“Are you sure it worked?” Ikora said.
“If it hadn’t, we would already be dead.” Eris Morn’s words echoed off the vaulted bridge supports. Ikora Rey floated beside her, boots not touching the thin girders. The Ascendant Plane’s version of the bridge was studded with silver-black causal suppressant, the Taken orbs Guardians could narrowly survive. Eris stood closer to the knife’s edge than most. If she plummeted to the bottomless roil of the inverse plane, her last life would end. Likely Ikora would catch her, if she were not lost in her own battles and her own spiraling thoughts.
Eris felt less concern for the edge than for the body in front of her.
She had jailed Savathûn in a state of not-quite-sleep.
The logic went this way: Savathûn the Witch-Queen held a mighty throne over armies of millions. Therefore, she could not be defeated on the battlefield. Her primary strength was as a tactician, so she could not be countered through military maneuvering. She had thrown Guardians’ understanding of the Light into chaos with the siege of the Dreaming City, where the same waves lapped upon the same shores in cycles of repeated time while Dûl Incaru, brood-daughter, future-returning, sent spikes of the Deep and the Sky like needles through the skin of the world. In order to face Savathûn on a field Eris chose, she had drawn on strange magic and the Hive’s own substance.
Luring Savathûn had been easy: a power like Ikora’s and an absence of Light like Eris’ drew the Hive like the taut-string rattle of a web drew the spider.
In order to keep Savathûn from retreating into the safe-dimensions where she kept her own death, Eris had created for her a Ghost, and Ikora had imbued it with Light.
Instead of the robotic Ghosts which Guardians were joined to, Eris had fabricated an organic Spirit. The dash of energy resembled a puff of dandelion seeds, with a softly glowing, pale green core. It did not have a mind of its own, although other Spirits Eris had known did. She had neither the desire nor the means to create a thinking being, a person , in that way. Instead, the Spirit was programmed with some of the beauty and wisdom Eris had known among the Hive, without their desperate blood-thirst. It would teach Savathûn not how to be a Guardian, but how to be a better version of herself. Perhaps, its deepest directives were even close to the krill species Eris knew the Hive had once been. Now, the Spirit hovered beside Savathûn’s prone body, a tiny scrap of color against an expanse of black-stained green chitin.
The queen’s stillness terrified Eris.
Nevertheless, Eris’ plan had succeeded. Savathûn’s three eyes were lidded. Something of the horror of Oryx lingered around the shape of her crown, her six insectile wings, dotted with closed eyes, folded against her back. These would fade away as her mortal body took precedence. Like her brother, Savathûn was well-fed, despite the fact that she had never attacked the Guardians directly. She had preferred waiting, plotting—and it had been her downfall, because Eris did not just see the old, scarred-over horrors of Oryx. She also saw all the new things she knew about Mara Sov’s realm and the Ascendant Plane, and used them to soothe the old terror of Crota.
Savathûn lay still and silent.
Ikora let out a held breath. Eris expected her to follow it up with a command or a declaration, and she did not. Guilt bit at her. Eris had not been able to return to the Tower after Cayde-6’s death, and had not liked him enough to go through most of the grief Ikora was feeling. There were things unsaid between Eris and Ikora that she could not find her way toward. She had been too busy setting this trap for Savathûn, and now the silence rankled.
“It is done,” Eris said, surprising herself with her insistence on breaking the tension first. “After I give the final command, she will awaken.”
“Good work, my friend.” That almost sounded like Ikora’s old warmth. “Thank you.”
“The rest of the work is up to you. It may not be easy.”
“I understand.” Ikora said. Eris could not quite see her expression. The bridge support on which they stood was too narrow for Eris to turn fully around and face the Warlock Vanguard. “Many things have changed lately, and this will just be one more. Without Cayde, surmounting the number of threats we have to face seemed impossible. Even in this, well …” Ikora chuckled. “It reassured me to know that you needed me to take part. I had been feeling directionless for too long.”
The long speech in front of Savathûn’s floating form embarrassed Eris. Then, a second later, she realized she was embarrassed by her inability to know what to say. Comfort seemed empty, a jab about Cayde cruel, advice cold. Perhaps a mix of advice and anecdote. “In my wandering, in the Sea of Screams, I have seen many things. Even in the farthest, strangest reaches, none of them were isolated completely from each other.”
“You still speak in riddles,” Ikora said. The mirth in her voice heartened Eris, but Ikora’s words also seemed to be covering up a deeper idea. Eris’ response had not been clear enough .
“I will try to be clearer.”
Ikora made a small sound. Eris could imagine her soft, tolerant smile. The tone did not quite include pity, but it came close. “And I will be there for you when our guest crosses to the other side.”
This is not over , Eris thought, but Ikora had noticed something Eris had intentionally done: she was no longer inclined to speak always in portents.
Savathûn may have out-thought us yet if I have not mapped my strategy well enough , Eris thought, but she was no longer convinced strategy was what Ikora wanted to hear.
Lacking words, Eris faced away from Ikora with a strong sense of having started a conversation it would take them a long, long time to finish. She had not given Ikora what she wanted, and she could not imagine how to give it. Eris was tired , and had travelled long, and was growing old. And Ikora radiated similar exhaustion. Between the two of them, they had no energy left to give one another.
“Do it,” Ikora said.
Eris wished she could meet the Vanguard’s eyes, but did not get the chance to try before Ikora faded away, tugging herself back through layers of reality.
Eris reached up, pinched the Spirit floating beside Savathûn’s body between her thumb and second finger, and set it spinning.
You wake up in a no-place.
To know nothingness is to know that something should be in its place. Air does not move here, and it should. Air moves in you, a gasp of strange lungs. Therefore, absence is the first thing you can define for certain.
