Chapter 47: Infection
The petrified ash that moments ago was the body of The Companion Mind known as Arrenn Gee quickly became airborne as the sky above the City became angrier. Rasputin was perhaps minutes away from deploying the Black Sun protocol, a gravitational annihilation beam weapon that would reduce its target into 4D holographic data in much the same way that quantum singularities did. Its existence was only known to a very select few in the higher echelons of Vanguard Command. Panic would have surely resulted if the general population had known that the warmind had such a weapon hanging over their heads.
Solas understood why Rasputin was taking this course of action, and understood why all attempts to dissuade him proved fruitless. Even after all this time, Rasputin still had little faith in guardians. The only way to stop Rasputin was to end the threat, so without giving himself time to rest or congratulate himself on his victory, he turned his complete attention to the seed of Darkness.
The sickly oil-like energy stream of corruption that poured out of the seed curved and twisted its way through the air, ending at The Traveler and gradually covering the huge white orb like a disease. Arcs of light traveled back along the stream. Was the seed feeding on The Traveler? Solas could sense that the connection was far too strong to break with brute force and there was not enough time for proper analysis, therefore the only option was to destroy the seed itself. But how to do that? The only other encounter with a seed was in The Black Garden, and the seed was only vulnerable after inhabiting the Sol Progeny. The prevailing theory was that the seed itself couldn’t directly influence the physical world, so it required hosts and subjects to do its bidding, but here it was, affecting The Traveler. How?
Among the myriad of broken Vex bodies, Solas sat in full lotus and opened his mind to the convulsing mass of evil before him. Something was unique about this seed. He sensed little he could understand, until a speck of Arrenn’s remains carried on the wind to the seed and touched its surface. The roiling body of the seed exploded in a furious torrent of what Solas could only describe as anti-life, throwing the warlock backwards and blanketing the watch in a thick miasma. Once it cleared, Solas had his answer.
The seed was exactly that, a seed from which something was intended to grow. What emerged stood nearly as tall as Atheon. A wide body of glass that was reminiscent of a more evolved hydra, with humanoid limbs and a cycloptic head atop its torso. Eight small balls of darkness similar in appearance to the seed floated around him. The infection stream continued to pour out the Vex’s crystalline body and towards The Traveler like a thick smog.
The last Shard brother finally emerged from his chrysalis. Virulion The Infecting Mind.
Solas sent out a quick burst message on every friendly channel he knew of, informing them of the situation. On the surface of it, this seemed to work in their favour. Now the seed was gone, and a corporeal entity could be defeated.
Solas’ six hands became a blur of light as he attempted to bind Virulion. Small portals to Sol’s photosphere opened up around the Vex giant, launching thick solar filaments at it. The ropes of light looped around and lashed Virulion, impeding his movement. More portals opened as Solas continued his binding.
Solas considered how to destroy the now-bound monster, but only had a few seconds before he saw that it would not be so easy. The orbs of darkness quickly whizzed around Virulion, severing the filaments and collapsing the portals. The Vex was free in less time than it took to bind him.
Solas was suddenly knocked to his knees, not by a physical attack, but by something else. A psychic attack? No, that was not something the Vex did. This was something else. Psychic vibrations pulsed from Virulion’s glass shell with such strength that it was like Solas’ mind was being shaken apart. Concepts flooded in. Anger. Destruction. The zealot-like fanaticism of these acts was the will of God. Wordless thoughts and fractals of emotions boomed deafeningly in Solas’ skull. The warlock found it impossible to focus on anything, or even grasp on to a single thought of his own. This was how The Infecting Mind communicated. He screamed his dark thoughts at you until your will to resist was buried under the rubble of your shattered psyche.
“Here we come to save the day!” called out Vatyr over comms. Solas could focus just enough to perceive Vatyr flying in with Telemica in tow. The titan dropped from 20 feet and landed in front of the warlock. The resonance of her null jacket distorted the telepathic link enough for Solas to break it. He rose to his feet slowly and quickly slapped together a psychic barrier patch for himself, while also remote-installing it in the armour Telemica and Vatyr wore.
Telemica turned to face Virulion with sword unsheathed. “Did you take care of Arrenn?” she asked.
“Conclusively. He was protecting his brother, who just emerged from the seed. Meet Virulion, The Infecting Mind. We only have a few minutes to defeat him before Rasputin launches his attack,” informed Solas.
