Variks the Loyal
Splinter of Bone
Deep in the heart of the Prison of Elders, Variks of House Judgment clutched a splinter of bone as he watched the solar system burn. The facility had been outfitted over the years with massive sensor grids slaved to arrays spread across the Reef. They gave him a detailed analysis of the Red Legion's fury. The light from the monitors was the only illumination in the room as his arms flew across the controls. Relaying warnings to Petra and the Awoken. He could already see the remainder of the Awoken fleet disappearing off his scopes, going into hiding. Relaying warnings to the City, though he could see he was far too late. Their comms were gone. There was no one left to listen. Relaying warnings to his people. With the end of the Houses, there were so few who would listen. But if he could save even a handful… While his hands worked, his eyes remained fixed on the screens, watching death, destruction, and horror. In his role working with the Guardians of the City, he'd pored over the distress signal from the Dantalion Exodus VI. Source GREENRAVEN had sent bursts of analysis to the Tower at least a dozen times since the days of the Taken War. But he'd never expected numbers of this magnitude. With the systems of the Last City offline, he had no problem dialing sensors over the Wall. He'd been able to see with clarity the home of Humanity with a resolution where he could make out parks and lakes and marketplaces. These same sensors let him watch, grinding the bone in his mechanical fist, as people died. As the Great Machine was yoked, as the Guardians… fell. Scrambling, he alerted the Crows… but something went wrong. The network had fallen dark—each and every Crow offline. All, that is, save for one. Through a garbled image he saw a hand, an Awoken hand, but it almost immediately fell to static. He wanted to care. He wanted to feel something for them. What dominated his thoughts, though—what made a ticking noise emanate deep in his voice synth—was the growing fear that the Queen's plan had failed. He sat back in his chair. Thinking. The Prison of Elders orbited far enough away from the core Awoken outposts, and thus far enough away from the Cabal's Phalanx, that it might come out of this unscathed. Nonetheless, he initiated lockdown procedures, prepared for the worst. A comm ping. Confirmation: Petra Venj and the limited forces at her command evacuated what settlements they could and disappeared into the nooks and crannies of the Reef. She would be unable to send help to the Prison. First House Judgment, then House Wolves. Then Kell Mara Sov. Now he could feel the rest of his adopted people slipping away from him. With one of his mechanical arms, he crushed the splinter of bone to dust.
Less Is More
Variks watched Petra's Corsairs march their latest prize into the cellblock: a gaggle of Ether-starved Dregs bearing the mark of the Scorned Barons. Nearby, Petra drummed her fingers along the hilt of her knife; her eyes glinted with envy. She held onto this prison as if it was the last thing she could control. Perhaps it was. Between the scattered remnants of the Red Legion and the Scorned Barons running rampant through the Reef, the Awoken had little left to call their own. There was little left of the Awoken. Variks sighed. Only a true Kell understood that survival was not a game of waiting. And Petra Venj, for all her military prowess, was no Kell. "In a world without Kells, Dreg strength will breed nothing but chaos." Variks whispered to himself the old Rain proverb, wishing for the return of the decisive days of his Queen. His Kell. "What did you say?" Petra asked without looking at him. "Chaos," he replied. "These Dregs breed chaos." Petra scoffed. "They're Fallen. And where there's Fallen, there will inevitably be Guardians." She turned on her heel and walked away. "I leave you to your Judgment, Variks. Locate the hole in which these Scorned Barons cower." She stopped. Turned back to him. "Might want to up your rations. You're looking a bit… gaunt." She smiled, patted him on the back, and continued on her way. He watched her go. If his anatomy allowed for it, he would have smiled in kind. Hers was a heart always in the right place… even if the outcome of her decisions was less than ideal. She did not, however, fully appreciate the threat these "Scorned" Barons posed. He had tried to warn her when they were just seven Dregs and a heretical Archon. Now their terror was spreading throughout the Reef with more and more Fallen answering the Barons' anarchistic call. She was right about one thing though: He could stand to increase his intake. The thought of it made Variks thirsty for the flow. Like all of his kind since the appearance of the Red Legion, he had been forced to ration his intake. He'd never felt so weak, so close to death. But he would survive as he always had. Variks knew the time would inevitably come when he would have to survive on his own.
