Frontier Update #15: Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning…

It’s Saturday. I’m sitting here in my office watching my cat sleep soundly amid a beam of sunlight on the carpet floor. The desk is littered with paperwork from the two business that I run. I’m downing a protein shake. It’s unseasonably warm in the suburb north of Toronto, Canada where I live with my mother and little brother and I have the window cracked open. The latest season of House of Cards is streaming on my iPad next to me while my mom catches up on Daredevil in the living room.

“Your stats are booming! From The Frontier is getting lots of traffic.” the WordPress app on my iPhone tells me. I don’t believe it’s ever told me that before.

Because it was the last chapter that I’d just posted, I created a thread/advertisement on the Bungie forum, as well as a few subreddits. I’d done it a few times before but found no traction. This time, for some reason, was different.

“Your stats are booming! From The Frontier is getting lots of traffic.”

For the first time in 15 months and through the weekend I am awestruck and humbled by the responses. Some are dumbfounded as to why I’d spend so much time writing a fanfic. A few ask me for writing advice. 99% of the responses are either bumps or praise. One person only agrees to read it because of my K/d ratio. They’re devouring the story fast! I respond to as many of them as I can because if I don’t release some of the pressure, my heart is going to explode.

Praise. For me. For my work. I’m literally shaking my head as I write that. It’s hard to fathom at moments. My fiance asks me if I’m tracking the numbers. Six minutes pass during that convo, and in that time I got 19 views. I often go six days without 19 views! Is flabbergasted a real word? I’m flabbergasted. Sunday is bigger. Monday was bigger still with over 20,000 views and over 6,100 original visitors! PlanetDestiny.com just picked Frontier up a few hours ago. I can barely handle this…

“Your stats are booming! From The Frontier is getting lots of traffic.”

THANK YOU. So many thank yous to so many of you amazing guardians that I wish that there was a better word for what I’m feeling for you. I’m a writer, so shouldn’t I have better words?

People have compared my work to Bungie’s. I have nothing but respect for their creative team. Do I think my work could be translated to the game? Maybe. As is, I don’t expect Bungie to throw any attention my way. Know what? That’s OK. I’ve reached so many readers at this point that I don’t really need Bungie’s bump to feel acknowledged. Sure, I can dream of a Community Focus article, but I won’t lose sleep over it.

Someone compared me to Ian Banks and Frank Herbert, which just writing now makes me want to break down into happy tears. How anyone could put me into the same camp as those gods is beyond me.

How much do I like Frank Herbert? This is my back.

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Yeah. 6 1/2 hours. A symphony of pain. Worth it.

Now the question is, what happens next?

Firstly, Frontier is complete. It took me a long time to figure out how to wrap it up and I didn’t like the idea of having it open-ended. Frontier wasn’t the type of story and Warden were not the type of heroes that get to ride into the sunset. I needed to tie it up, without being bleak and outright killing fireteam Warden off. Going back now and reviving them wouldn’t sit well with me. I learned what a good death was after watching masterpieces like Cowboy Bebop and playing games like Mass Effect. Death has merit. Besides, I think they’ve earned some rest, don’t you?

Thanks to some great feedback I got on the Bungie forums, I’m going to format Frontier for ebooks. PDF, ePub and Mobi. It’ll make the story easier to read for a lot of people, not to mention having it available offline. I love my Kindle and I love the idea of having my story on it. I’m going to try and have them done as soon as possible. Please follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog so you’ll know when those formats are ready to be downloaded.

Two people asked for an audiobook, and while that sounds like so much fun to make for a former podcaster like myself, I simply don’t have the resources. That said, if there’s a group out there that makes audiobooks for fun, I’d be happy to talk to them.

Before I can do any of that, I need to go back and do some editing. The vast majority of you didn’t notice anything or didn’t say anything when you did, but the first 17 chapters are lousy with errors. I’m a horrible editor of my own work and Vasily coming on to edit after chapter 18 was such an enormous boon, but I never asked him to go backwards. Now it needs to be done. When I put out offline versions, they need to be as perfect as I can make them.

