Not many know it, but Eris Morn nearly went down into the Pit.
She should have gone. She was the first one Eriana recruited. They had spent months researching together, creating plans and tearing them apart. They had decided together that they had no hope but the warlock exiled for knowing the Hive too well. And together they had hunted him down.
Eris had been there when Eriana asked Toland to join them. She had helped convince him to join a fireteam from that Tower of drooling simpletons. She had listened as he quietly drawled, In Crota's presence, our world is but a shadow, and the shadows in the room seemed to dance in reply.
When Vell Tarlowe, Omar Agah, and Sai Mota agreed to the mad plan, Eris had been there. For three months as they trained, Eris had been there.
So she should have been with them in the Pit.
But just days before they were to leave, Eriana found Eris as she stood one the edge of the Tower, watching the City glow in the moments before dawn.
"I am changing the fireteam," said Eriana, and there was strangely formal cadence to her words. "You will stay at the Tower."
Surprise felt like dread, gripping her heart.
"You can't," said Eris. "This is my mission."
Eriana looked at her, glowing Exo eyes unblinking. The lights deep within her jaws flashed in a slow, stately pavane, the same as when she made her reports to the Vanguard. The rhythm meant her resolve was implacable.
"I was there at the Mare Imbrium," said Eris. "I saw Crota." She had been young, terrified, surviving only by luck and a knack for Hunter stealth. She had no one to avenge as Eriana did, because in those days, she hadn't yet made any friends. But she had been there. "This is my war too. Why shouldn't I fight?"
"Toland," said Eriana. "He is dangerous. And I do not trust the way he looks at you."
The blood rushed to Eris's cheeks. She envied Eriana's metal skin.
"I would not let anything distract me."
'"It is not you I doubt," said Eriana.
But Toland was irreplaceable. Eris was not. They both knew this.
"Forgive me," said Eriana-3, disciple of the Praxic Warlocks, marked by the Cormorant Seal, who had been more of a mentor to Eris than any Hunter. "But I have already lost one friend to the Darkness. I will not lose you."
The first rays of sunlight glittered off her face. Eris had never felt so small.
"Kill Crota," she said through numb lips, "and I might forgive you."
The next day, Eriana had already found a replacement: Cayde-6, bright star of the Hunters, Andal Brask's favorite protégé. They were gone the day after.
Eriana never came back.
And Eris never forgave her.
She did forgive Andal Brask.
She resented him at first. When she trudged grimly into the Tower, turning in bounty after bounty, none of them meaning anything because Crota was alive and Eriana was dead, he liked to greet her with a booming laugh and say, "There's my favorite Guardian!" He gave her quests that would raise her standing in the eyes of the factions. He arranged for her to go on strikes with skilled Guardians who would never have asked for her.
Finally, when he told her that she should see Banshee-66 about a curious artifact that might be a weapon, she slammed her helmet onto the table.
"Cayde-6 is dead. Coddling me won't bring him back. And I don't need your pity."
"That's not why I'm nice to you," said Andal, sounding injured.
"Then why is it?" Eris demanded. She heard the whispers in the Tower, every day: Poor little Eris, spent so long trailing after a Warlock, and now she's all alone.
Andal stepped closer. "It's because I know your secret."
"Oh?" Eris said wearily, wondering if she could defect to the Warlocks. Ikora never did these things to her people.
"Yes, it took me some time, but I deduced it in the end." He nodded. "You're clearly Crota in disguise. I just need to get you and that sword into the Crucible, and I can make a fortune betting on you."
Eris stared at him. It was the least funny joke she had ever heard from a Hunter. And then she laughed until she cried.
Andal became a mentor, and also a friend. He couldn't go five minutes without one of his stupid jokes, but they were never cruel. He knew all about being trapped in safety while others went to die. He understood her longing for secrets, and he didn't think it made her less of a Hunter. He hated the Hive with the same slow, implacable hatred that she did. He helped her go after anyone who muttered that Guardians stupid enough to work with Toland deserved what they got, and he was willing to sit up with her late into the night, drinking and groaning that their dead friends were useless idiots who completely deserved what they got.
