[url=https://www.bungie.net/en/Forum/Post/257262473/0/0]Table of Contents[/url]
The District isn’t very active today.
I prop the door open, kicking a wooden wedge into place, and look down the street. Decorations and banners hang over the paved road and every doorway, brightening the neighborhood with vibrant color. There’s plenty of people out, even this early in the morning, but far less than there had been the last few days. The Solstice of Heroes is a big and well-celebrated holiday, even more so in the years after the Red War. Everyone was especially desperate to party their troubles away this year, with the haunting rumors of shadows and pyramids surrounding our home. I suppose the initial euphoria has finally sputtered out. The City will coast through the rest of the holiday.
After taking a moment to stretch and enjoy the morning air, I step back inside and grab my chalkboard street sign. I give it a brief once-over to make sure none of the writing has been rubbed off, then go back out and set it up in the street. Once I’ve finished I turn to go back inside.
“Hi,” a voice greets, so close and sudden that my heart jumps straight up into my throat and I instinctually try to move away. Unbalanced, I barely manage to keep myself from falling over.
“Light above!” I holler, putting a hand to my chest as if that will still my thundering heartbeat, “Don’t sneak up on a person!”
When I look to see who‘s responsible for giving me such a fright my mood only gets worse. It’s a Huntress. Her white parade armor is new and unfamiliar to me, but I know her face well. She shifts slightly, averting puffy red eyes as she mumbles an unintelligible apology. She’s been crying.
I breath out long and slow, composing myself, “Ayane.”
“Can I get a drink?” She asks. That’s the first thing she says every time she visits. I assume she likes having constants to latch on to, even in something as insignificant as a greeting. She’s still avoiding eye contact. I don’t ask what’s bothering her; I can already guess.
“Don’t know,” I wisecrack dryly, glancing into my empty bar, “We’re pretty packed right now.”
Ayane responds with equal dryness, turning her face away cheekily, “You’re funny. Real funny. Ha ha.”
I allow myself a fleeting smile. It’s nice having someone who can match your sarcasm. If only she were still like she used to be.
“Take a seat,” I invite reluctantly, waving to the door. The Huntress strides in, heading straight for one of the bar seats. I linger outside for a moment, preparing myself. When I enter I close the door behind me -a small attempt to keep any potential customers from coming in. It‘s best to deal with Ayane privately. Nowadays she has a tendency of making other patrons... uncomfortable.
Ayane sweeps her cape back to avoid sitting on it as she settles. I step behind the bar and grab two glasses. I already know what drinks she wants.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t see you this year,” I say.
Ayane’s eyes narrow questioningly and she leans forward, planting an elbow on the counter to prop her chin up with a hand, “Hm?”
“For the Solstice,” I clarify, “We’re a few days into the holiday and you hadn’t shown up. I don’t know, I guess I thought...maybe you’d be celebrating this year.”
The Huntress stares at me, stone-faced. Her penetrating gaze is unnerving. I look away as I set her drinks down in front of her, “You know what I mean.”
After a moment her eyes lower. She sniffs and absentmindedly traces the rim of one of the glasses with her fingertip. I cross my arms, waiting. She always starts quiet, but I know the flood gates are about to burst open. She sniffles again and brings the glass to her mouth. I sigh, checking the door.
The glass taps on the counter once, then twice, then once more. I watch as Ayane forces her hand to relax and release the drink. I can’t imagine what years of endless combat have done to her nerves, and I don’t want to ask. The immortality of Guardians seems like no blessing to me. I think Ayane would agree. Her face is so young -completely unchanged over the years- but she still hasn’t told me her true age. Maybe she’s forgotten.
Just as my patience begins to run thin she opens up, “I tried to just enjoy myself; ignore things. But I spoke with Eva today. That’s why I ended up here.”
I don’t know who Eva is, but I figure I’m better off not asking so I lean against the bar and listen.
“Well,” the Huntress amends, “We didn’t speak. She was talking to that hotshot godslayer. I listened. From a distance...”
Her eyes glance my way, their earlier sharpness gone and replaced by something dull, “Ghost says I don’t talk to anyone anymore.”
I tilt my head back and look heavenward. Am I the only friend she has left? Yet even after all these years I’ve never seen her Ghost. She once told me it didn’t feel safe revealing itself. I wonder if that’s normal for Ghosts. Maybe it’s even more high-strung than Ayane? I don’t envy long life.
“Eva was talking about, um,” Ayane wavers and brings a hand up to knead her brow, “About celebrating our glory an’ bein’ heroes.”
I can already see her lips trembling, but she forces a smile as if she thinks it’s funny, “Imagine that, a whole month celebratin’ [i]my[/i] glory. And what better time than the anniversary of the day the Cabal killed-“
The Huntress cuts off with a shaky breath, losing her control. She takes another swig of her drink then continues, “Of the Red War. Must be-“
Her facade crumbles in an instant and she chokes out a heavy sob. Tears well up in her eyes and her shoulders slump forward as her whole body caves in with her emotions. I stay perfectly still, hiding my own discomfort. I think it’s best for Ayane to let it all out. She keeps going through stuttering breaths, “I must be a real [i]f***ing[/i] hero! Tons of glory in watching your friends get eaten alive by dogs!”
Her fist hits the counter, but there’s no force in it. Any fire left in her has been drowned out by sorrow. I’ve heard the story before but a shiver still runs down my spine at the mention of the Cabal hounds. I was lucky enough during the siege to only ever see the beasts from a distance, but I remember their wicked claws and teeth and the shredded corpses of their victims.
“I couldn’t even move,” Ayane cries, barely understandable between sobs, “All I could do was watch! And I- and- I’m still here!”
Her head falls into her arms and she melts over the counter, nearly spilling her drinks. She inhales sharply several times, reigning in the tears a little and lifting a hand to point at her outfit, “They give us old parade armor. From the war. Someone died in this! Everyone I know died in this same Light-forsaken armor.”
I reach over the bar and place a comforting hand over the nape of her neck. Her sobbing intensifies as I run my fingers through her hair and a little bit of her pain sinks into my heart. I knew most of her friends, if not very well. I’d met them all and some were my friends, too. But a couple of them had been her companions for lifetimes. I can’t imagine being connected to someone so deeply. Or losing them.
Minutes pass before Ayane’s cries fade into silence. Eventually she mumbles with a hoarse throat, “You’re gonna die eventually, too. But I’ll still be here without everyone. That’s why I stopped making mortal friends centuries ago.”
I sigh, pulling my hand away. She lifts her head to look up at me and I give her my best smile, “We’re both still here.”