Also, I’ve asked Vasily to compile some of his own thoughts on the project, so expect that post in the near future.

If I’m going to write more at this point, I should be focusing on original work. I feel that while writing a fanfic is a great way to cut one’s teeth, in the end I’m just playing with Bungie’s ball. I can do better. Not that I hadn’t considered other fanfic projects. Overwatch has my head spinning at times. I came up with a dark, alternate universe Street Fighter story concept that I sometimes think might have an audience. I could always crank out a Dungeons & Dragons tale. But in the end those are still fanfics and still based on other people’s work. Frontier set up a lot of challenges for me and I met every single one. I can create something that is entirely original and build off what I learned from Frontier. I want to do it, but it’ll take some time.

My next writing project will be my wedding vows. Beyond that, I wouldn’t mind just taking in some other people’s work for a while. I’m eager for Patrick Rothfuss’ next book in the Kingkiller saga, and there are some story-driven games that I have yet to play because it would have taken me away from writing. I think I’ve earned a bit of a vacation, just like Warden has.

In the meanwhile, fire off any questions you might have for me in the comments section! Topics like Frontier, my thoughts on the world of Destiny, gaming, writing… I’ll be happy to answer you either in the comments, or as standalone blog posts!

Again, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you!

Frontier – Act11 Chapter51 – Forward

Chapter 51: Forward

Earth
The Last City
Years later…

“It has taken years for us to rebuild this City. Our home. Years to heal from our wounds, mourn the dead and reforge our bonds. Hard time full of blood, sweat and tears. First, the Vex came to take away The Traveler, but we denied them their prize. Then the Fallen House of Kings came to our walls to strike at us while we were wounded, but they too were turned away.”

Angela stood at the podium atop the rebuilt and improved observatory in the centre of the tower lookout and took a breath to collect her thoughts before continuing. Her voice and image projected across the domain and beyond. She had expected her heart to be beating out of her chest. Perhaps in a time not so long ago, that would have been the case. She had found her mettle since then.

The young Speaker was flanked by the Vanguard leadership and other dignitaries, all in formal dress. She’d been preparing this speech for some time. She needed the people behind her for what was to come. She needed their hearts and minds. She could feel they were with her so far, and now she had to turn it up.

“Our valiant guardians protected us, laying down their restored lives for us time and again when things seemed most bleak. They stood, fought and were victorious!”

The crowd cheered.

“The factions found new common ground. The Dead Orbit became the foundation from which we built the Vanguard Navy. The Future War Cult opened their mysteries to us, allowing our research and development to jump ahead decades. New Monarchy enshrined me, your Speaker, as their Queen. New allies came to hear our call. The Queen of The Reef, The House of Judgement, the warmind Rasputin and more!”

The crowd cheered louder.

“Today, we commemorate the fateful day when three brave guardians accomplished the impossible. Through The Traveler’s blessing gifts, they destroyed the invader’s leader with a glorious blow. A single punch with such fury and power that it carved a deep valley into this mountain range that stretches into the horizon. Today, in honour of their service, bravery and sacrifice, we name this battle scar in the face of the world The Valley of The Warden.”

The crowd cheered even louder.

“The Darkness has officially been put on notice!”

The crowd roared. A chant of her name rolled through the masses. The entire City came alive. She let them and herself have it for a minute, then raised her hand to calm them.

“My people, we have walked through the forge of dark days and been remade stronger than ever before, but darker days still await us. Forces that will stop at nothing to grind us back into the dust. Will we let them?”

The crowd cried out defiantly.

“Our unity will make us stronger than anything they could ever break. Our light will burn The Darkness and its minions away. We will take back our worlds, and pioneer the golden path beyond. Today is a day of remembrance and celebration. Tomorrow, and for all the tomorrows after, we will move forever forward!”

