For Every Rose, a Thorn
A Matter of Trust
Is now the time? I write this freely; it is unrehearsed and unguided by hidden motives. I find a trust in you I have long found difficult to claim. Most of my life has been spent on the run. Not from any one thing, but in pursuit of an ever-shifting endgame. Truth is—the truth I now know—that endings do not exist. Nothing ends. A moment. A feeling. A person. A war. They are not finite. They're all just stages of being, stages of existence. One moment fades into the next, but they are linked and forever joined. One cannot exist without the other. Feelings—love, hate, rage, sorrow—ebb and flow into each other, free of intent and fueled by the moments that shape them. A person, any person, our lives and deeds live beyond us. Our moments making us whole. Our actions carving our being into the endless expanse of existence. Even after death, we were here. All we do can be forgotten, but it cannot be erased. Every life we touch alters the course of another being's reality; that reality then shapes the world around it as all we are ripples out beyond who we are. And war? There is only one. It has taken many forms, but it is always raging, always smoldering below the surface of societies grand and small, hidden in our broken, fearful hearts. I offer all of this as means to further our connection and begin a new conversation about endings, about beginnings. The trust we share is built on unstable ground. Our connection born of your knowledge of a legend that paints me in a light you have no way of fully understanding, and my observations of your many valiant deeds coloring you in a light few can ignore, be they friend or foe. It is time, now, we prove our trust is not misplaced. It is time to test your resolve and see if you truly have the strength to balance the gray between absolutes. Are you ready? —S.
The Pain of What's Right
That you seek to wield the rival cannons is a noble quest, one that has brought low many who would claim to be your equal. The Last Word and Thorn are linked by the blood they've shed—but, as you know, they are bound by more than violence. They represent warring ideologies. They are of a kind and yet wholly opposite, the cleansing fire and the festering disease, like the common view of myself and the Shadows—adversaries meant to destroy one another, enemies to our core. But what if I were to weave another tale, give a deeper meaning to the conflict that has drawn my and Yor's legacy to be painted in such a hateful light? I've played a role for some time now. Many, actually. But my names: Shin Malphur, the Renegade, various others handed down by fools and hard cases, or even the one or two I've hidden behind over the many years I've spent running from my past and toward an ever-darkening future. They all serve a purpose. And they all start with Shin, the poor, lost, lonely boy whose entire world had been taken from him. The tale of my youth and Palamon is all true. That it tends to illicit sympathy and set my story on the path of the right and just is not a ruse. I am right, and I am just. But ask yourself… Did the fact I began as a victim color your perception of me? Is my path—my cause—more righteous because I was owed justice and vengeance? For the longest time I thought so. But then—and here is where the truth of it all begins to gain focus— What if the villain of the story believed so? What if the villain tore apart my life, and countless others', as a terrible means to an end? What if I was lost, and he offered guidance by gifting me vengeance? What if I told you… He was right to do so. —S.
I.I Look upon the world with new eyes and know that you see for the first time. I.II All of your time before now—every choice, every moment—was the antithesis of all you were meant to be. I.III To dwell on what was is the greatest sin. I.IV A new you hides, trapped and desperate to be freed in the instant beyond now. I.V Step confidently—forward into the unknown, beyond the present. There you will find yourself waiting. I.VI Evolution is constant for those who embrace tomorrow. I.VII Once unmade, you will be new, your eyes free to meet the lies of existence with unfettered judgment. "Only through new eyes can the burden of failed existence be cast aside that we may see—truly see—for the first time." —10th Understanding, 7th Book of Sorrow ** We have shed our previous selves. Not as a final step along the road we have chosen, but as another step forward. The difference between now and then—between this moment and all moments prior—is the difference between one life and the next. We are no longer the men and women we were as our journey began. We have entered our third lives. And though we are not wholly changed, our evolution has begun. To mark the passage from who we once believed we were to who we will become, we have surrender our dead names to claim new, eternal identities with which to write our future upon the shadowed path ahead… Orsa is now and ever Dredgen Vale. Zana Maas, Dredgen Scarr. Jonah Pavic, Dredgen Mire. Callum Sol, Dredgen Cull. Braga Yasuul, Dredgen Totalus. And I, Dredgen Bane. There will be fear at the sight of us and in response to our deeds. There will be pain, both ours and others. This we know, and this we accept with pride and eager, angry hearts. —hand-scrawled note accompanying Teben Grey's personal translation of ancient Hive text
Faith in Monsters
I hunted Dredgen Yor for decades, first at Jaren Ward's side, then alone. I was obsessed. Driven. I hated the man. Still do. The difference between all the moments before I lit my fire and put rounds into the bastard and every moment since is what I learned in the instant I pulled Last Word from its leather… Yor never fired. Never even moved to draw. He just stood, straight and calm 'til my infernal lead tore through him. Then he dropped. It didn't register at first. Once he fell, the moment kinda hung there. I walked over—the world was quiet—and I squeezed off two more. To be sure. I remember a hint of joy well up inside me as I thought back on Jaren. I'd avenged him. I'd avenged Palamon. And Durga. And North Channel. And all the rest. But my mind hung on Jaren. And my joy became tainted with an uneasy feeling. The moment of Jaren's death played on repeat in my mind. Rapid fire. Jaren's cannon, then Yor's. Then silence, long ago, in a nowhere forest out west. Jaren never missed. Yet he did. Yor, then, didn't. But Jaren was no easy target. Was Yor? He hadn't flinched when I pulled steel. No movement. No change in his tone or words. I gunned him down mid-sentence, as if he didn't care. He knew I would. Knew I'd draw. Knew I'd fire. So, why the talk? Why have words when he knew mine would be loud, mine would be death? Maybe you'll understand this without further explanation. Maybe you won't. But the answer is—and it set my course for every moment after— Because he believed in me. —S.
