The Vault Hunters-the ones left alive-all drew straws.
Zane spoke up and said he had no qualms about telling the psycho himself, finding him would be his only challenge.
Amara suggested she go, knowing that she’d stand the best chance against the psycho’s rages.
Moze and FL4K had volunteered as well.
But instead it was Gaige. Little Gaige who’d decided she would be the one to break the news about Maya to Krieg.
The Vault Hunters checked their straws. Zane had pulled the shortest.
“You sure you can take him, Lass?” asked Zane.
Gaige sneered, “I’m sure I can,” she assured coldly. As if for emphasis, she summoned DeathTrap.
Zane’s mouth pulled into the corner of his face, “I meant can you handle his reaction,”
Gaige’s expression softened, “We go way back...Besides, I haven’t seen him in a while,”
It had been a long time since she’d seen Krieg. Seven...eight years now, maybe.
She’d left to Heptah with Axton and hadn’t seen anyone face-to-face since then. She’d seen Zero and Maya on occasion, crossing paths on the way to a vault or some other. She’d seen Lilith and Brick and Mordecai for their bi-weekly B’n’B sessions. Salvador was always around in case Axton had to tap out..But she had never seen Krieg.
He was always an outlier, be it because he was crazy or because he’d had better things to do. Gaige never knew, she never asked. She blamed it on being a kid, unsure of her place in the world, unsure of her footing around these new, rough, matured adults. But Pandora quickly changed her mind as well as her resolve.
Now she knew that she was simply just afraid. Krieg was a scary guy, no doubt about it. Even when he’d become one of the ‘good guys’ he was still terrifying. Everyone, even Brick and Salvador were afraid of him to a certain extent. Gaige supposed that came with the territory.
But Maya was never afraid of him.
It was like she knew, like she always had.
Gaige remembers the day Maya joined the team, the psycho seemed to follow her like a lost skag. He never approached the others. Not even when they’d grown close. Not even when they’d liberated Angel from Jack. Not even when the proverbial day had been saved and they were left to their own devices.
Sure, eventually they’d come to know about the man who Axton so jokingly called the original member of The Cult of Maya. And sure, Gaige had even grown a little fond of the violent but well meaning man. But as far as Gaige was concerned there was only one person who truly understood him. All of him.
She was gone now.
This time there was no digi-construct, no healing serum, no kind of siren magic or power that could save anyone. It was a small comfort at least that Maya had gone the old Pandoran way (fighting of course). Gaige swallowed the lump in her throat knowing that would in no way comfort Krieg.
Gaige’s echo crackles, she answers it, having a feeling she knows exactly who it is. “Hey?”
“Hey, kiddo. Sal’ told me you were headed to see the Big Guy,” said Axton.
“Yeah,” was all Gaige could muster.
“So Maya, she’s-,” Axton’s voice drifts off, unable to finish his sentence.
“Yeah,” Gaige replies, her tone is definite.
“I just. I can’t believe they’re gone.” Axton says softly, “She was my lady, ol’Blue,” Axton says fondly. “I remember me and her got into all kinds of trouble. Oh man, you shoulda’ seen her and Zero this one time on Athenas-7,” for a moment, a life returns to Axton’s voice. He recalls a battle in which he and Zero are back to back, fighting as if it will be their last. And then Maya as always comes just in time to save them.
Gaige smiles, remembering that day too when an angry Maya brought back the boys, phaselocked in utter awe and fear. That was classic Maya, always sticking her neck out for people because that’s what the world asked of her. That’s what she intended to do.
Now look at her…
“I’m gonna miss having her around. And Lilith. And shit-everyone.” Axton says, his tone winding down. “It never gets easier losing friends,” Axton finishes.
“No it don’t, Boss,” Gaige answers back, “I’m coming up on Krieg’s place,” she adds, “I’ll call you up later if he hasn’t ripped me to shreds,” she jokes.
“Be careful. I can’t lose you too,” Axton says it so genuinely Gaige feels her eyes well with tears.