The crowd erupted. Nothing could stop them now, Angela thought. She took a wave and vacated the podium. The festivities below were now in full swing, and the time for pretty words was over. For the people of the Last City on Earth, it was a time for joy. For Angela, it was always time for work. She had Vanguard reports to review and expansion plans to oversee. Tomorrow she’d be on a transport to The Reef to formalize trade negotiations and other partnerships.

Angela entered her private office in the observatory. An elegant space full of old books mixed with new tech. She keyed the biometric scanner hidden in the mechanisms of a sextant sitting on her wide Brazilian walnut desk. Hidden scanners in the office identified her and activated the portal.

Solas’ old lab had held up fairly well after the Vex incursion. The invaders never found a way into it, so as soon as Angela had gotten the chance after the battle, she had run down to the main entry and keyed the door. The power core was nearly drained, the unique ammo stores were all but depleted, and the main processing core was totally burned out. Ikora helped her close the few experiments that the frames were still running and relocate the main entry portal to Angela’s new office. The lab had once been where Solas prepared for Warden’s ordeal. Now, it’ll serve a new purpose.

At the centre of the lab, where Solas’ pod once was, stood something new. Within a complex assortment of cables, scanners and interfaces, three clear teardrop-shaped crystalline bulbs hung from a miniaturized version of the lab’s old power core. Each bulb containing a ghost.

After the battle, Angela had ordered Warden’s ghosts found. They were assumed dead but Angela had just become the new Speaker and she didn’t hesitate to put that influence to work. Using the wealth of tools in Solas’ lab, she discovered that Wisp, Glitch and Squire were in fact still alive, perhaps through some residual effect of The Traveler’s boon. It should not have been possible, but impossible was becoming more and more common these days. Fireteam Warden had survived by the thinnest of margins.

The three ghosts now floated comfortably in a liquid light solution pioneered recently by Omolon foundries. Slowly, they were absorbing light and gaining strength. There was no way for her to know when they’d wake up. It could be tomorrow, or it could be a hundred years from now. Every evening, Angela would come down to this lab, make sure the frames were tending to them properly as well as Angela’s other experiments, check the readouts and findings, look at the three ghosts, and promise her friends that the world they saved would flourish in their absence. Finally, before retiring to her bed, she’d always ask her friends for a small favour.

“Come back soon.”

 

Frontier – Act10 Chapter50 – Warden

Chapter 50: Warden

Angela awoke atop The Traveler’s zenith. The world’s curvature was almost noticeable from this altitude, but Angela had no trouble breathing or discomfort of any kind. Being this close to The Traveler, its essence must support life regardless of the surrounding environment, she deduced.

The last thing she recalled was getting pulled into the infection stream and the feeling of her life being drained away, before a warmness enveloped her. The voice that spoke to her was both alien and oddly familiar. It was sweetly welcoming and beyond old. The voice asked her for help, like the elderly asking for the strong hands and sturdy back of the young. She was glad to help, but had no idea how. The voice now sounded a bit like hers, and told her that now was the time for her to be strong. Now, together, they would shine like never before.

The next thing she knew, she was on top of The Traveler, and in the distance, though mere specks of light and echoes of booms could be perceived from this far away, she knew what was happening. She looked up, and the machine god of a bygone age prepared to strike at home.

She filled her lungs with air and screamed at the faraway point of light that carried all their fates with it. “Fight!”

Solas, Telemica and Vatyr simply ceased to be amid the furious torrent of light. When it calmed and coalesced, what remained was a towering humanoid figure made of blue-white light and without any discernible features. It had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. It had no fingers or toes. It wore no clothes. Its body had no definition denoting biology or gender. Its boundaries shifted and licked like the surface of a flame. Its core was intensely bright but required no strain to gaze into.

Virulion The Infecting Mind fired a pair of torch hammer shots at it, but the shots were harmlessly absorbed into its being. The Vex fired several more shots but with the same result. The new entity stood motionless, facing The Traveler in reverent posture.