After the Taken War, the Scorned Barons banded together in a time of weakness to become strong, to prey on anyone and anything that practiced the old Eliksni ways. They began with the one thing their people needed to survive: Ether. In a way, the Barons had become heads of a new House, priests in their own rites, and arbiters of their own trials. The terror they unleashed had almost grown as powerful as any Kell. These heathens were not Eliksni; they were more "Fallen" than any of their brethren. They were everything Judgment had sought to purge before the Whirlwind—and now, they sat rotting deep in the Prison of Elders. Cayde and his "Six" had done good by their word. Variks's staff tapped lightly on the floorplates, and chuckling noises emanated from his throat. He hobbled past their cells as the Servitors hummed to life. Feeding time. He saw hatred in every cell he passed. Bathed in the light of flowing Ether, their eyes carved at his flesh, saw him docked a thousand times more. Yaviks, the Rider, the Untamed. She and her crew spread terror and disease with their noxious pikes. Elykris, the Machinist. She used stolen Cabal telemetry and gravity traps to sabotage vessels, relieve them of their cargo, and haul the hulks back to their own shipyard chop shops. Pirrha the Blind, the Ghost of Hellrise Cavern, who haunted the Baron's territory with phantom decoys and ended all trespassers from the shadows. Reksis Vahn, the Godslayer, the Hangman. He had secreted away the Ether stores of his victims and driven the Barons and their followers into a frenzy with that tainted feast. Arakses, the Wit. The Traitor. The Trickster. A mastermind. A liar, thief, and backstabber. Kaniks Two-Finger, the Mad Bomber. The dangers of the Reef had multiplied a hundred-fold with his mines hidden on every rock and dusty corner of the belt. And the most disgusting of them all, Hiraks, the Mindbender. This one found in the Hive a way to infect the minds of the Eliksni. Only one was missing. Fikrul. The Heretic. The Fanatic. One Variks once dared to call friend, back when the Archon tended to Kaliks Primes. Before his betrayal. He hoped the Fanatic was dead; Cayde assured that he was. And what was Cayde-6 if not reliable? Laughing, burbling to himself, Variks shut off the lights in the hallway. And the Barons were plunged once again into darkness.
In the Prison of Elders' security hub, Variks brooded. When the Great Machine woke, he had been sure he felt something deep within him stir. He had hoped it would give him answers, power, anything. All it did was remind him how far he had fallen. He slammed a fist on his console, watching the denizens of the prison claw at their cell walls. No, not nothing. Worse than nothing. Now he had doubt. His goal had always ever been a simple one. The banner of House Judgment, the calling to which he had been born. Keep his people together. With the Light now streaming across the system and nothing to show for it—no Queen, no Eris or Osiris, and no sign the Great Machine remembered the Eliksni—what was there to look forward to? Base survival. One day after the other. Living just because he still drew breath. And where was the Dreg strength in that? What was the… "Variks." Petra burst through the comms. "A Legion Harvester has been intercepted at bearing 189. Capture teams are inbound. Survivors for the arena. Prepare to receive." Petra Venj was all that was left for him here, and despite himself, he nodded at the sound of her voice. He had but one ally left, after all. He keyed the comms. "Yes, yes, yes. Bay 41. Bring them in, will meet team. Will make room for new… guests." His vocal synth burbled, needing tuning. "Copy that." She was gone. He picked up his staff from where it leaned against the wall and began the long walk to the bay. Mulling his options, his information. His secrets. Secrets had protected the House of Judgment. The more knowledge one could obfuscate, the more significant one became. Secrets bred possibility. Secrets bred… sway. But Judgment, true Judgment, required hierarchy. And Eliksni hierarchy died with the fall of the Houses. The Guardians had picked them apart, Kell by Kell, Prime by Prime. Now, there was all but nothing left of his culture—only pirates and scavengers and lone wolves like the days before the Edge Wars. No trust, no honor, no way to be… necessary. Yet one final hope among the Eliksni still thrived. Craask, Kell of Kings. The Kings understood Judgment, for together they ended the Edge Wars in their people's golden age. Craask. His last hope to see his dreams of a united Eliksni made manifest. He must make contact. And so he hired a bounty hunter named Groks to find Craask and remind them of their need for one another. Groks is emblematic of all that Variks despises