“Say ‘Hi’ to Sarah for me,” Gaige chokes out.
“Will do, kiddo,” Axton’s Echo goes dead. Gaige wipes her eyes and places her Echo device on the seat.
From her Runner she can see the cave where Krieg supposedly resides. She takes a deep breath to steady her nerves, then she exits the vehicle
The cave is decorated in odd trinkets.
Colored glass and bottles hang haphazardly from the ceiling. Chests upon chests are lined up next to one another along the cave walls. Some are open, some are locked, some display things Krieg would never use (books, candles, robes; things she would have liked).
Gaige walks cautiously as to not startle him. She’s almost sure he’s not home, but she’s not about to be surprised.
The goes further into the cave, her flashlight illuminates the dark and she sees now that the walls are decorated in paintings. There are some that are crude and child-like, painted with what is probably blood and dirt. Gaige smiles a little as she admires the scenes of Krieg and the others running off bandits and riding skags. But then there are some that are more refined, smoother, thought-out. Gaige stops by a particular one and gazes at the long, languid strokes. At first she can’t see an image. But the longer she stares, the more she realizes it’s her.
Here in the long lines of dried bandit blood and God knows what else is Maya. Smiling with kind eyes and gentle grace. Her lips are pulled back over her teeth. In equal measures the smile is menacing and playful. Gaige thinks it captures her well.
Her eyes trail along the wall to another, smaller portrait. This one she recognizes by the pigtails she used to spot when she was sixteen. But the tails are off, they look less like hair and more like wings. Angel wings, she thinks. The portrait of Gaige also smiles, this one more impish than the last. A tiny DeathTrap is drawn along side it. Her name is scrawled messily along the wall, under it is ‘Best Friend’.
“Oh Krieg...” slips through Gaige’s lips.
A rock slides past another and clatters to the floor. Gaige whips out her sidearm and points it in the direction of the noise.
A figure emerges from the dark of the cave and stands just at the edge of the flashlight’s beam.
“You called-,” says a voice almost too normal to be his, “-So I answer with MY FLESH GRINDER,” the psycho snaps, jumping into her field of vision.
Gaige steps back on reflex but quickly lowers her guard and her weapon.
“Krieg, hey Big Guy,” she says softly.
Krieg lowers his saw and jerks and twitches in the way he’s always done. “Long time, no kills Small One,” Krieg replies.
Gaige nods solemnly, “Yeah...Been too long,”
“Do you wish to meet the big, shiny God in the sky? Will you bathe with me in his blood and tears?” Krieg asks, stepping closer.
Gaige shakes her head, “Have you heard...about Lilith?”
Krieg is deathly still for a moment, then he replies, “Long live The Firehawk,”.
Gaige eyes him curiously, he’s changed. He’s not so incoherent she notices, some of the stuff he says almost sounds like actual sentences.
“-Was stuck in a cave of WONDERS and SKULLS, hid away from the mother nature and her tasty, tasty, meat children!” Krieg declared. Gaige took it to mean he was hiding from The Children of the Vault. Then again, it could’ve meant anything.
Gaige looked around and sat on the first big rock she thought looked comfortable.
“What’s new with you?”
“This!” Krieg declared loudly, before nailing himself in the head with the flat side of his bone-saw. Gaige cringed as a small stream of blood trickled down Krieg’s face. She watches in silence as Krieg recovers and slowly reaches up for the gash in his head. Gaige’s face twists in confusion, is he in pain?
“Ah- I told you, you don’t have to do that to give me control,” Krieg says, his voice as plain as any non-psycho.
Gaige feels her body seize. Since when is he capable of this? How long has been like this?
Krieg looks at his friend with sad eyes and slumped shoulders, “Gaige, you look...well,”
She nods, still astonished by the transformation that has happened before her eyes, “I-yeah so do you,”
Krieg gets closer to her and places a hand on top of her head, “You got tall,”
“And you got normal,” She replies with awe.