It was when Virulion charged with a lunging right punch that the entity heard it. A girl’s voice. “Fight”, the girl said. The entity twisted with supernatural speed and caught Virulion’s fist, stopping it dead. The impact echoed across the landscape. Virulion attempted to pull itself free but couldn’t. The entity pulled the fist in to grab Virulion’s arm, spun around, and threw Virulion back towards the lookout with ease. The Vex sailed through the air with a defiant roar and came down with a crash. The Infecting Mind got up quickly, but the entity was already standing in front of him, waiting.

When it spoke, sound emanated from it in all directions. Its voice was a combination of the three guardians that formed it. “I am The Warden. This place and these people are under my protection. Be gone.”

Virulion’s chestplates shifted and moved, revealing a cavity which held the last fragment of the seed of darkness from which Virulion emerged. The evil pulsing heart of Virulion, The Infecting Mind. Cables and connections webbed through and around the seed. Virulion was showing The Warden that he was chosen. Blessed. An ordained avatar of the Darkness’ will. Screaming tendrils of diseased energy shot out of the seed and hooked into The Warden, attempting to drain the entity of its light. A sound raked from Virulion that could be considered nauseating laughter.

The Warden didn’t stagger or shift. The tendrils buried their way in, but burned away in moments. The seed sent out more and more in an effort to devour this entity of pure light, but every attempt simply evaporated. The Warden’s light was simply too intense for The Darkness to corrupt.

Virulion quickly closed its chest to protect the seed and brought both its arms together in front of it. Components shifted and rearranged until the Vex monster’s arms and body formed a singular immense energy cannon. Virulion would destroy this abomination of light in the name of God. It took moments to charge and the blast would land at point-blank range, but The Warden didn’t move.

The avalanche of dark energies Virulion unleashed seemed to roar up without sound from the pits of some nameless hell and spill into the world like a plaque of ruin, leveling what was left of the Tower Watch and collapsing a large section of the nearby hangar. It was as if the pure and unadulterated will of some dark god of destruction poured out of the Vex’s body. Such a thing could exist for only moments, but that was all it needed to annihilate anything in this universe.

The Warden stood unharmed. Through Virulion’s armour, the seed screamed in rage. The Infecting Mind separated his arms again and threw a desperate haymaker punch. Midway through the attack, The Warden countered, in a flash severing both Virulion’s arms at the shoulders with a flurry of cleaving knifehand strikes.

Virulion staggered and convulsed as the seed of Darkness within it attempted one last time to lash out, bursting out from the chest of The Infecting Mind and leaving Virulion a dead hulk for its penance. The seed lashed out like a hydra, constantly growing hellish heads and tentacles to replace the ones that either burned away in the light or were severed by The Warden’s uncanny counters. The tables so obviously turned only seemed to cause Virulion to attack more violently and exhausting itself, perhaps feeling its end was at hand.

When the futile attacks ceased, the Warden slid its right leg back and brought its arms up to deliver a serious, finishing blow. “You end is now. The rest of your kind will meet the same fate… in time.”

 

Frontier – Act10 Chapter49 – Brave

Chapter 49: Brave

Telemica lifted a slab of debris away from the corner Solas was buried in.

“Are you alright?” the titan asked with concern.

“For the most part. Vatyr?”

“Up here.” Vatyr answered over comms, high above the now demolished Tower Watch and coming in to land near his comrades. “The Speaker’s ship just detonated on contact. Vapourized. Pretty much no significant debris from the ship itself. The effect is similar to a slipspace core overload. I recognized the telltale whine of a jump core being overspun, but I’ve never seen the fallout so localized and focused. Virulion was sent sailing through the back wall and into the lookout, but he’s still moving. Doesn’t look too damaged either. I’m surprised this tower is still standing to be honest. All that energy must have been focused right into the Vex. Crazy.”

“We all knew The Speaker was powerful. A fitting end.” Telemica considered.