in his people—gluttonous, proud, and in it only for himself. When they spoke, Groks made Variks pay with a litany of insults. Variks the Slip. Variks the Beggar. Variks the Kell-Maker. But it was all for show. Groks would work; and it came for a mere four bales of Etheric Helix and a promise to keep him free of the Prison of Elders. The deal struck, Groks burst out in hysterical laughter. "Ha! Consider job done, Slip!" Groks spoke in a low form of Eliksni, the only reason Variks employed him. "You have grown desperate with your 'Kell' gone. Have you not heard?" Variks sighed. "King Kell is gone, Kell-Maker. Dead at the hands of that insane Archon, Fikrul, and some Awoken vagabond he calls 'Father.' What remains of the Kings huddles now in the dead zones of Earth, under the shadow of the Great Machine's Shard. I expect my four bales in—" Variks killed the feed. The last link in the great Eliksni chain was broken. If there were any who called themselves Kell out there, they would not know Variks, Judgment, or the laws that governed the Houses. The scattered children of the Whirlwind were dead. But… Fikrul survived Cayde and his Six? Groks was a lot of things, but he was not a liar. If Fikrul was alive and strong enough to kill Craask… And who was this Awoken vagabond of which Groks spoke? His mind reeled. So long as Fikrul lived, the Reef was not safe. He scrambled through his comm channels, searching for the right connection. "Master Cayde. Variks requests to meet you regarding your deal with Petra, a job undone."
Some Kind of Luck
Variks hid beneath a bannerless cloak as he descended into Spider's lair. To wear the Judgment sigil in the Tangled Shore would be to invite death. Even with the Spider's blessing to pass, he would have been picked clean and docked two times over. The hedonistic sounds of Spider's Palace scraped against him. Shouts of victory and defeat reminded Variks of the worst of the Eliksni. His peoples' inherent need for superiority reduced to gambling for trinkets and gems. Variks searched the crowd, hunched down low. Just another Vandal. In the corner, the unmistakable crowd that surrounded the Hunter Vanguard when he was outside the City. He worked his way through the onlookers to take up position alongside Cayde. The Hunter noticed him, he was sure, but said nothing. Variks, for his part, was silent. Watched as he lost a few thousand Glimmer and a sidearm to one of Spider's bodyguards. Cayde spun a knife in his right hand and sighed dramatically. "If we're going to talk, you're going to buy me a drink." They found a quiet place at the end of the room. Cayde settled back in the booth. Waiting. "You do great service to Reef, yes?" Variks worked hard to keep his very recognizable voice down. It would be a shame for his vocal synth to malfunction and blare out across the room now. "Capture Barons. Criminals. For Awoken. For Petra." Cayde took a belt and set the glass down on the table, empty. Something hard around his eyes. Amazing how expressive Exos could be. "Get to the point, Variks." "Fikrul. The last Scorned Baron. He lives." Cayde's horn cut an arc through the air as he shook his head, twice, definitive. "Trust me. He's dead. Put a hot one right through here." He poked Variks right in the center of his chest. "Seen on Earth. I have knowledge. I have information. You know Eliksni have ways. Like Mithrax? Like Taniks?" The warden realized his error as soon as the name was out of his mouth. "Don't you EVER mention the name Taniks around me, got it? Not unless you want to lose your last two real arms. We're done. Get. You're bad luck." The Hunter stood, made to leave. Variks reached out and grabbed the Vanguard by the arm with one of his mechanic hands. "I am sorry. I spoke poorly. Please. Listen." Cayde shrugged off the arm and stood, towering over the Fallen for once. Variks sat up straighter in the booth. "Take me to Zavala." The Titan Vanguard's name was a punctuated, flowing stutter in his mouth. "I have information. He will like what I say. You for bringing me to him." Cayde blinked. "You want me to take you to the City? No way, bug. Not in a million…" With a thud, Variks dropped the hand cannon he'd been hiding in his cloak on the table: a dull brown, bristles out the top, Ethertech trigger and muzzle assembly. Cayde's eyebrows went up in surprise. "A gift of trust. Memento of the Reef. Upgraded, yes? Very deadly." The Hunter Vanguard tried to hide his excitement. "Is. Uh. Is that the last one? I haven't seen one of those in…" "One of the last. Not many left." Variks' voice was even, calm. Cayde snatched the weapon from the table. Checked the sights, spun it in his hand for a moment, feeling the weight. Grunted, satisfied. Nodded. "Like I said: bad luck. C'mon. You can ride with me."