The second is a little light. Something beside you has a gurgling, childlike voice. It says, “Eyes up, Guardian.” The light from which the voice comes is different from the rest of the world.
The world is monochrome, shaded with blue. The world is narrow.
No. You’re on a bridge, or a slice of a bridge.
The world is dangerous.
No. This part of the world is filled with long drops.
You rest into these understandings.
An unknown amount of time later, a woman appears beside you, snapping out of the air in a flare of pale green-white light, her three eyes wide and alert. You don’t flinch, but after she coalesces you raise your hand in an urge to touch her, to see whether she is a real and autonomous being or the bright lure on the top of a maw. Because of this action you raise your own arm and see brown cloth draped over bumpy skin. The fact that you can’t see your own fingers, except for silhouettes in the gloves, is powerfully and irrationally frightening to you.
“We need to leave.” The woman says.
“Why?” you ask.
“The gravity of Darkness in the Ascendant Plane threatens to tear through reality’s surface. We are at the edge of a metaphorical black hole. In order to keep us and the world from being swallowed — run!”
And she hands you a gun.
The senselessness of this gives you pause. You hadn’t even seen the weapon on her before she drew it as if from under her arm and held it out to you in both hands. It’s a little bone pistol, elegant and narrow. It makes no more sense than the words she said, but it provides you another verb: now you can run and shoot. Whether one is a better choice than the other is still a mystery.
The woman gestures you ahead of her. You start to move along the narrow span. It’s frightening but manageable on booted feet, and you don’t have to struggle to keep your balance. You don’t even mind holding the gun close to your body as you pick up speed, and maybe that sense of mastery helps you appreciate the beauty of the place: the stark contrast between white and gray, the metallic, muted colors, the hollow sound of wind somewhere in the bridge supports above you. Ascendant Plane . You don’t know what it means exactly, but can theorize. Although it looks like you’re running below the bridge you are really above it dimensionally, running parallel to its reality.
Your guide’s footfalls tick on the metal. The light that spoke to you earlier is also still present, bobbing along like a night light at your shoulder.
“Do you remember your name?” your guide asks.
You aren’t sure how to answer. Searching for something you couldn’t remember would be like squinting into a dark tunnel. She’s asking whether you see a specific stone inside while you can’t even see the path.
“Your name is Savath Un,” says the childlike voice of the little light. “I am your Spirit.”
You want to ask how it knows, and what it is, and whether the answer is any more useful than the names your guide gave to the strange world around you.
A black globe appears just behind you, seething. Energy awakens somewhere between your ears, an itching-new sense you want to explore. The black energy touches you, and you were so distracted by the feel of it in your head that you forget it pushed against your balance too. Your guide tries to grab your arm to steady you, but the angle is awkward. Straight ahead of you and unable to turn fast on the narrow span, she can’t reach. You rock forward mid-step, and collide with her back. She folds forward just slightly, and now it’s your turn to steady her with your arms on her shoulders, your body trapped uncomfortably between the seething, burning energy and her armored back. Both of you regain your balance, make distance, and keep running.
“We are going to transmat to my ship as soon as we reach solid ground,” your guide says.
“Why can’t we earlier?” You don’t know the word ‘transmat’ but the context is clear, and you know your guide teleported in a minute ago.
“The experiment is not yet over,” she replies, dour, as if she’s reading rites.
The two of you cross to another span of metal, then another, until you come in sight of the wall to which the bridge is anchored. A crumbling landing clings to the cliff.
“I do not see the purpose of your experiment,” you say when you’re almost there. You’re short of breath. Your body still feels strong, with reserves of energy you can feel running gradually dry with an almost unnerving precision. It’s almost like seeing yourself from outside, or as if something is watching you. You glance at the little light which spoke to you. Even though you’re still concentrating on keeping your balance, it’s easier to study the Spirit closely when it bobs just beside you instead of behind. Its outer layer is a feathery cloud. You can see the dim green light inside. Occasionally a black film flicks across it like an eyelid, but despite the shadowy interior, it isn’t frightening. Like its voice, the round, soft layers remind you of a child.
Your guide glances back, perhaps noticing your attention on the light. Two more steps take her to the wide, rocky landing. “It’s good for young Guardians to have some time to get used to their Ghosts or Spirits. You two will be great allies to one another. The Spirit enables you to come back from the dead.”
You reach the landing. The firm ground beneath your boots is reassuring. People cheat death all the time; you know this like you know gravity, so you ask a different question.
“I’m a Guardian?”
She turns to you. Her expression is calm; the black mesh over her eyes doesn’t disguise their expressiveness. “Yes. And I’m your Virgil, your guide through the lands of the dead.”
She teleports you both away.
She was not human.
That was the first thing that had struck Ikora about the reborn Savathûn. Perhaps Ikora should have assumed she wouldn’t be. But it had been difficult to imagine the twelve-foot-tall Hive body shrunken into a Guardian-shape. In the end, Eris had transformed Savathûn into just that: a smaller form, like a Hive knight, the height of a tall Guardian. Savathûn had gained fine scales like hair and a jeweled third eye smaller than Eris’, and when she wore armor she could hardly been picked out from a crowd at all.
Her integration into Guardian society had not been flawless, but it had been as smooth as could be expected. For as many Guardians who watched her with suspicious eyes, there were four more who hardly noticed the newcomer.
She had become Savath Un, and the Warlocks would spend generations of collective time theorizing why the Traveler permitted or encouraged her to keep some of her name.
Ikora Rey thought about this as she levered open the door to the chamber which used to be the Speaker’s. Eris walked quietly behind her.