“What about Angela?” Solas demanded. The warlock ran back to the centre of the watch to find most of it had been obliterated by The Speaker. Peering out, he saw Angela still hanging in the air in a huge mote of The Traveler’s essence-light. It was significantly brighter than before, and the infection stream had been completely severed.

“Angela. Angela, can you hear me?” Solas queried into open comms. There was no response. The light around her continued to grow and take on an aggressive note. Was The Traveler trying to defend itself?

Virulion shifted and whined, throwing debris off itself and rising.

“He looks pissed off.” Vatyr noted.

“Good.” Solas growled. With a roaring fury, he sent a salvo of huge nova bombs hurtling towards the Vex, slamming Virulion with enough void light to level a small apartment building. The Infecting Mind shielded itself with its arms and braced under the impact. It was not seriously damaged by any stretch, but it was not immune to the attack either.

“It felt that! The light barrier is gone. Angela and The Speaker broke the link, making it vulnerable.” Telemica shouted in triumph. Her armour’s systems burst with renewed vigour.

“Let’s go!” yawped Vatyr. Fireteam Warden leaped into the fray with Virulion quickly, before the Vex could reestablish its attack on The Traveler.

Vatyr ignited his anti-ship beam saber once again and attacked Virulion in tandem with Telemica’s Buster Sword from opposite directions. Virulion brought its arms up and blocked the massive blades with surprising speed, shrugging them off easily and batting Telemica with the back of a hand. The titan was sent smashing through a high section of the wall. Vatyr blasted upwards and rained harassing fire down on Virulion with his Dis heavy machine gun.

Solas called forth a vast reserve of void light and reached his mind deep down into the weave of reality. Focusing on Virulion’s glass-like structure, he willed the crystal to vibrate. Solas wanted to shake the monster apart, atom by atom.

Telemica launched out of her hole with an echoing battle cry. Spinning, she sent two sweeping waves of solar light at Virulion from her feet, as well as a meteoric jet from her left arm.

The Infecting Mind blocked the titan’s first two solar attacks and redirected the last one up at Vatyr, narrowly missing him but forcing him to veer off. Then, opening his huge palms and exposing a port in each that looked like the muzzles of torch hammers, he fired two immense blasts of boiling energy at the titan and warlock. Solas was too focused on his attack to react in time. A hastily erected barrier saved his life but sent him sprawling. Telemica narrowly managed to evade it with the aerial maneuvering capabilities of the Spiral Caliber system. She tried to press the attack, but Virulion was ready for it. He grabbed her out of the air and tossed her back in the direction of The Traveler. She would have gone clear over the side and fallen to her death if Vatyr didn’t pluck her out of the air.

Solas scrambled for cover behind a toppled pillar while his comrades observed from above. “We certainly have his attention now.”

“For all the good it’s doing us. We still can’t put any real hurt on him. I’ve never seen a Vex move like that!” exclaimed Vatyr.

“Or take that level of punishment. Guardians have defeated Vex like this before, right?” Telemica asked.

“Yes. The Sol Progeny of the Black Garden were little more than enormous, lumbering minotaurs. Easy to take down if you’re smart enough. Atheon’s defeat within the Vault of Glass was made narrowly possible by the disruption of the Vault’s Oracles, which allowed Atheon’s significant control over the local spacetime of the Vault of Glass’ interior to be neutralized just enough to claim victory. Neither strategy will assist us here,” informed Solas.

“Great. Does anyone have any ideas?” Vatyr asked with some frustration.

Let the light flow through you…

“Who-”

Let the light flow through you…

“Angela?” Solas asked to nobody. Turning to look at the young girl, he could barely perceive her through the enormous amount of light pouring out of The Traveler and surrounding her.

“Is that Angela on comms?” asked Telemica.

“She’s made direct contact with The Traveler for the first time since The Collapse, but through some sort of shared dream-state. Whatever is speaking to us through our light is a merged consciousness between Angela and The Traveler.”