So Eris forgave him for mourning Cayde. She forgave him for adopting her out of grief. She forgave him for sometimes making her laugh.
When he died and stuck her with being a Vanguard in his place, she forgave him for that too.
It's been many years now. No one thinks anymore that Eris is too young to be Hunter Vanguard. Some do still think she's strange: more than a few Hunters have called her "half-Warlock." Because she is friends with Ikora. Because she knows more about the Hive than anyone else in the Tower. Because she is happy here in the City, beneath the gaze of the Traveller, surrounded by the Light; she doesn't hate that she no longer goes into the wild.
The Hunters she has trained herself know better. They know that Eris may use Warlock methods like breathing, but she is no Warlock. She has no curiosity to learn secrets for their own sake. She loves the City, but she is not tame. She is a claw in the throat of the Dark, and her only purpose is to draw its blood.
She may never forgive Eriana, but she won't forgive Crota, either.
And then Cayde-6 comes back.
He comes back in a ship reeking of Hive. The Traveller senses his approach; it's Warlocks who pick up the signal he's transmitting, and Eris who confirms his codes.
She can't confirm that it's truly Cayde speaking with Cayde's voice and Cayde's knowledge; or that, if it's him, he hasn't been utterly changed by the Dark. So they make him land outside the City. Eris and Ikora both go to meet him, along with several of Zavala's best Titans. It's not wise, two Vanguards going, but they are both too eager to wait. Ikora because she wants to know what he has learned about the Hive, and Eris . . .
Eris has discovered an absurd ability to hope. Cayde didn't say that anyone had made it back with him. But he didn't say he was alone, either.
The ship is bulbous and ugly; the ground beneath it is still smoking as they approach. Afternoon sun pours down on them, but when Eris looks at the ship, she feels a chill. Sparks cling to Ikora's fingers; she's sitting on a Radiance, ready to melt the ship with fusion grenades if it turns out to be a trap. Eris's fingers are wound tight around her knife, and her teeth hum with leashed Arc energy.
Then the door opens. Slowly, Cayde-6 walks out.
The metal spike that used to peek out from under his hood is gone. Instead, wrinkled Hive chitin covers his head from crown to cheeks. Darkness bleeds in little tendrils from the seam where Hive biology meets Golden Age metalcraft. And three glowing green eyes stare at them, unblinking.
He has no Ghost.
And no other Guardians stand beside him.
Cayde's head swivels as he look at the Guardians ringed around his ship. Then he speaks.
"Hey, so, about that time we tried to kill Crota? Didn't exactly work. He's coming for you now."
The gratingly cheerful sarcasm is just like Eris remembers. It feels desperately wrong.
"Did you see him?" asks Ikora.
And Cayde laughs. It's a harsh, horrible sound like a Wizard's shriek.
Eris already knows. She's known since he walked out of that ship, but she still has to ask.
"The others," she says. "Where are they?"
"Yeahhhh . . ." Cayde draws out the word. "They all died. Long story, kinda boring."
"What happened?" asks Eris.
He really looks at her then. "You're wearing Andal's cloak."
For one instant, Eris feels as young and helplessly humiliated as when Eriana took her off the fireteam.
She says, "You're wearing part of an Acolyte's head."
Cayde-6 is a walking nightmare. He stands in the Tower and puts a face to what every Guardian fears: failing to save your fireteam. Getting trapped by the enemy. Losing your Ghost, losing your Light. Becoming infected by the Darkness.
Choosing that Darkness, in order to live.
It's why some Guardians fear him. They avoid the balcony where he has tethered his ship and grumble about the Vanguard's indulgence of a madman. And it's why others are fascinated. Why they visit him again and again, filling his bounties, begging him for secrets of the Hive.
Eris understands that fear, and that fascination. But for her, Cayde has become the other kind of walking nightmare.
He is absolutely impossible to deal with.
He has Andal's terrible sense of humor, and twice his ego, and none of his kindness. He is more smug than Toland and more stubborn than Eriana. He has no comprehension that sometimes it is wiser to just shut up for thirty seconds straight, especially when dealing with Zavala, and yet he won't tell Eris half of what he knows about the Hive. When she asks him why he won't talk, he says everything from mission security to your cloak isn't frabjous enough.