Eris had changed over the last two years. It was not the quick transformation of Savath Un, but Ikora could tell that Eris’ mind was clearer now. Not only did her mode of speech show her comfort, but she had also changed her armament. Eris had shed the bone shoulder guards she wore and added a diaphanous, almost wet-looking sheen to her gloves. Whether it was practical or aesthetic Ikora did not know, but she occasionally saw the same slimy glint on Eris’ boots and suspected it was a kind of shield.
The Speaker’s room was dusty. Neither Ikora nor Zavala were comfortable with using it often. But it did contain a wicker table and chairs, which Ikora and Eris took. Red runners draped over the table made the room vibrant.
“Things have been difficult with the Vanguard lately,” Ikora said. It was hard to put into words, but not as much as she had feared. She could always take the leap when she needed to; that particular skill had not faded. But she also knew that it was easy to say this fear because it was not her deepest. She would start out with this small vulnerability to open the conversation, and then they would move on to the business of the day, most actionable part which they had arranged the meeting around. Only after that would she bring up her true concern: that perhaps there would never be another Hunter Vanguard. Although Cayde had not been in the position as long as some, his flippant tone had become a banner around which the Hunters rallied. Young Hunters had copied his swagger, his sense of humor, the colors of clothes he preferred. Ikora and Zavala spoke so rarely now, and she had lost the belief that if she brought up a concern to him he would respond in an actionable or emotionally available fashion. This she would only mention later. Ikora’s thoughts moved in spirals, the deepest related by layers to the most immediate.
She suspected Eris knew this.
“I know Cayde helped hold the two of you together,” Eris said softly.
“And I know that is difficult for you to say.”
“No,” Eris said. “It is a fact, even if he and I did not express ourselves in ways which were … easy.”
“He would find all of this silly,” Ikora said.
“And yet somehow find the perfect way to diffuse it.”
Ikora smiled. “I can just imagine the questions he would ask our guest.” She looked down and shook her head. When she looked up Eris’ expression was not as shadowed as she had expected.
“The woman now called Savath would be able to keep up with him remarkably well,” Eris said. “From what I have seen, she is behaving just like any Guardian.”
“Any very smart one,” Ikora said.
“Good.” Eris paused a moment, and Ikora suspected that the relief she was savoring was the same as Ikora’s own. Their plan could have been very dangerous if Savathûn had remembered the murderous mission from which they had diverted her.
“Have you changed any of your thoughts about when we should tell her?” Ikora asked.
“No. Soon. To keep her in the dark forever would be ruinous. She would inevitably discover our plan. Better to tell her and demonstrate our honesty.”
“I agree.” She had agreed in the first place, too, but it was good to go over it again.
“Next week, then,” Eris said. “When I finish matching resonances in the Sea of Screams.”
“Do you enjoy your work?” Ikora asked.
“I do. But I also look forward to when it will be done.”
“You know, some Guardians talk about whether you could become Hunter Vanguard.” Ikora met Eris’ eyes with effort. “I am not saying I have the authority for it to happen. Although we are in a position where we don’t even know who would have that authority. The Hunter’s Dare doesn’t seem to be producing results. The Consensus is hesitant to step into Guardian business. Commander Zavala … does not have answers.”
“You’re afraid a Hunter Vanguard will never appear.”
“Yes,” Ikora reluctantly admitted. There it was: there was the part of the conversation which would be most difficult.
“I do not think I can be that person for you,” Eris said. “But I am here when you want to talk. I am here when the sky seems dark, to make little Spirits. Who else might be Hunter Vanguard?”
Ikora nodded. “I understand! But it seems that in the time since we opened the Tower, more competent mortals have exhibited the best Hunter traits than anyone else. Hunters practically flee from the Dare. A Hunter Vanguard must be an oxymoron by nature, and they know it. I wonder whether there’s been a time when we never had one before.”
“I am sure you could find the answers in the archives.”
Ikora pinched the bridge of her nose. “At the same time, I do not want to know the answer.”
“And I will keep building. I am not a Guardian, Ikora. And if I was, I suppose I would flee the Dare too. But as something in between, I will not abandon you.”
Ikora smiled. “I appreciate it. And I will keep an eye on Savath, and one hand on my shotgun, and talk to her with an open palm on the other side if I can.”
You love games you can change.
Like the other Guardians, you play the expected games: Lord Shaxx’s Crucible, the Drifter’s Gambit, the odds and ends of errands suited for super-powered people. But you also discover other games Guardians use to fill up their time. These give you intriguing thought exercises, top-down looks at strategies that occupy you most of your waking hours. You play games of strategy and conquest on holographic boards, where other Guardians laugh and wager around you. You play chess with Warlocks and Titans, poker with Hunters.
You discover fairy chess problems.
Fairy chess conditions apply to local rules and extra-complicated games. Three-dimensional boards dance in front of experimental players, who go to war with pieces shaped like dragons and phoenixes. Others introduce you to variants you find more entertaining than practical: infinite chess, useful for recreational mathematical illustrations, or Circe chess, the one most suited to replicating war between revivifying Lightbearers. Chess players are used to Exo and Awoken and Fallen allies, and do not look too long at your crown of black filaments which are not like hair, or your green eyes which are not quite like the Hive’s.
You learn about variant pieces, and the way things become defined by the things they divert from.
You learn about music, about Guardian victory songs and campfire dirges. You like the ones that mirror your confusion back to you, songs that assert the unknown. More rarely, you like foot-tapping summer songs played on an old guitar or a new keyboard.
You learn the Void, because it feels most like the empty sensory information you felt in the Ascendant Plane. Maybe you can chase that theme all the way to its resolution.
It’s this that starts the conversation with the Drifter. He hands you a bounty slip, his posture loose-limbed and leaning away like he doesn’t want to be touched.
“The Void is tough to master, but rewards you once you get it.”
