And the glow is getting white
But it's not Light
It's the daylight breaking down
In your eyes
As the Darkness tells its solitary lie
Blind, the Echoing Green
Jayesh was blissfully, deeply grateful.
He lay in bed, his arms around his sleeping wife, Kari. His nose was buried in her hair, and his heart felt ready to burst with happiness and contentment. He'd just returned from a month-long assignment on Venus, where he'd missed his little family with a powerful ache.
Kari couldn't go with him on missions anymore, since she had to stay home to raise their son, Connor. This was hard on them both, especially since Kari was the better fighter. But Jayesh sucked it up and worked with other Guardians, improving his skills, and told nobody but his ghost how much he missed his wife.
But he was home in the Tower, and all was well. Jayesh's gratitude overflowed, and before he knew it, he was thanking the Traveler - for choosing him, for making him a Guardian, for making beautiful Kari a Guardian, for granting them a child of the Light, for everything it did for them. The bliss poured out of him, lying there in silence, yet singing in his heart.
When Jayesh had been a brand new Guardian, he had climbed up into the Traveler and been locked inside when the Red Legion caged it. He'd talked to the Traveler - or rather, he had argued and yelled at it. But by the time the war ended, he had forged a friendly connection with the paracausal entity that few others dared try. Indeed, many Guardians looked at him askance and whispered that he was a fanatic.
Jayesh never denied this. How to explain his relationship with a god?
So as he lay there, pouring out his gratitude to the Traveler, he felt its Light touch him. It acknowledged the praise, and it was pleased.
"I'm not kissing up," he told it inside his head. "I really am thankful. I don't say thank you enough, so - thank you."
While they often communicated, the Traveler didn't always use words. Mostly it touched his Light, strengthening him. Sometimes it gave him mental images or visions. But tonight, he heard it laugh with the voices of many Guardians. "Guardian Jayesh. My faithful servant."
It portrayed itself as male to Jayesh because that was how he best communicated with it. The voice that spoke to him was like a loving father's. "I am sending you to the Reef. There is a task you must do there."
Jayesh lifted his head, gazing at the ceiling. "The Reef, Traveler? But ... last time I was there ..." Fear flashed through him, leaving cold sweat in its wake. He showed the Traveler his nightmare memories of Taken, and the horrifying chimera, the Voice of Riven, its jaws open.
The Traveler's Light embraced him. "Yes, my Guardian. You suffered greatly for my sake. But this time I have a different task for you - a task that only great Light can accomplish."
Jayesh lay there, silent, unwilling to ask more. He didn't want to go to the Reef again. He'd freeze in the cold wind that ripped through the barely-habitable asteroid field and the derelict spaceships that linked them. And the awful chimera had haunted his nightmares for months. Sometimes he dreamed he was back in its jaws, screaming in agony as the teeth pierced him.
And the Traveler wanted him to go back.
"I don't want to," he told it. "I'm afraid of what might happen."
He'd learned that the Traveler wanted him to be brutally honest with it. It more or less knew everything he was thinking, anyway. Not being human, it overlooked many nuances that would have offended a lesser being.
Its Light touched him like a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "You are my Guardian. I will empower you for this task. And the task is this."
It showed him a clear vision of an Awoken woman, with pale blue skin like starlight, long white hair, and glittering silver eyes.
"She has been Taken," the Traveler said.
The woman changed to a black shadow outlined in burning white. A blob of white on her forehead nearly obscured her features, but her jaw hung slack, her eyes gone dead and black, her fingers curled into claws.
Jayesh cringed. Taken were his particular terror.
"What do you expect me to do?" he thought. "You told me once that you didn't know if Taken people could ever be saved."
"That's what I want you to discover," the Traveler replied. "She was a servant of the Light, although not a Guardian. I will equip you with a transcendent blessing. Use it to free her from the power that indwells her."
Jayesh thought about this, tense and unwilling. He wanted to serve the Traveler, but it was asking him to face his greatest fear and attempt what, until now, had been considered impossible.
"Why now?" he asked. "Why do I have to do this now? Couldn't you try to save Taken people before this?"
"Consider the timeline," the Traveler replied. "Taken are a relatively recent invention by the Hive god Oryx. I have only lately awakened from my dormant state. It has taken time for me to study the Taken through my Guardians and ghosts. I have developed possible solutions to the problem. But my Guardians are my hands and feet in this matter. You are a healer. I am asking you to attempt to heal the gravest wound of all."
Put this way, Jayesh understood. A warm glow pervaded his being - the Traveler valued him enough to share its plans. He had always looked down on himself for preferring to heal. The Vanguard valued warriors, granting rewards and status according to who killed how much of what. The guy who stayed behind his fireteam, shielding, healing wounds that occurred faster than their ghosts could mend, or energizing his team - that sort of work didn't receive as much recognition. Of course, his fireteam praised him, but they were the only ones.
But restoring a person who had been Taken ...
His thoughts crawled back to one of his biggest failures - when a woman he had been trying to save had torn free of his grasp and thrown herself into a Maw. She had been Taken of her own free will. It still haunted him, usually late at night, when his treacherous mind called up all his failings and paraded them through his mind's eye.
Maybe Natasha could be saved, too.
Slowly he gathered his resolve. "I'll try, Traveler."
In response, extra Light trickled into him. But this was like another Seed of Light - a mote like the sun that he held in his heart. With it came words - a benediction - that would bestow the Light upon someone.
Imagining speaking a benediction over a Taken who was trying to rip his face off made him turn cold all over.