I.I Evolution is stunted by complacency—comfort is unto death, confidence is a lie. I.II Suffering is the catalyst for change. To fear the suffering is to remain. I.III The origin of suffering is all we do not know. I.IV The unknown is not welcoming. It is your enemy. I.V Be ever violent as you rage against the ignorance that threatens to stall your growth. I.VI The quest for knowledge is the purest war. I.VII Life is war—within and without. Suffering is not pain, it is life. "Look to your suffering and know that is a gift, for only those who strive truly suffer. All else are simply made to." —11th Understanding, 7th Book of Sorrow ** Now the true suffering begins. That we could restrict it solely to ourselves is our greatest desire, but such is not possible. Others will be caught in our wake. For us to achieve the goals set forth, others will pay a price they do not understand. Such is the way, and we cannot allow ourselves to be deterred. Vale's plan is multifaceted and could easily fray should the truth be gleaned by any who would challenge us. Still, it is worth the effort as there is no guarantee of our success. That our lone example—the dreaded Yor—failed so tragically suggests a similar fate is not beyond our grasp should we falter at any point. Yet we must try—must forge ahead into the night and welcome the suffering to come with open minds and open arms. This is our charge. This is our purpose. Not all heroes may walk freely in the Light. —hand-scrawled note accompanying Teben Grey's personal translation of ancient Hive text
A Shadow's Worth
Yor wasn't faster than Jaren. And Jaren didn't miss. Yor was just more than Jaren. Yor was other. It took fire to burn him down, and Jaren, for all his gifts, was lacking in fire. We all were. Not saying I was first. The lessons I learned, the ability I honed to ignite my rage and direct it through my cannon? Those were hard lessons learned on a hard, hot planet. Before Osiris's exile. Before the Gap. My pilgrimage was long and pained and driven by my hate. But that was the point. Skill was not enough. Confidence was no weapon. Not when faced with the terrors of the Dark. Yor knew this. Yor counted on it. So, when Jaren faced him down, Yor gave him the first shot, offered freely. But Jaren's lead wasn't enough. And when Yor replied, his sickness consumed Jaren's Light and left me, once again, an orphan. Once again, weighed down by sorrow and anger. Yor sought to gift me Jaren's prize as a means to tempt me. And it did. When that gun finally met my hand again, it was the catalyst that drove me to find a way to avenge all I had loved. It was a selfish pursuit. But when Yor and I finally met on the flat, high ridge, I was ready, and, as I would come to find, so was he. Ready to offer his final lesson, his final gift. A final push toward my true destiny. One that would put me at odds with heroes in order to ensure our worlds are filled with fewer monsters. It was a path I was sure to walk alone, until I found others, until I found trust. Until I found hidden value in that which I had always feared… Shadows. —S.