“She really is The Speaker now.” Vatyr said with a note somewhere between mourning and hope. He dropped off Telemica by Solas and reengaged The Infecting Mind with his Dis heavy machine gun. “We can’t let him attack Angela. I’ll keep him occupied for as long as I can. Solas, think!”

Solas’ celestial-sized mind raced, arriving finally at a strategy that gave definitive new meaning to the phrase ‘last-ditch’, but was no doubt the only play they had left. “Years ago, I toyed with the idea of giving guardians one final option. It never worked properly, but with Angela and The Traveler’s help, there’s an infinitesimal chance it could work for us here and now.”

“I’m all ears!” Vatyr said as he dodged oversized torch hammer blasts.

“I’d reduce us to our core light, and merge the three essence patterns that each of our ghosts hold into a single being of staggering power. Easily enough to defeat Virulion.”

“Sounds great! Let’s do that!”

“The chances that the merger would work are, as I said, infinitesimal. Even if it did work, the resulting lifeform would only last a few short minutes. Also, we three as individuals as well as the entities within our ghosts would cease to exist. We’d die.”

Telemica grabbed hold of Solas’ arm. “We’ve died before, remember? Dying again was always a pretty good possibility in our world.”

“But… our time…” Solas found himself at a loss for words. The silent and deafening conflict brought on by the return of their memories had been pushed to the side for the moment by a world-ending battle, but he needed to fix this wound between him and Telemica. Even if it took lifetimes.

Telemica’s lips found where Solas’ forehead would be if he had eyes. “Our time is once again at an end, but I know no fear or regret because you are once again with me, my love.”

Had she been contemplating the past this whole time? Had she ever been conflicted by it? Solas was one of the most brilliant minds the star system had ever seen, but he’d always been ignorant of the emotional aspects of life. Perhaps it had been a simple willful blindness. He was often told he needed to pay more attention to the feelings of others, as well as his own. It had been the one puzzle in his life that scared him, so he avoided it. Now, all of those walls he’d built up around his heart were suddenly gone, and only she remained. He placed his hand over hers. The fear was simply gone, and for the first time in perhaps both of his lives, he needed no words.

“Vatyr, meet us centre stage. We’re doing the crazy thing.” Telemica commanded as she pulled.

“Yes ma’am! Operation crazy thing is a go.” Vatyr joked as he swooped down to meet them at the broken ledge made of what remained of the tower watch. “Guys, just so you know, it has been an honour and a privilege. I may have failed my family and my fleet during The Collapse, but it’s good to know I won’t fail you.”

Telemica clasped Vatyr’s shoulder in understanding, and then turned to Solas, “So how do we save the world?”

“Clear your mind and do what the little lady told you to. Let the light flow through you.” Solas offered. Within each guardian, silent thanks and farewells were offered to the little lights that bore them for so long. The dutiful Squire. The enigmatic Wisp. The daring Glitch. The hunter and titan took one last look at Virulion before closing their eyes. Four of Solas’ hands took hold of theirs while the remaining two began to weave the world, opening a conduit to Angela.

 

Frontier – Act10 Chapter48 – Sacrifice

Chapter 48: Sacrifice

The clock ticked, and the world became darker.

Telemica and Vatyr continued to engage Virulion, The Infecting Mind. At least, they attempted to engage him. Virulion’s focus remained solely on The Traveler. The Vex monster refused to acknowledge either the guardians or their attacks.

Solas hung back and applied himself to the puzzle before him. He poked and pulled at Virulion’s being from every angle and dimension he could access doing everything he could to open up some sort of gap in the defense.

The clock was ticking. While the City beyond was slowly being retaken by guardian forces, comm channels were beginning to take interest in the rapidly changing sky, as it was clearly not Vex-related. Solas refused to explain the truth of the situation. What purpose would it serve? There was nothing anyone could do. Virulion’s infection was progressing at an alarming rate, and his barrier made of the essence-light of The Traveler was unnervingly effective at negating any incursions the guardians tried to make. It made perfect sense to Solas. The guardians got their power from The Traveler. It was insanity to think that The Traveler’s gifts could be used against it. The warlock’s expanded mind raced to find a solution.