Variks had never seen the Vanguard Commander in person before. The images he'd seen were either candid shots from agents or images from co-opted surveillance that didn't reveal the man's true stature. Most of Zavala's "bulk," he realized, was the armor. He was a lean man, in reality. Taut muscle and sinew. But as Variks stood before him, he realized Zavala's poise and confidence, along with his Light, controlled the space around him. Lent him an air of authority Variks had not felt since standing in the presence of Mara Sov herself. Even Cayde, of all people, seemed somehow different in the orbit of this man. Fascinating. Behind the Light and the poise, Variks could see where the great Zavala's strength ended and anxiety began. That was where Variks needed to meet him and prove his worth. "Vanguard Commander Zavala." Variks dropped to his knees and extended his hands palms up on the ground, sure to keep eye contact. A Judgment gesture meant to acknowledge that a dominant force was present. Cayde snickered behind him, but said nothing. "Variks came to offer assistance. To help the Vanguard. The Guardians, who have helped the Reef." Zavala stared Variks down. The Judgment scribe saw much in that moment. Fortitude. Intensity. Desperation. "On your feet, Variks." Zavala was quite used to giving commands and having them followed. Variks did as he was commanded. "What do you want?" "A future for the Reef." Zavala eyes were searching. Variks croaked and continued. "Reefborn are close to doom, Zavala the Awoken. Fallen, Taken, Red Legion. All carve at the Reef. All claim its flesh." "I made my offer to Petra after the war." His voice was gruff, but not uncaring. "She made her choice. Are you saying something has changed? "I say this, Commander." Variks burbled. "And I have so much more to say to a true leader such as you."
The light seemed to dance in blue over the horizon of Unknown Space, but all else was black. Tendrils seemed to grow with the light. Where they were reaching from or stretching toward, he could not comprehend. Fear gripped Variks's mind. The paths before him were vast, uncertain. And for the first time in his life, he could sense Judgment turned inward. "Your will must remain your own," he told himself. "You are the last Eliksni of House Judgment. The destiny of your people is in your hands. You will save them. You will stand for the Fallen." YOU WALK AMONG THEM, BECAUSE YOU HAVE FAILED. The voice, soft and yet so strong, echoed around him in the space. Through him, like he was a string on an instrument. "I walk among the children of Earth and the blessed of the Great Machine, the one they call Traveler, because they have been chosen." FOR YOU THE GREAT MACHINE IS A DARK MIRROR. Variks felt cold unlike he had ever known. Unbidden, memories rushed past him. All he could do was hang on as the last days of the Eliksni played out in his mind. He and his fellow scribes passing Judgment in their soft, furred robes. Then the Whirlwind, the Elders torn apart, the pillaging of the House. Variks, kneeling before a window, staring up at the Great Machine. Watching it vanish. The long journey in the darkness. His flight to run with the Wolves, his pleas to Skolas. The pact with Fikrul to sever Kaliks Prime and secret it away. The Prime vanishing… And again Fikrul, on the horizon, preparing to give the Fallen what they so rightfully deserve… THERE IS ONLY ONE PATH LEFT FOR YOU HERE, IN A PLACE WHERE EVERYTHING DIES… …AND BEGINS ANEW. With that, a new power burned, affording him the strength to rise again. Judgment cast— The screaming pulse of the prison alarms stirred Variks awake. On the comms, he heard Petra's voice. Cayde had returned.
