reflected that better days, of course, were why the group was gathered downstairs. All of the Underground cell leaders gathered in one place for an important—perhaps final—conversation. For the Underground, the Red War was a stunning victory. They'd won. The only civilians and Guardians left in the City were those unwilling or unable to go. Eva frowned, saddened. Every few weeks they heard stories of a group of Guardians overrun from a supposedly secure bunker by a Legion assault. The loss of civilian life had been staggering, both in the initial assault and the intervening months. As she looked down into the street through a slit around the boarded-up window, she had to admit to a feeling of… satisfaction. Now all that was left was for the Underground itself to pull out, make for the Farm and the safety-in-numbers of Hawthorne's group. Eva raised her eyes from the empty streets to the distant sight of the Tower, twisted and ruined. She would stay, she had decided. Guardians like Ramos could check on her from time to time, but someone needed to stay behind and keep the lights on. There could be refugees still alive out there. Still hoping for a way… out. She turned away from the window to head downstairs when the explosion ripped through the street in front of the apartment, and Eva's world turned white.