I.I As knowledge blossoms, know that you know nothing. I.II Eternity extends beyond your grasp. This is no flaw, but design. I.III To know all is not the task. To know all you can is your charge. I.IV As your view expands you will begin to see those left behind as other—as adversaries. I.V Ignorance riles the hearts and minds of those on an elevated path. I.VI Your adversaries will be many, such is the weight upon all who challenge the hollow rule of stagnation. I.VII Let your anger guide you—drive you toward greater learning as you conquer unknown roads, leaving the well-worn to ash. "Ignorance is not passive. It is a living, aggressive failure that angers the hearts of all who seek to evolve." —12th Understanding, 7th Book of Sorrow ** I thought it would take some convincing, but Cull has agreed to splinter from the group. Not in actuality, but as bait for the Renegade. Our rival has given us rope with which to hang ourselves but the further we embark down our path, the more that rope begins to tighten. What we must do next—the next steps in our continued evolution—will surely be seen as a bridge too far. A confrontation seems inevitable. Unless we can make plays that shift our hunter's focus. I have some concern that Vale's plan will lead the misguided among our growing number to overreach their ambition—to venture beyond their means and fall forever into the abyss. But then, if the Renegade is truly the threat we proclaim, such worry is misplaced as he will no doubt play his part and thin the herd, as it were. Of course, there is a price beyond the blood of the lesser among our ilk. Cull will be missed, but remembered for his sacrifice. —hand-scrawled note accompanying Teben Grey's personal translation of ancient Hive text
I.I Any who fear knowledge are empty of purpose. Be unlike them. Be their rival. I.II Become the destroyer of hollow things. I.III None are equal to those who tread upon existence in search of impossible eternity. I.IV All who fail to strive beyond the known are lacking in truest meaning. I.V Your enemies would taint all you hold dear—they know no other way. I.VI Emotion is not required when removing obstacles from your path. I.VII Obstructions are either ignorant of the greater good, or actively against it. Destroy them. "To rend one's enemies is to see them not as equals, but objects—hollow of spirit and meaning." —13th Understanding, 7th Book of Sorrow ** The ruse worked. Cull's radical speech gathered the weaker among our number—a splinter group of radical Shadows hellbent on worshiping Darkness and bending to its will. He preached a doctrine of hate empowered by total corruption, and the lesser minds who flocked to our purpose were drawn in like flies to filth. More important—the Renegade took the bait, turned many to ash. Turned Cull to ash. A failing on two fronts. First, Cull's sacrifice bought us time and distance. Second, it rallied many of our newest recruits against the Renegade. Sides are being chosen, and Vale's recording of Cull's death will draw those most eager to tempt Darkness. All is proceeding as we envision. —hand-scrawled note accompanying Teben Grey's personal translation of ancient Hive text
Revelations and Invitations
A Revelation So, now… the truth. You've earned it. My name is Shin Malphur. My name is Zyre Orsa. My name is Dredgen Vale. And all who fall to Darkness will answer to my steel. The Shadows. The Drifter's Gambit. The seeding of fear, that the infamous "Man with the Golden Gun" was on the hunt, blinded by allegiance to the Light and gunning for all who tempt the Darkness. A necessary deception. Offering two paths in order to draw out those eager for power beyond their means. Malfeasance was a gift, a sample to gauge the true hearts of those who reveled in the Drifter's games. Those sated by its wicked power were kin enough to know their limits. Those hungry for more? A danger worth tracking. In some cases, a danger in need of confrontation. But the game has only just begun, and I risk much like this here, me offering you the olive branch of truth and trust. Yes, I have led you to believe I was your friend and the Shadows my enemy and yours. If all I have just revealed calls that into question, know that it shouldn't. The Shadows are a danger. We are guided by the evolved and controlled methods of Dredgen Yor, except instead of death and destruction, I am offering the mysteries and powers of the Darkness as bait for those who would otherwise go freely into the abyss. I have built the perfect trap with which to cull the weak-willed. And it is working. —S. *** An Invitation The Vanguard and I are not enemies. We simply have different methods. But to their credit, they have… "allowed" my actions, as they have a wide array of concerns to fill their attention. Not that they haven't helped in small ways. Snippets of conversations to plant the Shadows as a threat. Feigned ignorance of the Drifter's game and its consequences. Zavala prefers more straightforward tactics, but even he agrees that as Guardian numbers grow it is vital to test the true mettle of those trusted with the safeguarding of our fragile survival. But others, the Guardians who have joined me—Teben, Braga, Jonah, Zana—they are all believers in our cause. And Callum, the truest hero who made the purest sacrifice. His death was noble, and by my hand. But not a hateful thing. His part was—and remains—key to sealing the temptation of any who would give themselves to sorrow's road. All who take up arms in his name will be enemies of all he held dear, and they will be punished. You have my word. I am burdening you with the full reality of the gambit at play because I believe in you. My earlier words. My gifting of the Last Word. That was earned. And all true. You are the future of this war. You, and a few like you, are the warriors who can walk the line between Light and Dark. And so, I ask you, are you up to the task? Or have I risked all I have struggled to build on a hero who is not yet ready to become a legend? —S.