The clock ticked, and The Traveler began to slump in the air.

“You’ve become so strong since you first came to me, but this is beyond madness… even for you!” The Speaker pleaded to his young apprentice at the other end of the commlink. The Speaker was at the helm of an old Arcadia-class jumpship and bringing it in alongside the stream of sickly corruption that connected Virulion to The Traveler. Angela was crouched on top of the jumpship, holding on for dear life as the inexperienced pilot at the helm maneuvered into position.

“This is the only way either of us can think of to break the Vex’s connection to The Traveler and turn the tide of this battle. Warden can’t do it themselves and we’re running out of time! There is no other way to dissuade Rasputin from leveling this entire mountain range.” Angela reaffirmed. “I’ll be able to give them the opening Warden needs to end this!”

“You could die! You simply do not understand how important you are to us!”

“We’re all going to die if I don’t!”

The Speaker wanted to argue her out of this plan. He wanted nothing more than to turn the ship around and find another way. He wanted to protect her, but he knew it was impossible. Angela was far too headstrong and tenacious. He adjusted his course to bring Angela directly under the stream. “I’ll hold position right under you. After you’ve broken the connection, I’ll catch you. I promise.”

She wanted to tell him how much he meant to her, but she needed to stay focused. She could feel the stream of sickness sap her strength from a few feet above her head. Was this what The Traveler was feeling? The effect intensified as the ship inched closer, as if the spectre of death was breathing down her neck. Every cell in her body was demanding that she escape, but she forced herself to reach up and let herself be absorbed by the riptide of energy.

Angela’s scream of anguish seemed to carry along the stream like an echo down a metal tube and slam into Virulion with enough force to slightly stagger him. Warden’s full attention turned to the girl suspended in midair, but only Solas knew what she was trying to do. Her connection to The Traveler allowed her to act as a graft over the wound torn open by Virulion’s infection. A boost to The Traveler’s natural defenses. Her hope was that The Traveler would then be able to break the connection itself, but that didn’t happen. Virulion refocused its efforts, causing the contagion to rip through the young girl.

“Angela! Get out of there!” The Speaker pleaded. She couldn’t respond. Looking though a camera, The Speaker could see that she was clearly unconscious, but still pouring out massive amounts of light. Her arms were spread wide in the air as if she were trying to block Virulion’s efforts with her tiny body. Slowly, pure light crept from The Traveler through the stream and into Angela’s back, brightening her already radiant aura.

For the first time, Virulion appeared to be set upon. The barrier around him seemed to flicker and dim. The infection stream thinned.

“Whatever she’s doing, it’s working.” Vatyr noted. He fired off a few rounds from his rifle, but even though Virulion’s barrier was weakened, the projectiles still bounced off harmlessly.

“Fall back, Warden. We need to regroup and come up with a new plan before Angela’s light is exhausted completely,” ordered Telemica.

“No! You will not diminish her sacrifice! For the City!” The Speaker bellowed at Virulion. Gritting his teeth and throwing the throttle forward hard, he sent his jumpship on a collision course with The Infecting Mind. His old lungs launched into a dead man’s defiant war cry as he poured all of his light into the ship itself.

The clock stopped. The world turned on its head as The Speaker’s suicide attack found its mark.

 

Frontier – Act10 Chapter47 – Infection

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.

“Come again?”

“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.

 

Frontier – Act10 Chapter46 – Annihilating

Chapter 46: Annihilating

Earth
The Last City
Ground Zero

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.

“Where?”

“The same supermassive singularity accretion disk that their weapons pull their energy from.”

“How?”

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.

“Impossible!”

“Lastly, and hopefully quite obvious at this point, there was one element to this game that you and the Vex neglected to properly qualify.”

“Which was?”

“Me.”

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.