He clearly expects you to leave, but a brittleness to him stops you. What little you know of him is contradictory. A force of personality who doesn’t take care of himself, he clearly hasn’t slept in a long time, but drops wisdom like he expects to be heeded. And, most important of all, it works. People listen.
You press. “I tried Arc, but didn’t enjoy it. You’re between styles too, aren’t you? A Lightbearer, not a Guardian.” You stand taller and steeple your fingers, trying to arrange your posture into an authoritative loom. It won’t do to let Drifter think he intimidates you. He looks at your masked face for a half-second before turning away. Other Guardians have entered the room, but hesitate to cut ahead of you.
“You don’t have to pick just one!” Drifter crows. “Switching up helps you finish more bounties, and that helps both of us.”
“You don’t even stick with one class, do you?” Make him think you’re saying something vulnerable. Make him think you’re curious about him. His ego wants that. “I’m not even sure I was meant to be a Warlock.”
Drifter makes a noise of assent. “You are a bit different-looking. But we’ve got all types. Exo, Awoken…I hear there’s talk of Fallen getting buddy-buddy with the hero of the Red War.”
“Be honest with me. Have you ever seen anything like me?”
He fidgets. “Can’t say I have. I’d say Hive if I didn’t know better. You ever look into that?”
You had. No recorded experiments ever proved for sure that some kind of Hive-human hybrid couldn’t be created in a brood lab somewhere and resurrected as a Guardian—but nothing could prove that it was possible, either. You do not know what species you are. “A little. But none of us can remember who we are.” You turn, imperious, to include the other Guardians in the conversation. “Right? No Guardian can.”
The Drifter pushes off the railing. Once decided he’s going to have the conversation, he doesn’t want you taking the spotlight. You smile under your helmet. This means he’s more likely to babble something helpful. “You know, I always thought that was a funny thing about Lightbearers. It’s the same in the Dark Age and the City Age. We can’t die, so we don’t fully know what it’s like to lose everything. All of those species destroyed by the Hive? If records exist, I’ll never read ‘em. I will never have access to that. So they might as well be dead forever. And we were out here all along, never knowing any of that slaughter was going on, never stopping it. It’s right useless.” His voice goes quiet. Then he remembers his audience, or reaches the sales pitch he was aiming for all along. “So live for the moment! Get the glimmer where you can. I’ll set you up right.” He smiles.
You’re standing tall enough that he has to look around you. He mutters, “And some Guardians can’t even remember they’ve done last week a thousand times. Some immortals we are.”
“What’s that?” You lean down to listen close. “What Guardians can’t remember?”
“You know, the ones on the Reef.” Antsy, the Drifter whirls away, spinning a finger in the air in a spiral. “Stuck in that time loop. Only reason Lightbearers can go in is because they defy the Hive Queen’s logic.” His expression grows shrewd. “You know anything about that?”
You shake your head. As the Drifter leans against the railing again the Guardians behind you grow more impatient and less interested, and push forward between you and the Lightbearer. You let them. If you’re some creature of the Hive, and a Hive queen has made a strange occurrence on the Reef, it might behoove you go find out exactly how that strangeness works. You’re already familiar with the chess board that is the Tower. Maybe it’s time to expand out beyond the edges of the grid.
In the sitting room that had once been the Speaker’s, Eris Morn tried to meditate.
Ikora had taught her the idea: to clear the mind, to focus on the breath. Eris could add no Light manipulation, no Void shadow. Part of the appeal came from the fact that she did not need to bend physics in order for it to work. Existing within the most mundane framework, concentrating on the flow of time as it slipped gently along both ahead of and at the same pace as Eris’ own thoughts, calmed her in a different way from any of her voyages through the Ascendant Plane.
Even so, it was difficult to concentrate. Her last conversation with Savath kept replaying in her thoughts. The two of them had been walking on the balcony from which Lord Saladin sometimes ran his games. They were in comfortable conversation: about Tower games, about the Revelry, about the things both Savath and Eris found new. Savath had not asked whether Eris knew her history: no Guardian assumed the Tower authorities did. She asked questions around it, though: What did Eris know about the Hive? Was any one else she knew a hybrid of human and Hive? What was the nature of Eris’ own transformation? Of Toland’s? Eris told her the truth she knew: these changes were not the same. They had occurred in very specific circumstances which Savath’s did not match.
She did not tell all of the truth.
She would, one day, but the decision of when to do it weighed on her. She genuinely liked the thoughtful, fierce Guardian she had made Savathûn become. As much as she did not want to awaken the wrath of the queen, she also did not want to hurt Savath.
Eris breathed in and out, trying to focus on the physical things around her. Guardians were talking in the corridor, distracting her from the feel of the wicker chair and the faint smell of incense. Maybe she could tell them to stop, but they had every right to talk in the Tower. Eris missed the Ascendant Plane as much as she feared it.
And if she failed, if Savath reacted badly, Eris would have to try to steal her Light back. She doubted she would survive trying. So she had a contingency plan in place, a less-doomed option she also hoped not to use.
The voices increased in volume as someone opened the door.
Eris opened her eyes. As usual, the black ichor she constantly wept had gummed in her scaled eyelids, and it took effort to open them. If the delay bothered Ikora, she did not show it. She walked steadily inside, but when she spoke it was with a clipped severity that spoke of stress.
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, Eris.”
“The meditation was not working today, in any case.”
“Savath is missing. I usually get reports from her Spirit like I would from any other Warlock’s Ghost—any who agreed to it, as she did. But now they’re just gone. Some Guardians said they heard her talking to the Drifter about the Dreaming City, so I thought we should look there first. Can you help us reach it quickly?”
“Yes, and I know another person who keeps watch on traffic in and out of the time-locked city.” Eris stood and held out a hand. “Stay near me. I have practiced this ritual many times, but it is still imperfect.”