“For some time, I can’t stay long ‘cause The Big Guy always wants back in but-,” Krieg doubles over as his hands scratch and claw at the back of his head.
Gaige looks on as Krieg calms down, “I’m sorry- he’s getting impatient,”
Suddenly, Gaige remembers her mission. She takes another deep breath, “Lilith is dead-,” she begins.
Krieg lowers his head, “The moon, The Calypsos tried to crash it into Pandora and Lilith...she saved us didn’t she,”
Gaige nods, “Yeah, she sacrificed herself for all of us,"
Krieg lowers himself to the floor, his head falls into one of his hands, “At least she and Roland can take that vacation now,”
Gaige tries a smile, but it doesn’t feel right. She was never one to hide her pain behind one anyhow.
“Where’s everyone been?” Krieg asks.
“Well, Axton patched stuff up with Sarah. They’re not a thing, at least not right now. They do PM gigs now. Salvador and I go vault hunting every once in a while when he’s not at home at with his abuela. Zero’s helping out the new president of Atlas and that’s that I guess,”
Gaige’s stomach knots up, she can feel her hands shake for what she’s about to say next. But she can’t bare to form the words, can’t bear to speak her friend’s fate into reality. So instead she stalls.
“First, what have you been doing,”
Krieg gestures vaguely to the cave, “Working on this,” he says. “Working on me,”
Gaige nods again as she takes in the large murals on the walls. “It’s a nice place,”
“I wanted something nice for her to come back to,” Krieg says softly.
“You’re really talented,” Gaige says.
“Thanks, though, it’s not really me doing it,”
“He does all the work, I just tell him what to paint,” Krieg says as he looks on at the portrait of his friends. Gaige’s eyes go to the portrait she knows he’s looking at. It’s the one that is pristine, the one that stands apart from the rest.
“It looks just like her,” Gaige comments. But Krieg shakes his head.
“No. It’s missing something. Something in her eyes I think, she always had that way of looking at me. I can see it so perfectly in my head. Crystal clear like the first time we met,” Krieg says.
Gaige looks on at the portrait again and can’t seem to find what he’s talking about. The portrait is a near perfect replication of her face, her likeness. Of course, then again, Gaige was never the one in love with her.
“Gaige, tell me where she is,”
The girl keeps her eyes on the portrait. She tries to let Maya’s cool, serene gaze calm her. Without too much strain, the words flow out, “She’s dead, Krieg,”
Gaige looks at her friend who is already at his feet. He stares blankly and drops his bone-saw.
He approaches her, as if trying to see her better. His eyes narrow, they glisten in the light, shiny, rimmed with tears.
“I’m so sorry,” Gaige says, gripping his arms.
This breaks him.
He wretches his arms away and walks back into the shadows of the cave. Back into the darkness and comfort of the earthen tomb. Gaige can hear him drop to his knees. And then he lets out a scream. A deep, primal wail that chills her to her core.
The Pandoran night sky is crystal clear. It’s studded with stars and circling rakks. It had been some time since Gaige had a chance to appreciate it. She’d left the planet nearly six years ago thinking she’d never miss the giant dustball. Yet strangely on her travels, Pandora had never left her. It had always hung in the back of her memory as a ghost. It moaned and wailed, calling to her in her dreams.
Pandora wasn’t her home, but by the way she’d sometimes longed for it, it very much felt as if it were.
Gaige breathes in a lungful of the putrid air and feels a disgusting sense of pride.
Pandora, she made it here. She wasn’t able to just survive, she thrived here. She made a name for herself. If only her dad could see her. If only Marcie could see her now.
Her Echo crackled again, she answered without looking, “Yeah?”
“Como estas, chica? Is Krieg, alright?”
Gaige smiled as Salvador’s voice filled the quiet night with warmth. “Hey Sal’,” Gaige says, she pauses, unsure of what to say next, “He’s-well I told him,”
“And-?” Salvador prompts.