"My Light will be with you," the Traveler assured him. "Fear not."
Jayesh tried to respond that he wasn't afraid, that he'd be the first Guardian ever to pull a Taken back from the jaws of Darkness. But it would have been a lie. So he cuddled closer to Kari and tried not to shiver too much.
A week later, Jayesh received his next assignment from Ikora.
"Surprise," he told Kari, reading the message from his tablet. "She's sending me to the Reef. I get to mess around in the Dreaming City time loop. Go me."
"Oh, Jay." Kari put an arm around him. "It'll be all right. Guardians can get in and out of the time loop with minimal distortion. And hey, Madrid is there. Maybe he can help you out."
Jayesh gave her a sharp look.
Kari winced. "Or not."
Madrid had been the third member of their fire team, an expert Awoken Hunter, and a steadfast friend to them both. But witnessing the death of Cayde-6 had changed him. He had listened to the whispers of the Ahamkara, Riven, and had tried to feed Jayesh to a foul monster from the Ascendant Realm. He had also murdered the Awoken Prince, Uldren, in cold blood. He was serving a sentence of forced labor in the Dreaming City, a Guardian made to fight the same enemies every time the time loop reset. Nobody knew how long it would last.
Jayesh hoped he never laid eyes on Madrid again.
"I don't know how long I'll be gone," Jayesh said, closing his tablet and looking glum. "I'll be hunting for one particular Taken out of hordes of Taken. I have no guarantee the Darkness will even drop her into our reality. And then I have to identify her long enough to not kill her in self-defense. I don't know if I can do this. The Traveler's asking the impossible."
"Maybe for anyone else," Kari said, rubbing his back. "But I believe you can do it. Why else would the Traveler ask you?"
He leaned his head against hers and sighed deeply. "Kari ... I'm scared out of my mind."
She kept stroking him and said nothing.
Connor toddled up to them, holding up a toy car. "Da!" he exclaimed.
Jayesh picked him up. "Daddy's going on another trip, Con. Be good for your mama."
Connor sucked his thumb and regarded his father soberly. His ghost floated nearby, wearing a waterproof shell smeared with baby food, her expression one of constant longsuffering.
Jayesh hugged his son and his wife. "When I get back, I'm taking a month off. I miss you both too much." He didn't voice the tiny, nagging fear that maybe this time, he wouldn't come back - that somewhere out in the savage, lawless Reef, his Light would finally be quenched. That was one of the risks of being a Guardian and didn't bear mentioning.
"You'll do great, Jay," Kari told him. "Keep in touch while you're out there."
"I'll write you every day." He let Connor slide to the floor. Then he wrapped his arms around Kari and kissed her slowly and deeply. "I married you so we wouldn't have to be separated," he whispered. "And here we are, separated. It's not fair."
"I know," she whispered back. "I wish I could go. But Connor ..."
"I know." He held her for another moment, then released her with a sigh. "I'd better get going."
"Hey." Kari held out her hands. Her ghost transmatted her graviton lance into them. She held it out. "Take this. It'll remind you of me when you use it."
It was her favorite rifle, and it fired black holes. Jayesh was fond of it, too. He accepted it reverently. "I'll take perfect care of it, lovelight."
"I guess it's just you and me, Phoenix," he said to his ghost as he walked to the hanger.
"Just like the good old days," Phoenix replied, twirling his red and yellow shell. "Alone. Scared. People trying to kill us."
"Playing with Taken," Jayesh said. "Listening to the Traveler. The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Jayesh entered his ship, stashed his gear, then waited for takeoff clearance from Tower Control.
As he did, he thought about his conversation with Ikora, the Warlock Vanguard.
"I've had word from the Traveler," she had told him quietly. They had been alone in her office. Other Guardians still tended to treat Jayesh like a pariah for his claims about meeting the Traveler - and the following media campaign against him. But it spoke to Ikora, too, and she understood.
"It's sending you to the Reef to study Taken," Ikora went on, watching his face. "But I see that you already know."
"It told me," Jayesh replied. "I was just waiting for you to send me, officially."
Ikora had smiled. "This won't be an easy task, but I'm not throwing you to the wolves just yet. Rendezvous at the Dasa compound in Reefedge City. It's our only Guardian foothold in the Reef. The Dasas have years of experience with Taken and will help you. If you need a fireteam, they'll assign you one. But this may be a solo mission."
His dread must have shown on his face, because Ikora looked compassionate. "Don't underestimate yourself, Guardian. You've faced far worse things than a single Taken."
"There's no such thing as a single Taken," Jayesh had replied. "They run in packs."
"I know. And I still think you can handle it. I'm prepared to award triple the usual bounty for this mission. If we Guardians can steal the Taken from the Darkness, itself? That is a devastating weapon against our enemies."
While he was grateful for her confidence in him, and the extra bounty, Jayesh sat in his ship's cockpit, waiting for permission to take off, and didn't feel like he could handle this mission. Why was it that no matter how much he accomplished, or how much success he had, inside, he was still the same frightened young Guardian?
Phoenix floated beside him, ready to operate the ghost controls. Without a word being spoken, he turned and examined Jayesh's face. Then he flew up and leaned his shell against Jayesh's cheek in a silent expression of companionship. Jayesh cupped a hand around him and held him for a moment.
"I'm here, Jay," the ghost whispered to his mind through their bond.
"Thanks," Jayesh thought.
It was all that needed to be said. Ghost and Guardian trusted each other implicitly.