Then he laughs the horrible cackle that sends a chill down her spine no matter how many times she hears it.
But he is a Hunter, and Eris is the Hunter Vanguard. She won't shirk the duty that Andal left her. And she won't abandon a fellow Hunter, because Hunters take care of their own. That's something you learn out in the wild and never forget, no matter how long you spend in the City: the strength of the wolf is in the pack. You protect your fireteam.
Even when they're insufferable.
"Cayde, you cannot put a bounty on 'wearing Crota's ass for a hat.'"
"Oh. Think I should put it on wearing Oryx's ass instead?"
"I mean that you can't . . . who is Oryx?"
"I dunno, maybe his dad? Some Wizard had a song about it, but I cut off her head before she could finish."
Eris can feel the start of a headache. "If you actually wanted Crota dead, you would give me a full report, and we could make a plan. Or do you just want to goad inexperienced Guardians into getting themselves killed?"
He already has. Two went down trying to fight Blades of Crota last week. Eris was the one who sent them on patrol in the Cosmodrome, so she can't fully blame Cayde for what happened—but she's tired of losing people to the Darkness.
She's tired of lacking revenge.
"Tell you what," says Cayde. "Find me a Hunter who could actually stand a chance against Crota, and I'll tell 'em everything."
For once he sounds serious.
"Would you tell a Warlock?" asks Eris.
"Don't have many good feelings about Warlocks."
"How about the Warlock who destroyed the heart of the Black Garden?"
The lights shift inside Cayde's jaws. "I'm listening."
Cayde-6 grows more bearable as they work together. Maybe he truly was just waiting for a Guardian good enough, because once he meets the Warlock who took down the Black Garden—and her fireteam—he starts talking. He tells them about Crota, about the Pit, the Stills, the Deathsinger. Eris listens, and each word slots into her mind among the things Toland once said, words that still burn when she allows herself to remember them.
She knows now that if she'd gone with Eriana—knowing only what they knew then, prepared only as they had been prepared—she would not have saved her. She would have died as well, or else lived as haunted and mutilated as Cayde.
She stills hungers to have gone. To go now, though her duty won't allow it.
Then she looks at Cayde, at the Darkness bleeding from his face, and one small part of her is glad that she's trapped in the City and the Light.
As far as Eris can tell, Cayde still despises her. But on the day that the Guardian departs to raid the dark below, Cayde finds her in her private rooms.
"Listen," he says. "There's something you should know."
And he tells her what happened. It takes him a while; he keeps falling silent, staring somewhere beyond her. But he tells her everything: how Vell died fighting, and Sai died nearly clever enough. How Omar died screaming, and Eriana died in glory. How none of it mattered, because Crota was stronger than all of them.
Eris doesn't weep. All her tears were shed long ago. But she listens, and nearly chokes on what he tells her.
"And Toland?" she asks when the tale is done.
Cayde shrugs. "Not sure. I saw Ir Yût going at him and, ah— Well, you know. Then I ran."
He does not look at her. The lights in his jaws are dead, and Eris suddenly realizes that he is ashamed. He ran while his fireteam died. He lived, while every single one of them died.
Eris understands that, just a little, because she is ashamed too. She stayed at the Tower in safety, and she will always look back on her memories and wonder, on which day did Eriana die? Was it while Eris slept safe in her bed? While she glared at Andal or while she laughed with him? Had she been happy at the same obscene moment that Omar was screaming, that Sai was bleeding out?
She'll never know.
"It's good you did," she says to Cayde. "Or we wouldn't be sending another raid now."
Crota dies on a summer day, when the sky is bright blue and the sunlight dazzles between the tree-leaves.
Crota dies in the trackless darkness of his throne world, where human time means nothing. But Eris is trapped in the Tower, and when she hears the news, she is sitting beneath the red-leafed tree in the Tower courtyard, the warm wind ruffling her hair, the sunlight glowing through her closed eyelids.
She hears the news, and the sunlight grows cold.
Crota is dead.
The dark god of the Hive, the monster who waits in the dark below. He is dead, Eriana is avenged, and Eris has had so very little to do with it.