Petra called for not one, but two cells. Variks finished his Ether, considering. Perhaps Cayde had finally found Fikrul—and for that, Variks would need every drop of strength he could muster. His strides were long and slow as he allowed the Ether to course through him, his posture growing taller and more commanding with each step. At the top of the maxsec wing, his hands flew over the controls. He prepared the two empty cells and ordered extraction Servitors into place, all the while reveling in the thought of the judgment of Fikrul. Finished, he stepped back and waited. Snarling, yelling, the prisoners entered the wing. One, an Eliksni, Petra shoved hard into one of the two cryo-cells. The Fallen landed, weak, and Petra sealed the cell door. Variks was all too pleased to see the hulking, disgraced Fikrul—the lifeline of the Scorned Barons, his once trusted co-conspirator and great betrayer—seething as the extraction Servitors whirred to life, sapping the heretical Archon of his precious Ether. Variks and Fikrul looked deep into one another's eyes, centuries of history passing between them in the space of a heartbeat. Fikrul laughed. Unnerved, Variks stepped away as Cayde dragged a ragged, humanoid figure—head bagged, face unseen. Cayde unceremoniously tore off the hood and tossed the humanoid—an Awoken man—into the open cell. "And stay there!" Cayde said. His joke fell flat. On hands and knees, the stranger looked up at his captors to reveal a familiar mess of crow-black hair, blue skin, and piercing yellow eyes. "Variks…" It was the face of Uldren Sov—brother to the Queen, prince of the Awoken, and heir to the Reef.
"Your Grace…" Variks couldn't help but use the title. Like a reflex. As he looked into the prince's eyes, he saw a fleeting shadow of darkness dance across their normal ethereal golden glow. Variks looked back to Petra. "Petra Venj… I—I do not understand." "I know. It's… Something's wrong with him, Variks. He's… mad. Lock him down—lock down the entire cellblock. No one in but you or me. Speak of this to no one. As far as the system is concerned, Uldren Sov died over Saturn." Variks looked to Cayde for answers, but the Exo just threw up his hands in defense. "Don't look at me. Prince Whiny Face and Fikrul were thick as thieves when we found them. All I could do not to shoot either of them." Petra nodded toward the now royal cell, and Variks, with only a hint of hesitation, sealed the hatch, locking Prince Uldren in. "Now, Variks," Cayde said, smooth as ever, "you let me know if Fikrul here ever comes up to the arena. He and I have a conversation to finish." "Of course. Of course." Variks noticed Petra's gaze lingered a little too long on the prince's cell. He could see she was troubled, even ashamed. Petra saw him watching and composed herself, back straight, all Wrath. She met his eyes. He could see her trouble, her shame. "Variks. My friend." Was that tenderness Variks heard in Petra's voice? "He is changed. His eyes…" She stopped herself. Reset. "If he speaks, don't listen. He speaks lies. Terrible lies." And with that, she walked away, Cayde close behind. The doors to the cellblock slammed shut behind them. Variks stood there for a long, long time. For the first time in his life, he didn't know what the next step should be. Petra Venj and Uldren Sov had long admired one another; there was an easiness about them when they were together, and a deep if unspoken affection. When the two of them joined forces in the field of battle, they were quick, effective, and dangerous. Theirs was a dance of death, and woe to the foe who met them in open combat. Variks wondered for what crimes Petra would have Uldren judged. As he reopened the prince's cell, he wondered if Petra would have Variks himself judged. Variks knelt before Uldren. "We thought you dead. But you are in my care now, yes?" His arms carefully brushed at the Awoken man, probing but gentle. Uldren blinked and looked toward him—or rather, his golden eyes looked beyond him. Variks looked over his shoulder, just to check. Of course, no one was there. "Sister…" Uldren croaked through dried, cracked lips. "What's to become of us now?"