“He’s processing it,”
“He shoot someone yet?” Salvador queries.
“I bet he’s thinking about it,” Gaige replies.
“I would too, if they weren’t already dead,” Salvador adds, “Maya was a great friend. A hero. There’s not too many of her around,”
“That she was,”
“Tell Krieg that his pal Sal’ said ‘hola’, Gaige.” Salvador said, “Take care of yourself,”
“I will, Sally. Goodbye,”
“I’ll see you when I see you,”
Gaige silences her Echo and lets the Pandora wildlife resume their nightly music. It was under the din she hears a soft sob mingling with a growl.
Krieg’s mourning had been loud enough for all of Pandora to hear.
His cries echoed through out the enclosed canyon, over the ridges and mountains, and all the way across the vast tundras and deserts. The planet knew that the cries of the psycho were for her and her alone.
Gaige musters up the courage and re-enters the cave. The act seems intrusive, blasphemous even. She doesn’t quite know why, but she can guess it’s because now she’s walking into the grief of another human being. The paintings on the walls seem eerie now. Their flat, still eyes seem to follow her as she continues further and further into the dark.
The once beautiful, elegant portrait of the Siren now looks down at Gaige, somber, silent. It’s the face of a deity casting judgment on those who enter her temple. The face of God, Gaige thinks.
As the darkness closes her in, she feels engulfed by the sheer sorrow and desperation. Krieg’s sobs claw their way into her ears and her heart. It’s almost as if she’s been abandoned by God as well, left to die alone and hopeless on a rock in the far corner of space. Gaige tries to swallow her own emotions as she is faced with his.
Gaige remembers when she was a small girl and her mother died. Her mother was very much a God, just as Maya was to Krieg.
Gaige’s mother had brought light and warmth with her wherever she went. Flowers would suddenly spring from where she stood, the winds would cease at the wave of her hand. At least, that’s how it felt around her. Her mother could make anything happen, her mother was a force of nature.
And yet all the same, her mother had died.
An accident, a murder, Gaige never really reconciled the details in her head.
In her mind it was simpler than a skewed police investigation. Simply one moment, her sun, her moon, her everything was right by her side. The next moment, Gaige was thrown into the blackness. She had been lucky, blessed really that she wasn’t alone in the dark, dark, void of the universe drifting away. Her father had been right there with her, telling her to keep her chin up and her spirits high even when he himself was drifting even farther than she was. But it was better that way, Gaige assumes. It was better to drift off into nothing together than to drift alone.
Gaige’s body felt cold. She stopped in the middle of the dark cave and inhaled the damp, cold air.
This place was not a home. This cave was not a home.
When Maya had left she’d taken the warmth with her. She’d taken the light. The life. The joy. She’d taken it all with her and buried miles underneath the ground, never to be dug up again by Gaige, or Krieg, or anyone else that knew her.
The thing about Gods was they could be so undeniably cruel. Them in all their unflinching and unparalleled glory could whisk away the happiness from one’s life in a breath.
Gaige’s eyes began to adjust to the dark as she continued her journey deeper into the cave.
What had they done-any of them- what had they done to deserve any of it?
Gaige as child had thought it was not cleaning her room, not eating all of her vegetables, or giving her mom a hard time at bed.
She came upon Krieg, a heaping mass on the floor.
What of him? What had he done to deserve such a miserable existence?
Gaige kneels on the floor next to him. In the dark she sits beside her comrade, her brother-in-arms. A tender hand is placed upon his bare back. His skin is clammy, perhaps from the moisture in the cave, perhaps from the sweating. She feels his heart underneath her hand. It is strong, fast, like a fist grounding into the faces of bandits.
Gaige doesn’t wonder how long it the stillness will last, she doesn’t plan an exit strategy for when his rage awakens. She simply stays put and lets herself be there in the moment with him, her friend.
She never had many of those before she’d gone to Pandora. A small part of her thinks that might forever be the case.