Ikora stood beside her and smoothly placed her hand on Eris’ forearm. Eris began the chant, the one she had used for the first time in the tunnels on the moon and for the greatest time at Oryx’s final grave; the teleportation invocation came naturally enough to her now that she did not need to write the organizing runes to go with it. But still it took time, and as she chanted she felt her body fall into the rhythm she had not been able to achieve with meditation. Ikora’s light touch on her arm was neither a focus nor a distraction. Eris’ breathing conformed to the cruel words, and not for the first time she wondered whether the changes to her eyes had spread in ways she could not know throughout her body; her lungs were comfortable in the cadence of the alien songs.
One thing she had hoped to speak to Savath about, but never could, was what the Hive had been before their very words had been allied with reality-eating monsters. There was an old poetry there. Eris had simply not yet discovered it.
Green light flared around her, and reality folded tight against Ikora and Eris, and in an open-eyed blink the quiet, sunny room around them was replaced with the colorful landscape of the Dreaming City.
They stood on the edge of a foggy shore. The jeweled towers in the distance, the grassy slopes, and the blue-purple water all had a sheen of unreality: the Dreaming City, trapped in its cycles. Something rumbled in the distance, like thunder but with wetter undertones. It reminded Eris of an Ahamkara opening its mouth, drooling familiar voices into the world, unable to entirely remove the smack of hunger.
Eris lead Ikora past Petra Venj’s lookout point, up the hill, and past Corsairs keeping wary watch out for alien troops. The road was as much trench as path, marking battle lines.
Teleporting into the Dreaming City was difficult. The time loop made it a nightmare in terms of momentum, like slingshotting in a jumpship from a tight turn in orbit around a planet, then seconds later coming to a complete stop at sea level. Moving near the Ascendant Plane enabled Eris to grasp onto the Taken and Hive energies she was attuned to, and therefore prevented the whiplash effect, since the Ascendant Plane looped slightly out of step with the rest of the Dreaming City. The problem was that physical geography could not be accounted for precisely at the same time as she was figuring out the rotation and chronology. The plane wrapped around the Dreaming City like a clear casing. But Eris did not know where exactly Savath might be if had she ripped through that layer.
For that, she needed to ask.
Ikora looked around with the serenity she displayed so often. Trips to the Dreaming City or the Ascendant Plane were not as common to her as they were to Eris, but she still looked as comfortable as she would be on the Tower. Or perhaps, Eris thought, Ikora had not been fully serene since after the Red War, and the flush on her cheeks and the sadness in her eyes was not the glory of her vast wisdom but rather an exhaustion she could not shake.
Their guide was almost hidden behind a shelf of rock and grass.
Sedia looked around the corner with her eyes still covered in cloth stitched with gold.
She stood here for only one week of the repeating cycle, and Eris thought she could see in her posture a brittle surprise that something had changed. Sedia had never been in direct contact with the Tower. Instead, she spoke to Mara or Petra.
Ikora knew that various Awoken were part of Eris’ whisper network, but also that Sedia was not fully privy to the knowledge of the Hidden—especially since she was the worst-used of the Techeuns. As the cycle went on she would be Taken, stolen into the whitewater currents of energy and turned furious.
“Mara told me I could reach out to you in the gentler parts of the cycle.” Eris said.
“You are searching for something,” Sedia said.
“Yes.” Eris was not surprised the Techeun had sensed the turmoil in the Ascendant Plane.
Sedia waved a hand in a lazy figure eight. “The Hive have been quiet lately. Can you hear it? Confused, looking as deeply into their inner darkness as they ever had since the death of the prince. You took something from them, I think.”
Where Eris had become more comfortable speaking without the shield of cryptic riddles over the years, Sedia was relatively new.
“Yes, and we intend to have her back.” Eris glanced between Ikora’s holstered shotgun and the Techeun’s partially-masked face.
“Let justice be done while it can,” Sedia sighed. “You will find her in the heart of the Shattered Throne. But remember, this place cycles. We may just hear this thunder again, in a matter of time.”
Eris’ breath became shallow. Savath had gone to challenge Dûl Incaru? Or to ask her questions? It made sense, especially if Savath suspected her own origins or wanted to prove her worth as a Guardian. After all, Dûl Incaru was one of Savathûn's children.
Sedia hid meaning in simple words. Whether Savath was looking for answers or trying to kill Dûl Incaru, the result would be the same. The energy of Dûl Incaru’s death would go to the empty top of the Hive’s system of tithe, the place Savathûn had recently occupied. The engines of Hive energy would continue to return.
If Savath was headed for Dûl Incaru alone, she had a goal in mind. Eris planned to tell her the truth before she could compete it. Doing so while also fighting Dûl Incaru, though, would be difficult.
“Thank you,” Eris said.
“Vanguard.” Sedia inclined her head toward Ikora. “Remember how the Awoken helped you."
“I remember you helped Eris quite well,” Ikora said, deadpan. Eris smiled, surprised.
“Maybe we cannot be saved. I will just be Taken again. But for now … do what you can to settle the angry sea.”
Sedia looked out across the fog as if waiting for someone to come home.
“Can you transport us to Dûl Incaru’s inner chamber?” Ikora asked.
Now that she knew the thunder came from Savath, it would be even easier than before. “Of course,” Eris said, and began the incantation.
Savath had already been defeated once.
Eris and Ikora found her huddled behind a column at the edge of Dûl Incaru’s throne room. Savath was alone except for her Spirit, which kept close to her side. When the two women teleported in, the Knights patrolling the throne stirred but did not divert from their rounds. As long as they stayed on the balcony, Eris and Ikora could speak to Savath peacefully.
As long as she wanted to be spoken to.