The explosion of Servitors snapped Variks away from the pull of the prince's words. He tried to move quickly, but one of his toes caught awkwardly on the grated catwalk, and he stumbled to the floor. He lifted his head to see the extraction Servitors lying shattered and lifeless, hissing as Ether evaporate wafted into the air. Variks rose, moving cautiously, slowly, uncertain who or what might be loose. He checked every seal of Fikrul's cell, then gathered enough courage to peer into the porthole. Fikrul was unaffected. If anything, he looked stronger than he did before. He stood there, glaring, a devilish grin plastered across his face. "Does it find my Ether… bitter?" he growled. Indeed, Variks could see that something was wrong with this Ether. It was darker, tainted with something he could not identify. He tightened the seals of his mask as he examined the Servitors' remains, fearing whatever they pulled from Fikrul could be toxic. He moved through the fog-like gas as if it was water. It didn't dissipate like traditional Ether; it lingered, heavy and opaque. Variks stepped back up to Fikrul's cell. Activated the transmission mic. "Fikrul, asaalii akisoriks," he seethed, using the High Speak of Judgment, hoping that Fikrul might still respect the oldest law. "Ah, Variks. You cling to Judgment like Rain clung to lies." Fikrul spat his words the way the Houseless would. "You are Houseless. You are filth. Is this what you've done with Kaliks, served the last Prime to the Taken? Is that the blood you now breathe?" "Ha! You still believe I have Kaliks. Fool. Kaliks abandoned us. But my Ether… It's true Fikrul is no longer enslaved to the machines' Ether. By the grace of the Awoken Father, I have evolved." Variks looked back to the prince's cell, still open. The Awoken Father… Variks ambled back to the prince. With each step, he heard more clearly. He saw Uldren sitting up now, nodding, listening, peering into the shadows at something unseen. If ever there was a picture of malevolent insanity, this was it. The prince spoke. "Yes, Sister. I see it now. The army of the reviled that you promised me…"
Variks, ever the Loyal, did as Petra commanded: Access to the lowest cellblock was reserved strictly to the Warden and the Regent-Commander. Unfortunately, this meant that every menial operational task was left to him. Meal distribution. Waste disposal. Between the eight Barons and the Awoken prince, his new chores left him little time for Judgment. Thrice per day, he visited the block. And thrice per day, he had to manufacture excuses to the local Corsair detachment for why the lowest level of the prison was now off limits. Rumors swirled. It was not unknown that Petra and Cayde-6 had smuggled some unknown high-value prisoner—a humanoid prisoner no less, a first for the Prison of Elders if the rumors were true. But Variks assured anyone with the gumption to ask that his Judgment of the Scorned Barons was a sensitive process to be conducted in private. Petra herself did not help extinguish the scuttle. She was less than adept at the art of secrecy, and everyone knew it. She responded to any bold queries with a stern, "It is none of your concern," which itself was tantamount to a validation that some version of the rumors was true. If only she'd found joy in her Techeun training; if only she'd learned more from the Queen. Each time Variks performed his rounds, he asked himself what loyalty—if any—he owed to the prince. And each time, he stopped short when he bore witness to the prince's… ramblings. Today was no different. There Uldren sat, elbows atop knees, staring into the same dark corner of the cell, face concealed by his long, black hair, seemingly communing with nothing. "I see now… Yes, that's good, so good." More listening; more nodding. "Then that's what we shall do. And look, Sister, he is already here." Uldren fell into silence, visibly relaxing. After a moment, he looked back over his shoulder and through the porthole to meet Variks's eyes. "Your Grace," Variks