“Not a problem. I’ll end this in one shot!” hollered Vatyr. He’d landed on the centre peak of the watch’s architecture and deployed Infinity Cylinder, his new sniper rifle. The unusually long barrel and thick cable connecting the rifle’s body to the back of Vatyr’s Astranagant armour told Telemica that the weapon was less of an anti-personnel weapon and more of heavy anti-material cannon, designed to eliminate heavy and hardened targets from extreme ranges. Judging from the advanced nature of Solas’ other creations, the titan guessed it could punch a hole clear through a Cabal land tank in a single shot. Vatyr brought the rifle up to aiming position and a grin formed on his face.
The body of the rifle seemed based on the newest fusion rifle tech, as there were six heavy fusion cores laid out in a tight hexagon that came to life. Vatyr’s wings furled out and back, venting the vast amount of excess heat away from his body.
Virulion seemed to either not notice the two new guardians, or not care. He slowly turned his hulking form back towards The Traveler. The sickening miasma began to pour out of him thicker and faster than before, as if he were refocusing his efforts on dominating his target.
“Don’t wanna play with us? I’d rather not shoot you in the back, but I’m not above taking the shot when the clock is running.” Vatyr mused. “Stand back! This thing packs a wallop!” he screamed as the Infinity Cylinder’s cores roared deafeningly. The hunter pressed the trigger, and the world lit up. A high-pitch scream burst forth from the weapon’s barrel, along with an intensely wrathful bright beam of white-hot light.
The event shook Telemica’s perception enough that it took her a full second to turn and see the beam’s target still standing, Infinity Cylinder’s beam shattering of some invisible barrier around the Vex. Some beams arched into the sky, while others lanced straight into the tower or off to skewer far off mountain faces.
Before an expletive could escape the lips of either Vatyr or Telemica, Solas braced. Infinity Cylinder’s shot would end soon and another may not be possible in this fight. He had to act fast. His hands shot out and grasped at the sky that the beams cut across and pulled fiercely. Through a sheer force of will that some warlocks would find astounding while others would deem inelegant, he curved the beams back towards Virulion like a flower’s petals closing in the moonlight. Infinity Cylinder began to cut into Virulion’s front mere fractions of a second after its shot broke across his back.
By the time the attack got Virulion’s attention, the rifle’s charge was expended. “Not the game-ending attack I was hoping for.” Vatyr mused darkly. “Now what?”
“Now we press the attack until the damn thing falls!” Telemica cried out, already leaping on Spiral Caliber’s solar burst at Virulion with a fully-deployed Buster Sword. She swung hard at his head, powering through with her new arm and doing her best to sever the Vex’s head from the rest of his body. Thunder clapped as the blade met Virulion’s protective barrier, but that just made Telemica press harder with an ecstatic war cry.
Recalling Infinity Cylinder and deploying Exia, an autorifle that doubled as an anti-starship beam sword when the barrel was connected to Anstranagant’s feathers. Vatyr’s energy blade slammed into the opposite side of Virulion’s neck, doubling the titan’s continued assault like scissors.
Before Solas could warn his comrades, the barrier pulsed once with a deep bass sound that rocked the world, sending all three guardians flying back and slamming into the walls of the watch.
“This isn’t going to be that simple,” noted Solas through considerable pain as he got up.
“So, do you have a plan?” asked Vatyr.
“That’s a light-equalization barrier of staggering density and genuinely transcendental complexity. Virulion is using The Traveler’s core essence-light to protect itself from our attacks. At the same time, Virulion is injecting a quasi-pathogenic anti-light construct into The Traveler in an attempt to dominate it,” explained Solas.
“We use The Traveler’s light to do what we do, but it is impossible to use that light – The Traveler’s very nature – to injure The Traveler itself. The Infecting Mind was designed to take advantage of this fact. To shroud himself in The Traveler’s light to defend against us, while taking control of its host. Without overcoming that defense, none of our attacks will land.”
“So what you’re telling me is that for the first time ever, you have… no plan?” suggested Telemica.
“I’m working on it.” assured Solas in a tone that was halfway between personally insulted and honestly grave.
“That’s not what I wanted to hear.” the titan mused as she readied herself for another attack.
Solas didn’t want to let on how dire the situation was. Could a way be found around the barrier? Probably, after months or maybe years of research on a target that was not trying to kill them. The problem was that they didn’t have months. In the next few minutes, either the Vex would take The Traveler as an offering to The Darkness, Rasputin would destroy everything, or both. Virulion’s imposing and disregarding back was beginning to look bigger by the second, and the sky was most definitely getting darker.