She turned around fast. She still wore a patchwork of Gambit and Crucible gear, a competitive soul without enough experience to specialize.
“We are not here to stop you,” Eris said. Savath needed to hear that first.
Savath looked at her briefly, then spared more attention for Ikora.
“There’s something here,” Savath said. “A sense. Like the Light, but not that.”
“The Darkness?” Eris asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know. Do you feel it? The … It’s fecund. It grows, but the Ascendant Plane isn’t its home. It … smells a little bit like you.”
“The Hive,” Eris said.
Savath paused. “It could be. It could be me. I’d never seen another Hive Guardian before.”
“Is that why you came here?” Ikora asked.
“Yes. To find others who couldn’t remember. But not Awoken. Hive … also trapped in the cycle, even though they create it.”
“You’re right,” Eris said. “Partially. I meant to tell you later.” Sadness overcame her, so deep that she wanted to close her eyes against it. She did not. Part of the sadness came from the insufficiency of her words: she sounded, she knew, far too much like she was making an excuse to have started the precarious situation on the right tone.
“Maybe we shouldn’t …” Ikora began.
“It is the only way.” Eris did not believe that Ikora would argue in favor of lies.
The Vanguard nodded.
Savath was still wearing her helmet. It would have been shocking for her not to, here, but still Eris wished she didn’t have to struggle to meet her eyes. “You were a queen,” she said. “The reason you feel an affinity for the Hive is because you are one, or were, until we, with Ikora’s knowledge of the Light and mine of the Hive biotechnology, made you into the shape of a Guardian and partnered you with someone like a Ghost.”
Savath was quiet for a long time. Finally she said, “And what did queenship gain me?”
“Space larger than a dorm.” Eris’ voice curled tight and wry.
“Control over others,” Ikora said.
“But that wasn’t what you originally wanted,” Eris said. Again she searched for Savath’s eyes, then decided on an even gaze that would draw her no matter what her helmet looked like. “You wanted to save your species, and in doing so metamorphosed it into something venomous. But you also need to know this isn’t why you were resurrected. I made that happen, with a scrap of pollen from another world.” This was the last test. If Savath Un reacted badly to the truth about her third life, Eris would have failed. If the queen could not stand losing control, she might as well never have become a Guardian at all. (Not that all Guardians were magnanimous. Some quite the opposite.) “We defeated you, by making you this.”
Ikora drew in a breath behind her. Eris’ stomach soured. She had been too blunt. She had thought she knew better.
But Savath did not respond badly, yet. “Was I a good queen?” She asked, her voice soft.
“You slaughtered species, destroying civilizations across the stars to feed your people,” Eris said. “And then you stopped at our solar system for some reason, and began to push more slowly.”
“Because Guardians are not easy to kill,” Ikora said, her voice rich and wry. “We defeated your sibling, Oryx, and his son Crota, Eris’ great enemy.”
“You need to feed the worms that parasitized your people,” Eris said. “Before them the Hive were a species like any other. You made the act that changed them, millennia ago by your reckoning. You did it because you thought it was the only way to save them. And this is why we saved you — because we thought you could be a friend, if you were not a conquerer.”
“A queen,” Savath whispered. “And I’ve been here, working on bounties for the Drifter, wasting my time? You took that away from me.”
Maybe Eris would need her backup plan after all. “Let me show you what you lost, so that you might understand what you regained.”
“No.” Savath stepped backward. “I may be a young Guardian, but I’m not a child, running away from you just because you told me to stay. I’m going to face Dûl Incaru as an equal. I guess now that’s even more true. One trapped queen to another.”
Ikora reached out. She conjured no Light, held no weapon, just extended a hand. But Savath was already moving.
Dûl Incaru and her knights noticed. The floor shook as the Knights turned toward the balcony.
Eris activated her backup plan.
Pieces are falling into place for you now.
If the empty sense you felt at your first rising was a Hive-sense, then you know something new about Eris: she possesses it too. She smells like them, like you. And she has stolen you! She keeps pulling you away just before you can triumph!
Or at least, you admit, you assume that is what happened at your last death. You can only assume that you were a triumphant queen, because you still do not remember. There are familiarities. The bone alcoves of a Hive ship feel familiar, soft and warm as the inside of an eggshell, slick with perfumed nutrients. You almost remember chasing your sisters through halls like this.
How can you almost remember?
Mustn’t there be a marker for any suggestion of memory? Or is it more like déjà vu, memory stretching forward?
You stand in an empty room.
Like the Dreaming City, it is composed of elegant gilt and curves. Silver walls encircle you, just close enough to be comfortable. On the floor, concentric circles are inscribed in gold. Lines radiate out from the center, where a thin-legged table stands. Three of the lines are evenly spaced like a compass rose’s points; the fourth is not, holding close to the third.
On the table you see a golden sextant.
You approach it.
Earth-made, you think, but layered in meaning. As if on a transparent sheet behind it you can see the helm of the needle-ship that took you deep into Fundament. Now you remember for certain. How could you have forgotten? Remember your sisters pressed tight against you, the worms gnawing and growing in their bellies. The gray-white shine of Aurash’s skin, the many, many hours in which comfort mingled with disgust until you could no longer tell the two apart. Your sisters’ thin spines against the calcified ivy, the skeletal frozen ferns.
“What does it mean?” you ask, and feel energy strengthen your posture. The question itself fills you with power and purpose. You are part of a feedback loop of question and answer, and if you asked and answered enough of yourself, you could generate a force to break the walls down. This is old energy, and as unique to you as your blood: know more, question more, understand new mysteries, solve them, uncover more.
“There is another step,” says your Spirit.
It doesn’t speak often, but when it does, it’s in tune with your heart.