burbled. "Variks the Loyal." Uldren smirked. "Variks the Spark. Did you have something to say to me, or are you content to play the spying crow?" And there it was again—that fleeting pass of inky darkness that momentarily snuffs the glow of Uldren's eyes. So Variks said nothing. Whether frozen in terror or simply at a loss for words, he could not say. Uldren leaned in, placed a finger against his lips, and spoke low: "I have a secret for you, Variks. I know you want to hear it." Variks answered with a single, drawn out, and ever-so-slight nod. "Your Kell lives," Uldren whispered. He leaned in a little closer and asked the one question Variks had never been able to answer: "Do you know where your TRUE loyalty lies, Variks?" Uldren didn't wait for a response. His eyes almost immediately darted over his shoulder, toward the shadowy corner that has become his obsession. "Of course we can trust him, dear Sister. He is the most loyal…"
Chain of Souls
Variks admired his masterpiece, the improvised Servitor chain that would finally reveal the secrets of his fanatical former friend. Unfortunately, Fikrul refused talk of the past, would speak only of the future. Or of Uldren, his Awoken "father," who snatched him from the edge of death and awakened within him a power never before seen in the Eliksni. A power over death itself. A power to remake their people and thrive in a universe of Light and Dark that had both forsaken them and left them scorned. Variks knew these feelings all too well. It was here, in the deepest catacombs of the Prison of the Elders, where he thrived, where he worked to rebuild the Eliksni. This was his home now, this workspace where he was free to explore the "potential" of the prison's inmates for future leverage. The emerald marrow worm-food of the Hive, the prismatic viruses of the Vex, Psion Flayer wavelengths—each of these secrets had been wrested free within these dank halls, traded among his networks for more secrets, or harnessed into weapons for the Awoken. But the secrets of Fikrul's… mutation… eluded him. The power within was obvious. Scattered about the floor was the evidence of its potency—as well as too many nights of failure: wrecked sentry Servitors, dozens of deflated Dregs, all pulled from the upper cellblocks to act as his "assistants." Whatever this cold unnatural cocktail was that coursed through Fikrul, it could not be transferred or ingested like the Ether his people needed to sustain their wretched lives. Variks was all too ready to give up, send Fikrul into the arena to face Cayde-6, and put an end to the legacy of the Scorned Barons—until one day, during Variks's rounds, Uldren spoke to him unprompted. There was a lucidity in the discarded prince's eyes, a clarity that didn't exist even before he disappeared over Saturn's rings. Uldren gave Variks a… fresh perspective. And so, the chain. It was a dangerous gamble, mingling Fikrul's polluted lifeblood with traditional Ether. These Servitors held seventy percent of Variks's own Ether reserves. If this failed… well, it wouldn't be the first time Variks had risked everything and lost. Variks pulled the lever. The hum of the Servitor chain crescendoed, but all he heard was the lingering echo of Uldren's poisonous question: Do you know where your true loyalty lies, Variks? But if it worked—perhaps Fikrul could be cured. Perhaps—if what Variks suspected was true, and Fikrul's corruption was related to the Prince's affliction—Uldren could be cured, too. Variks had said as much to Petra, but she'd refused to listen. "You will not experiment on the Prince." "Our Prince is ill. To keep him here… hide him from Awoken eyes… not right. Not right." "I've made my decision, Variks." Variks's fingers flexed. "Petra, the Loyal," he sneered. "Perhaps the murmurs of Kamala Rior are true, yes?" Petra glowered. "I will handle Uldren. You will not touch him." She'd turned sharply on her heel and strode out. Variks hadn't seen her since. He devoted all his time to the Servitor chain—and to his private thoughts.