In the darkness of the cave, Gaige’s eyes wander. They wander and wander until something bright and green-blue catches her eyes. She peers at the little dot of light in the dark cave. Suddenly, faintly, two more appear. Then three more, then ten more, then twenty more. Suddenly, the whole room is a glow. The walls are speckled in glow-in-the-dark dots. Gaige takes her hand away from Krieg and stands, shocked and surprised by the pulsating luminescence.
“It was her’s...her room,” Krieg mutters from the floor, “She was here,”
Gaige looks down at her companion. In the dark, his face is mostly obscured, even though his mask is on the floor, she cannot fully see his face. She can’t see his expression or the fat tears that roll down his face and splash into puddles on the ground.
“It was right here she said she’d be back. Right here where she left me,” Krieg breathes out. Pathetic, Gaige might have said. Expected, she knows now.
Gaige, stay right here, Sweetie. I’ll come back to get you, just stay inside. Her last words before she walked out into the dark and left her behind, forever.
Gaige lets tears of her own spill as she looks around the chamber.
Relics of the old God lie in wait for their owner to return. Guns, ammunition, candles, books, clothes, everything she had ever owned since moving to this wretched planet. What day-Gaige muses-what day had she placed down a book, reading it for the last time? What day had she stowed away a gun never knowing she’d never pick it up again? What day had she unknowingly walked away from her life and left the rest of them to drown?
For that matter, when had Gaige?
When had they all?
When was the last time the had all sat around together, laughing and enjoying life. When would they realize the shortness and sweetness of mortality?
It was then Gaige realized, Gods did not exist.
They never had.
But mortals definitely did. Mortals like Maya and Lilith. Like Roland. Like Gaige’s mother. Divine beings they were. Their love was felt by all who had known them, all who had been gracious enough to walk beside them. That was what Gaige supposed it all was.
Love was the light, the warmth, the flower growing miracle. Love was the force of nature.
Without love, life had been the cave. The damp, dreary hole in the earth that consumed everything and anything inside it was life without love. Gaige didn’t want to live in a cave. She didn’t want her friends to live in one either.
She took another look around the glowing room.
This is what love had done to such a place. It had turned a darkened prison into something extraordinary. It was felt long after the person was gone. No measure of Maya’s things could have made this any more or less her room. Instead it seemed her memory is what kept Krieg all this time. The promise of her return and of her love.
Now it was gone. Now what would he do.
Gaige thinks about the cave and has her second epiphany.
She grabs Krieg’s hand with no measure of fear and drags him out of the cave. Krieg is unwilling at first, but Gaige presses forward. She pulls him out under the Pandoran sky.
He’s confused, alarmed even. He looks at Gaige with a question resting just at the tip of his tongue. But if he speaks now, he might lose it to the Big Guy. He might never understand if he speaks now. Gaige smiles at him, easily, slowly. She sits down, as does he.
Together they look up at the night sky.
“Give me a name,” Krieg says hollowly. He decides to spend his final moments of clarity planning his revenge. He’ll start from the bottom, work his way up.
She almost indulges him, but Gaige decides to give him another one. “Maya,”
Krieg tries to argue with her, but instead he sighs and lets her name ring in his ears. Sweet music.
All fear, all hesitation Gaige has ever felt about Krieg melts away. She understands now why Krieg had loved Maya and for all she could, why Maya in her own way loved Krieg.
She was unafraid of him. She felt no fear, no prejudice, no negativity towards him. She saw the person under the mask and the unintelligible rambles. And so Gaige would too. She would honor her late friend by carrying out her traditions. She would love the vault hunters for her, all of them. If they were to drift away, it would be better to drift together.
“Maya...” Krieg echos, singing along with the fading song.
“Never heard a more beautiful sound,” Gaige says.
“Never will again,”
They sit in silence as two comets sail across the sky. Their tails interweave, threading blue and red together before burning up into light and dust in the atmosphere.
Gaige and Krieg inhale and exhale as the sun slowly rises over the horizon.