“I can feel it.” You curl your right hand against your chest, over your strong and narrow collarbone. Only now do you notice that your hands are bare, your body clothed in robes instead of armor. “I will take knowledge and turn it into secrets.”
“In order to hold secrets you need other people from which to hide them,” says your Spirit.
Perhaps that understanding allowed Eris in, because now she is there, standing behind you. You’re closer to the sextant than you are to her.
“Do you remember what this means to you?” Eris says.
“I remember my sisters, and our journey to Fundament.” The rest of your memory returns gradually. You can feel the accompanying emotions as if from a great distance. You had set them aside intentionally, once, a long time ago. “Perhaps it means our navigation. What does it mean to you?”
“I will not fuel you with my speculation.”
“So you know that. This fuels me too.”
“But I choose to give you that, Savath. Or do you prefer Savathûn now?” Eris waits for you to answer.
“I accept your gift of many names.”
“Two is not very many.”
You laugh. “Perhaps I am new at riddles.”
“I understand. You are confused, and still you see things so clearly. I apologize again for the poor timing of what I told you. Please believe … the way I treated you as a Guardian is how I see you in truth.”
“As a neophyte? An errand girl?”
“As a friend.”
You sigh. Maybe it is a harmless release of some of the killing energy you were building up. You’re still uncertain of your powers, but despite everything, you also believe her. You would not have listened to her before, no matter how she smelled of your brother’s brood. She needed to show you what the Guardians were like, their glory and stupidity, in order for it to have any truth. But in order to feel an ethical obligation to a cause, you need to understand its purpose.
“What do you want to show me?”
“Take a sight,” Eris says.
“There is no horizon.” You gesture around.
“Try.” Eris gestures forward. She is wearing the armored vest and heavy skirt she usually does, with the thick, studded gauntlets covering her forearms. But her hands are bare and pale, with black stains under her nails like she dabbed at the ichor flowing from her eyes and could not clean it completely. The display of vulnerability, and of similarity to yourself, convinces you to turn your back to her and look at the sextant.
As you bend down to it, the shadow images behind it change. Out there space is long, and cold, and not quite black; background radiation glows like the sick green of an evening storm. Inside the grim nebula are shapes. At first, the scale confuses you. They have the weight of a city block, but keep close to the camera against a backdrop that may be light-years long. They are either impossibly large or merely colossal. Jumpships, you guess, pyramid-shaped killing ships like the Hive fleet.
Perhaps they are even bigger, an idea which inflicts more anger than fear.
“What are they?” You ask without turning away.
“We don’t entirely know,” Eris says. “Ships. A prophesied fleet greater and more terrible than anything we have faced before.”
“Why should I worry about them if I plan to take back the queenship of the Hive?” You turn toward Eris. You said it because you want to see what she would do, not because you mean it. Not for certain.
“We changed you in order to save ourselves from you,” Eris said. “But we also changed you so that we might use your might against them .” Her usually deep voice had become even more resonant, almost echoing. In it Savath felt the bone and sinew of the Dreadnaught shiver. Eris knew the mummified fronds of the Hive’s past. Savath did not know how she had learned them. But in that knowing, in the spiraling shells of a sea creature now frozen into rock and crystal, Savath knew a power which rivaled hers. Eris had gathered and catalogued the long, grim history of what Fundament’s children had become.
And she had told the truth about Savath’s history, when it mattered. In Eris’ voice Savath could feel the wings which had once shadowed her shoulders, her hips, her spine. She could sense the webbing between herself and her broods, made almost-broken and strange by the canyons of the Ascendant Plane. Now all of those connections were quiet.
“What do you think?” asks your Spirit.
You think about how Eris made sure to give you something that was a Ghost but not like a Ghost. You are sure now that no other Guardian has a Spirit like this. Eris wanted you to have a companion, but she could not conjure you a Ghost from the Traveler, and it would have been some horrible kind of disfigurement if she had.
Instead, she let you choose.
You think of the Hive on Titan, on the Tangled Shore, uncertain and fighting among themselves. What good would it be to give them a leader if they tore themselves apart further? And no matter what, part of you is a Guardian now. Part of yourself is in the Tower, even when you are away. Part of you would be in the Tower even if it did not exist.
“I think I will help you with your fight,” you say to your Spirit, and only then look at Eris.
Eris rarely smiles. When she does you see that her lips are full and her eyes badly healed; she cannot crinkle her face in human laughter or half-close her eyes in Hive mirth. But the warmth and acceptance you feel from her is beyond sight, beyond reason.
“But there is a problem,” you say. How could you have forgotten? Their memory emerged later, like a nightmare remembered unexpectedly in daylight.
Eris listens, patient.
“The worms. I do not feed Akka as my brother did. But Xol was the least of their kind. They demand tithe, and when they do not receive it, they will try other ways. Are you willing to help patch the holes they might leave in both the Guardians and the Hive?
“I have one more thing to show you, if you will permit it,” Eris says.
You say yes.
The world reverberates. The image of the table, the sextant, and the flickering images beyond disappear. Instead you stand in an empty place on the Ascendant Plane. White sparks overhead dart like birds. In the distance you can see the dim form of a rotating stained-glass calendar, as tall as the Tower Hangar’s ceiling, and hear it rumble against whatever mechanism draws it around.
“This is a private place,” Eris’ voice says, but you cannot see her. “A bubble in the surface of the Sea of Screams, created by its physics without guidance.”
You turn around once, twice, certain no one is behind you. The third time, Eris appears where she could not have been. Her veil is in her hands, her headdress pushed up and back. Her eyes weep. Her scales do not look quite like yours, her third eye not quite like yours. But still, you see she was also scarred by her enemy, and also reached out to them. You can’t cry, you think, but your throat seizes. For a moment you look at each other.
“I understand,” you say.
“Ikora will need our help,” Eris says.