Where Loyalty Lies
Variks's experiment succeeded, but not how he expected. Ingestion of the Etheric concoction still resulted in Fallen death; it was not, by any means, a life-sustaining substance. It was, however, a life-GIVING substance. Though the dark Ether lingered like a heavy fog, it also seemed to reach out toward empty vessels. In this case, it found the dead Dregs that littered his floor. It slipped inside the corpses like a slow inhalation, inflating them, stretching them to the point of boils and bursting, pulling them to their feet. The dark Ether gave these lifeless Dregs… new life. They seethed. Their breathing was steady, but hard and fast. They rumbled as if volcanoes lived inside their chests. A black fire rose from their skin as they burned this dark Ether like a jet engine burns its fuel. What Variks really saw before him was hate-fueled rage incarnate and the beginning of another Whirlwind. They were no longer just Fallen. Fikrul called them his Scorn. Behind him, Fikrul laughed and laughed and laughed until—he abruptly stopped. At that exact moment, the Scorn dropped to the floor, dead once more. "Your scribes, your Kells, your Houses—they will all soon be forgotten, like the Elders and the Skaith before them," Fikrul growled in Variks's precious High Speak of Judgment. This drew Variks closer, face to face through the cell's porthole. Fikrul turned his ear upward, listening. Brought his attention back to Variks. "Father says…" The pause hung heavy in the air. "Father says… You know where your true loyalty lies." The Fanatic stepped back from the porthole and waited. Loyalty. True loyalty. He expected a memory of Mara to appear in his mind. But instead— Instead he found himself thinking about the prophecies of House Rain. Kell of Kells. Days later, Variks performed his duties for the last time. He visited central control. Ran a test sim on the security systems, made some adjustments based on the results. Revised and signed off on the daily roster rotations. Finally, he had a private conversation with the prison's sole remaining High Servitor: The Prison of Elders would not go without a warden. He did not speak to Petra. By the end of that day, the Prison of Elders descended into chaos. "Your time WILL come, Variks." Uldren sits in his favorite spot, gazing in his favorite direction. "She told me so. She has but one last wish of you." "No, your grace." Variks' voice was gravelly with emotion. "It is I who has one last service for you." Variks left before he could change his mind. A klaxon blared. The voice of the prison's High Servitor echoed over the loudspeakers—in Variks's voice. "Security systems malfunction. Emergency shutdown and reboot commencing." The place dropped momentarily into darkness, but emergency lighting quickly illuminated the cellblock. All around him, alarms sounded, warning lights flashed, pneumatics hissed, and cryogenic fluids evaporated to fog as the cryo-cells lining this cellblock began to open. Variks moved as quickly as he could toward the exit, not bothering to look back, for he knew what he'd see. The Scorned Barons and Prince Uldren were free. As was every single resident of the Prison of Elders. Variks slipped out, under cover of prison anarchy, through the same secret passage in which Petra and Cayde had smuggled Prince Uldren. There, a ship waited, loaded with the Prison's Ether stores. As he walked, he made two recordings to be sent out by the Prison's relays once he was away. For the first, he disabled his voice synth and began, in the deep resonance of High Speak, to give commands. He didn't know how many would answer Judgment's call. But he had to try. For the second, he turned his voice synth back on. "They call me betrayer. I who was most loyal. They do not think I hear the words. Bug. Insect." He paused. "Fallen." Up, long strides, fast now, along the ramp into the ship. Toward the bridge. A vandal in Wolf colors saluted him as he passed. "I hear the words. House of Judgement always hears. No choice. To keep the Houses together." He paused again, as he reached the bridge of his ship. "Judgment always hears." "The Great Machine stood in Judgment. Eliksni fell to fighting. Fell to hate." Emotion caught in his voice. "Cannot stomach this hate." As he spoke, the ship's engines rumbled to life. On the screens, Variks could see explosions resonating through the Prison. His former charges running rampant. His ship passed through the bay's barrier and began to move off. "Nowhere else to go. No one else to be, here." He drew himself up to his full height. "And so I become Variks, the Kell. House Judgment envoy to the Eliksni people." "No choice." He repeated, chuckling deep in his throat. His voice was calm. "Eliksni must rise… yes?"