Chapter 46: Annihilating
The Last City
Ikora felt his presence before she saw the shimmer indicative of a higher-dimensional transmat insertion. How could she ever forget the telltale tingle in the air caused by her mentor, friend and closest confidant? She could only spare the effort to open her eyes for a single moment and witness him standing there. The others were far more surprised.
“Warlock Solas! Get your damned head down!” cried out Cayde. Solas was standing in the middle of the Hall of Guardians, and was a clear shot for the Vex to take. Crimson bolts lanced at Solas from the hallway, and evaporated inches from him. Several more volleys assaulted the Exo but none landed, merely ceasing to exist before landing.
Solas walked up to the hallway, and extended his arms. Before that point Cayde had been too concerned with the wellbeing of the warlock, and the confusion directly after, to notice.
Solas had six arms.
More accurately, Solas had four additional arms, a pair above and a pair below the one anyone would expect to see. It was difficult to see where they connected to his body under the layers that a warlock’s garb normally entailed, but there didn’t seem to be any additional apparatus connecting the arms to his body. No backpack. The Exo must have made the modifications directly, Cayde surmised.
As the Vex considered how to attack an enemy such as this, Solas’ six hands began to weave patterns of light in the air. Cayde had seen this sort of light expression before from many of the highest-level warlocks, but never with this level of complexity, and obviously only with two hands. All six danced in expert coordination, composing light as if it were a full orchestra.
Then, in a blink of an eye, the Vex in the hall were gone. The air popped as it rushed in to fill the sudden vacuum left by the departed units.
“What-” Cayde began to ask.
“I moved them.” Solas answered.
“The same supermassive singularity accretion disk that their weapons pull their energy from.”
Solas didn’t answer, instead making his way down the hall and up the stairs.
The entire Watch was swarming with Vex. Hobgoblins and praetorians stood on guard for the seed of Darkness, now grown large enough to block Solas’ view of The Traveler. Solas could feel what it was doing to The Traveler. Poison. Infection. Domination. Solas’ entry into the area instantly caused every Vex gun to be trained on him.
Extending his arms as though he were about to begin to lead a symphony, he called upon his true weapon.
A book appeared in front of him. The large ornate tome floated silently in the air. It opened fully to him as if he were going to read from it, its spine cracking with the sound of old natural bindings. Within were pages made not of paper, but of light. Impossibly thin, they fluttered back and forth in a rainbow blur, humming and whistling whimsically. Within the tome, Wisp was remotely connecting Solas’ mind to the pod in his lab via a hyper-entanglement interlink, and in turn bridging Solas’ mind to the gargantuan quantum processing capabilities that the pod afforded him. Solas’ true weapon had always been his mind, and now it was fully unleashed.
The Vex began their assault on the intruder, loosing a torrent of gunfire upon him. The Exo warlock blink-stepped with such speed and rapidity that he seemed to be in more than a dozen places at once. Light poured from Solas’ 30 fingertips, intricately weaving reality around him at the speed of thought. Cryptic symbols and labyrinthine constructs of power filled the space. Vex fired wildly at afterimages, sometimes destroying other Vex with friendly fire in the process. The remaining Vex came to a variety of ends, but all in short order. Some vanished as those in the hall did, while others exploded into light or evaporated like dust in the wind. One was encased in a jet-black coffin of energy and quickly transformed into pure Hawking radiation.
In seconds, Solas was left with only two opponents: whatever was within the seed of Darkness, and former guardian Arrenn Gee.
“I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced.” spoke Arrenn, who had yet to turn and give notice to the Exo.
“No, but I’ve met another Shard.” Solas noted as he walked toward his foe. Arrenn had completely shed his human visage to reveal an incredibly imposing Vex. Arrenn was only a fraction smaller than a minotaur but no less imposing. At the same time, his glass-like body was far more complex than an average Vex, giving Solas a sense of his deadly speed and accuracy. Add to that Arrenn’s ability to manipulate reality like a warlock and his lineage as one of the Shards. Solas knew that this would be no simple contest.
“No doubt brother Atheon told you that there was no way you could find victory. You most of all should be aware of all the turning gears here. Why come back at all? Why try to protect that which is doomed to fall?” Arrenn asked, turning to meet Solas. Solas had never seen such a face on a Vex. Though cycloptic, it was humanoid and amazingly complex given how little the Vex would care for such things or even what most Exo were gifted with. Did Arrenn create his own face? The perfect baleful sneer that the metallic face formed spoke volumes of the unique entity within. The creature inside surely demanded a shell that could properly display the evil it contained.
“I’ve studied many things in my time, and the Vex have been one of the most interesting of subjects. You want us to think that your existence denotes our inevitable defeat, but in fact it’s the other way around. Your current state, still bound by the laws of a universe you have yet to fully tame, proves that we can match you. We can survive. We can prevail. You think us so small, but I’ve seen it. The golden path. The way forward. The only way forward. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when I saw that the path led right through you.”
Solas’ last words had barely left his lips before Arrenn was upon him, a black metal vibroknife heated to a dull lava glow in his left hand, driving for the Exo’s face. Solas’ two upper arms were fast and strong enough to catch the Vex’s wrist before it landed, but just barely. Arrenn’s face had turned from a malefic sneer to a visage of deadly rage, and his right hand was inches away from Solas’ torso, weaving a quick gravity pulse into existence.