“Now and later.”
You know what to expect next: the world to which Eris brought you fades away, and you return to Dûl Incaru’s throne room. (Your daughter’s control room. The place for which you made her.)
Ikora has cleared the room.
Shards of crystal and one knight’s sword litter the floor. Ikora is standing on the far side, breathing heavily, reloading her shotgun. When you approach her she looks up and smiles, the brightest you have ever seen her look.
“It’s nice to be back in the field,” she says.
“How did you know I’d come back as an ally?” you ask.
Ikora straightens her shoulders and turns to look at you. The room is so much quieter than it was before; you can hear wind whistling in the distance. “I didn’t.”
You remember she is Vanguard for a reason. Eris’ footfalls are the only other sound.
“I’m going to help you face the oncoming threat,” you say. “After that … I don’t know.”
“You cannot have your power back, you know.”
“We shall see.” You think you already felt some of it return. But no, you do not have an army. You do not have your six wings and many eyes. And you cannot think of how war would benefit you, or why you would choose to ally again with worms, as your fading father did millennia ago.
From behind you, Eris says, “We have a problem.”
You and Ikora both turn to her.
Eris shakes her head. “The visions I showed you. They drained too much of my energy. They were not part of the plan. I cannot … grab hold of the other side.”
“You can’t teleport us out?” Ikora says softly.
“It is like trying to grab a tiny feather while affixed to a great weight. The heaviness of this plane …”
“So we’re trapped?” For that moment you’re completely Guardian: green, confused, punchy.
“No. Wait. I feel … a presence approaching,” Eris says.
Someone else fogs into existence where Dûl Incaru once hovered. Sedia, her masked head high and her posture regal.
“You were in the dark for so long,” she says. “I despise coming here, but it is one task I know well how to complete.”
“Sedia!” You see no reason why not to express your joy.
“My connection to the Dreaming City is too weak,” Eris says. “Can you free us?”
“Yes,” Sedia says. “You are lucky the curse is middling.”
Sedia—another woman who knows what it is to stand on both sides of a curtain, on both sides of a war.
“Lucky?” says Ikora. “We planned it.”
“With plans like these, I am not surprised you succeeded as you did.”
You suspect it’s gentle irony, but also mostly gentle. You wonder what you would see under Sedia’s jeweled cowl. Perhaps she too needs to see someone else reveal their scars.
She takes you back to the City. You look wide-eyed for any remnants of Dûl Incaru, any remnants of her Fatesmiths, any remnant of your daughter. But she did not die, and at the same time, she is not alive. The Guardians and the Hive have this much in common, and perhaps you made them closer through your machinations among the Awoken. The purples, golds, and sunlight of the Dreaming City begins to fade in, the silver edges of a Taken portal making you squint. Out there is a world where you can help the Guardians, where the worms who once ruled you will be cut off from their food. You will need to make the Hive into something new, something strong. Maybe something the krill were always meant to be.
If you know how to do anything, it’s how to lead a brood, how to feed their armies and maintain their ships, and how to be patient.
It took a long time.
It took a lot of summer music, but in the end you felt like if you planned any more and asked any more of your broods you would scream, and this is how you knew it was over.
You slowly transformed the Dreadnaught. Kicked the Guardians out, on Ikora’s orders. Kicked the Cabal out, by not holding back and by doing the work yourself, undying. Clawed out a court and sat in it listening to Guardian songs and ordering functionaries into new roles. There had always been accountants for the tithe, matchmakers for the broods, but now there are more of these and fewer soldiers. You cannot stop the killing, not so soon, not without the worms themselves coming down on you, but you send Knights to Calus’ Menagerie and the Drifter’s Gambit, to fight alongside Guardians, and you take what they give you.
And one day, Eris and Ikora walk the newly decorated halls of your Dreadnaught.
“Is that a Hunter song?” Ikora says, surprised, when she hears the gentle melody your Spirit is humming.
“It helps me concentrate,” you say, bending one leg over the other and leaning back into an invisible throne.
“You know,” Ikora says, “There are mutterings among the Guardians that the Vanguard have become complacent since Cayde’s fall. That we are divided, and we do not know what to do alone.”
You interrupt her. “Do not profess weakness in these halls—they will eat it.”
“This isn’t weakness,” Ikora replies. “Many Guardians think that. But Zavala and I have discussed your appointment, and we think it serves as an example. A way to bring back what the Guardians were in the first place. Zavala, Cayde, and I began to think we were the be-all and end-all of the Vanguard, but there have been many before and will be many after us, and this is right. But none have done this.” She gestures around at the yellow-green walls, the delicate litter on the floor. “None have allied with a species so alien. And yet you have done it. And I know that Mithrax the Fallen speaks to my Guardians in what he thinks is secret. Perhaps we should reach out to him next.”
“Fairy chess,” you say, and lean forward in your throne. “Break out beyond the edges of the board.”
“I will consider this, Vanguard.”
“Perhaps consider it quickly,” Eris says. “There are other forces out there in the dark.”
The music keeps going: a recording from a campfire night, fast and haughty and doomed. You’re tempted to loom over her, to rise and be the shadow. In response the room grows colder. A wind spirals up from nowhere, stirring Ikora’s robes. You think about Eris showing you not your conquests but your discoveries and your sisters.
The wind stills. The smell of the air here, dust and stone and a warm sweetness like tea, rises and falls with it.
“I think you can tell your emissaries to expect more Hunter music.”
Ikora starts to speak and stops again, choking off the question. “There will be no emissaries. We can do that job well enough on our own.”
It could sound like a threat, but you know the way siblings curl around one another, unaware of their future breaking, and consider it a kindness instead.
When Eris and Ikora leave you sit back in your gauzy throne, call your courtiers, and keep working.