(Oh, Eriana. I am still alive. Forgive me if I transgress.)
Cayde finds her that evening. "There's a Hunter Vanguard tradition," he says.
"I know," says Eris. "I'm the Vanguard."
It's not easy for Guardians to get drunk—the Light heals them so quickly—but it can be done. Eris is relentless as she downs shot after shot of vodka. Cayde sits besides her, and though he can't drink, he keeps up as they curse all their dead friends, and double-curse all the Hive.
It's not the same as drinking with Andal. Or midnight knife-throwing contests with Sai and Omar. And it's nothing at all like the nights at the beginning, when she and Eriana sat up researching the Hive together, and somewhere around three in the morning, Eriana would remember human weakness and make her coffee.
But Crota is dead.
Cayde-6 is still a walking nightmare, and his jokes still aren't funny. But he helped kill Crota, and he remembers the same dead friends that Eris does. So she thinks that she might be able to forgive him.
She might even be able to forgive Eriana. It's a thought as alien as the Vex, but maybe. Now that Eriana is avenged, maybe Eris can cease to hate her for that morning in the Tower. Maybe she can even cease to hate herself.
There's really only one person left that she can't forgive.
"Toland," she mutters, staring at her glass. "Stupid Toland. Lot of help he was."
"He knew I was going to live," Cayde says suddenly. "Least, I think he did."
"Why?" asks Eris, turning bleary eyes at him.
"Well, I am a pretty amazing guy. Even he might have been impressed."
"Oh, you mean why do I think he thought that?"
Eris thinks about throwing her glass at him, and downs it instead.
"Well, ah. He gave me a present for you."
And Cayde hands her a flat circle of dark, greenish stone. It's carved with Hive runes, but none that she recognizes.
"What is it with you and him, anyway?"
Her fingers close around the stone, squeezing till the edge bites against her bones. She doesn't answer.
What Eris remembers the most about him is his voice: soft and drawling, with the strange sensuality of small, dry noises in vast, cold spaces.
Eris, Eris, what a name, he had murmured into her hair. A name for discord, a name for far cold orbits where no living thing should dare to go. I like this name.
She had not liked anything about Toland. When she was with him, that word had no meaning.
Toland had told her about the sword-logic of the Hive, and that might be the only way to describe what she had felt for him. A cold, inexorable, bloody logic whose final equation left them tangled together in her bed.
Hunters were drawn to explore the wild, to walk into lands haunted by the Darkness, and maybe that was why she hadn't been able to leave Toland alone.
Maybe that's what Eriana had seen, when she took Eris off the fireteam. Maybe she had been wise.
The night after Crota dies, Eris dreams of him. There are green-black suns and vast, inhuman geometries. Toland's dark eyes and his slender, pale fingers. They are flying or perhaps falling as he says to her, Do you like my gift?
Eris clings to him. Her fingers feel like they are turning into swords, but if she is cutting him, he doesn't seem to mind.
You gave me nothing, she says, and in this place, the world nothing pools out of her mouth and births a looming shadow, too inky-strong to stay confined as a sound.
A sword, says Toland, I gave you a sword.
Briefly, she experiences a conviction that she is made of blades, her every angle carved to scrape out songs of pain. Then she is an equation, pre-determined and part of a larger, unquestionable theory. Then she is herself. The nothing that she spoke before looks down, amused at her confusion.
Against the chaos of this nightmare universe and the pressure of Toland's regard, she howls a protest:
THEY ALL DIED.
Toland whispers against her mouth, against her skin, A sword is like a bridge, a crossing-point. To win is to be noble, and to be real. Listen, LISTEN, you simpleton, it’s entirely obvious—
Eris wakes with her heart pounding, her hands grasping for weapons. But her body is human, and the ceiling over her is defined by normal human geometries. Sunlight creeps in the window. She's alone.
With a sigh, she relaxes against the pillows. It was just a dream.
Her mouth is dry and gritty.
She knows the taste, but it takes her a moment to place it: regolith dust. From the Mare Imbrium.
Eris bolts upright. The whole room is coated in dust, a thin gray film in which somebody has traced letters.
I write to you from a place of high contempt . . .