Solas was thrown back, slamming hard into the archway leading to the Hall of Guardians and collapsing down the steps.
“You speak of things you can’t possibly understand. We are the Vex! Our realm encompasses all of spacetime. Our influence over reality is complete! We exist in every possibility. Our victory is the only probability! You are less than nothing on the cosmic scales that we control.” Arrenn roared while stalking towards the steps with the intent of grinding what was left of the Exo under his boot.
Solas rocketed into the air, levitating within an aura of light. His two lower arms were wrapped in thick steel cables that he tore up from under the steps, their ends in his palms sparking wildly.
“It’s no wonder you posed as a warlock. You talk too much.” Solas asserted calmly. His four remaining hands wove quickly. In an instant, the entire watch filled with lightning. The Vex was lifted into the air as he was assailed by most of the power that usually kept the Tower alive. The cables in Solas’ hands glowed white-hot as they conducted far more energy than they were used to, as Solas used the power to attack Arrenn on an atomic level, hacking away at the bonds that held the materials that held him together.
Just as it seemed that Arrenn would be broken down, the cables failed and melted into glowing molten metals, giving the Vex his chance to retreat to the relative shelter of the seed. Solas fell to the ground. The attack had exhausted him.
“Impressive. I have to say that you’ve surprised me. We could take shots like that at each other all day, but that would bore me. I couldn’t present such an ugly victory to god! What do you say we finish this properly?” quizzed Arrenn, standing in wait a few feet from Solas.
The Exo got up. He knew exactly what Arrenn had in mind. It was called The World Circle. There was a time before the City’s walls were raised when warlocks fought deadly duels in this fashion, but such practices had fallen out of favour since the advent of the crucible. Legends suggested that the symbol that Osiris took as his own was patterned after this contest.
They stood nine feet apart and saluted each other in the traditional warlock way, with the right-hand palm covering the left closed fist. Outstretching their open palms to each other, they formed the circle. Between them was a ring of jet-black null-energy. A blank canvas that was intrinsically connected to both combatants. From this, two warlocks would weave, attack and defend their opponent until one was defeated, and almost always dead.
The two warlocks began to create constructs within the circle; symbols of power formed a new cryptography of local reality. Leylines intersected where one warlock attempted to block or parry the other’s efforts. Attacks landed on a warlock’s essence while their bodies reacted sympathetically. The goal was not to kill your opponent from physical trauma, but to obliterate the very concept of their being.
Every minute into the battle, another circle randomly formed, intersecting the main one in some fashion and expanding the battlefield in unpredictable ways. The first addition was equal to the size of the original but hung perpendicular, creating an entire third dimension to the trial. Equations of life and death flooded outwards and around the combatants, interlacing furiously as each warlock attempted to get ahead of the other.
Minutes passed as the circles rapidly filled with death. Solas quickly learned that Arrenn was adept at feints and misdirection, while Arrenn found it a challenge to cope with Solas’ vast breadth of skill. Moves came at a furious pace, neither combatant daring to take more than a moment to consider their next series of moves.
Neither warlock seemed to be gaining an advantage over the other when a crack of thunder shattered the world. The warlocks staggered as if they were slammed by sonic booms but dared not break from the Circle, as certain death awaited those that took the coward’s way out. The bright noon sun that normally lit up the brisk mountain valley quickly darkened as Sol was eclipsed from the centre out. The sky turned an angry lightning-filled violet, and the wind picked up to match the deathly tone.
“You’re quite a skilled combatant, but I’m afraid your time is at an end! When Rasputin attempts to destroy The Traveler in the hopes of keeping its power from God, my brother within the seed will seal it off in a localized time-dilation field. This City will be leveled. The Traveler will soon after succumb to our corruption, and then nothing in this universe will be able to stop us!” gloated Arrenn with a cackle.
“Impressive plan. Firstly, thank you for this invigorating match. It has been an enjoyable distraction, as well useful in keeping your attention away from the efforts of my comrades. Even now, the tide of the battle throughout is turning heavily in our favour. In fact, I feel a small amount of guilt by indulging the ego of such a weak opponent while my friends did all the real work.” Solas calmly noted.
“What? How dare-”
“Secondly, thank you for confirming your plans. My calculations pointed almost assuredly towards it, but it’s pleasant to have my findings verified.” Solas continued.
“Lastly, and hopefully quite obvious at this point, there was one element to this game that you and the Vex neglected to properly qualify.”
It was then that Arrenn realized how outmatched he had been from the beginning. Solas’ four additional hands had yet to be employed in The World Circle, but were only the tip to the enormous iceberg of his power. His tome gave him access to all of his vast mental resources, and his enhanced body allowed him to apply those resources on a truly exponential scale. Multidimensional thoughts processed in attoseconds. Fingers weaved with such blinding speed that they nearly disappeared, and with such accuracy that Arrenn almost found himself in awe. Solas was operating at a level so far beyond Arrenn that the only way the he could realize it was to have it plainly demonstrated.
The Circles suddenly filled with an overwhelming incursion. Before Arrenn could counter, Solas perfectly and conclusively dominated their shared world. Arrenn’s essence was unconditionally ripped away from his self in the span of a breath. Perhaps if The Companion Mind had not been so shocked at the revelation, he would have had the chance for one last retort, but it was too much, too fast. Arrenn was simply gone. Erased. His vacant shell fell back, completely evaporating into rusty dust in the strong wind with nothing left to land on the floor.