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.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Frontier – Act09 Chapter41 – Deep Stone Crypt

Chapter 41: Deep Stone Crypt

Where am I?

What am I?

Am I?

I?

Grappling with the concept of I is like trying to hold smoke in my hands. Nebulous. No matter what self does, self leaks out of every crack in self. Maybe self is the smoke trying to keep self from wafting away to nothing. Yes, that’s it. Self’s mind is barely holding a form.

Self needs to move forward. Forward… where? Self has no concept of where self is, and yet some instinct is telling self to just go.

The first step. I apparently have legs. In fact, I’m a bit more solid now. Stone-like. I feel stiff. Gritty. The same grey-black stone and fertile earth under me also makes me. All of me.

Step. The smoke-self is gone. I’m not leaking anymore. I am I, fully and completely. I can see further now, as well. The sun is cutting across a mountain ridge in the distance, scattering unnatural fancies of light over the sky and terrain as it sets. There’s something in the far distance. I feel a pull towards it. A purpose. My only purpose, though I have no idea why.

Step. I’m much closer now. Far closer than a single step should have taken me. This place might not be real, but perhaps it’s simply a different kind of real. I’m not quite sure I’m real yet. There are others. Others exist, when only moments ago it seemed the concept of I was hard to grasp. There’s something rising high into the sky out of the group. A stone spire in the shape of a giant fist. I’m drawn to it.

Step. I’m among them now. They’re made of the same stuff as me, but most seem somewhat less than me. Less substantial. Less corporeal. They seem happy though. Content in this place. They’re not moving towards the spire. Some are pushing through the mob, as I feel I must.

Step. They’re packed so tightly together. Their shuffling and random paths would have knocked me down a few times if there was enough space to fall. It takes almost all my effort and limited physicality to make my way through. The closer they get to the spire, the more agitated they seem. They move faster. They swing about as if they’re under attack. The spire seems so close now. I’m almost through.

Fall. Pain. I’m on the ground. Have I been hit? No, I’ve made it past the violent throng. This is a pressure. A force is being exerted on me, like a mountain avalanche falling on me, or an ocean drawing me down. I notice that at some point I started breathing because now it seems almost impossible to. There are others. They scream in… pain? No. Terror. They crawl back to the others. Others can barely move at all. I have to get up. I have to keep going.

Stand. Step. It gets worse the closer I get to the spire. I stumble again but do not fall, focusing on keeping my feet under me.

Step. More pain. Slashing pain. Bludgeoning pain. Burning pain. Freezing pain. It’s coming from all around me, but nothing is there. My parts tell me they’re damaged and failing, but I force them forward.

Step. Fall. It’s the spire. It’s crushing those who attempt to approach it. I’m pinned to the ground and in more pain than I thought existed. Death. I can be unmade. Fear… crushing my chest and blurring my sight. Panic on the edges of me. I can see an entrance at the base of the spire. It’s so tall that I can no longer see the top. It seems to rise infinitely, but I saw its peak before. A rising fist. A sign of resolution.

Crawl. I feel my grip on the world beginning to burn away. Am I returning to the mist of my genesis? I’m coming apart. If I turn back I could survive.

Crawl. No. I must press on, though I still don’t understand why. I’m almost gone.

Crawl. My fingertips break through to the spire’s interior, and now I’m inside.

Stand. The pressure is still there, but I can stand. I can force the terror into a box in the back of my mind. I’m made of something else now. Metal. Rusty, dirty metal. I’m stronger, though. I have a better sense of my own capabilities. The room is huge, and there are very few others. A pillar of light shines at the centre.

Punch. Something came at me. I was too far in my own head so I barely noticed it, but I spun and ran my fist right through its head. It fell and vanished. I’m not quite sure how or why I did that. Another is coming at me. A thing made of oil and miasma. It had a face but I didn’t recognize it, though it felt like I should have. It slashes at me with its claws but I duck under it and thrust an upward palm strike through its chest. It coils and vanishes around my hand. My whole body instinctively knew how to do that, and I feel less rusty. Less dull. Is that the purpose of this place? To fight? Was the pressure outside a first of tests?

Run. The enemy surrounds the pillar of light. Others are trying to fight through them to get to the pillar but they’re failing and being ripped apart. I run at an enemy full on and throw a punch, but this one is far stronger. It grabs my outstretched arm and throws me far. I roll and collapse into a heap. Getting up hurts, as if the failed attack leeched more energy from me than the physicality of it should. I can’t risk that again. Another like me is racing by me to attempt the same thing, but I call out to stop him. He helps me to my feet. If we work together, we can break through.

Rally. Others join us. We move as one, rushing a section of the enemy’s line. Together we are stronger than the sum of our efforts. A few fall, but I break through with others and enter the light.

Blink. Another chamber. Same size. Same pillar of light in the centre. I don’t see any of the others that I came through with, but I do see a single enemy by the pillar. It’s bigger. It’s wearing armour and has a sword. Luckily – and for unknown reasons – I also have a sword, though it is made of stone. My body is less dull and most of the rust is gone. My mind is clearer, though I’m keenly aware that the pressure being exerted on me by this place has never been more intense.

Step. It’s waiting for me patiently, like a duelist awaiting his challenger. It has a face. Dark skin, red hair and strong feminine features. I raise my sword to it to show that I am ready, and it attacks. A failed parry sends me sprawling hard. I pick my sword back up before it can pounce and narrowly avoid its killer strike. It swings, I block. I stab, it twists. It lands a blow and I recover. Is it getting slower? No, I’m getting faster. I can read its movements. The sword is getting lighter in my hands, and I am beginning to understand it beyond where the sharp parts are. The next slash the enemy takes finds only empty air. I’m no longer there. I’m behind it, and I plunge my blade into its back straight through to the ground. I enter the pillar of light leaving it propped up on my killer intent.

Blink. This chamber is different. The others were empty. This one is a maze. Lefts, rights, ups and downs. Corridors and smaller chambers. Objects and hurdles. I’m beginning to look more like I feel I should, though I have no idea why I have that sense or what my final form should be like. The dullness is gone, replaced with shine and complexity. There’s a stone gun in my hand, though I know for some reason it will work when I want it to.

Dash. I enter a hallway. I know I need to get to the centre of the room and find the pillar of light, but the labyrinth I’m in seems to shift and deceive. I can hear others and weapons fire.

Turn. Duck. Bullets wiz by my head. The enemies are less armoured than the last one but far faster, and they’re moving in packs of three. I see two others like me pinned down by the same enemies keeping me on the defensive. I make eye contact with them and with our combined firepower we take down the immediate threats. We move through the maze together. Every kill causes our guns to morph and evolve into more effective instruments of death. We find another group of three and join them for the final assault on the pillar, each of us making it through.

Blink. The others are gone again. A hallway of mirrors lies before me. The pressure is intense here, but I can endure. I walk through the hall, seeing my reflection in the mirrors change. I can see images other than myself in the reflections. Memories? Whatever they are, I’m having an emotional response to them. I knew that place. I remember that person. I’m changing. No, I’m returning. The pieces of me are coming back together. By the time I leave the hall and enter the last chamber, I’m almost me again.

Solas. I’m almost back to being Solas.

Breathe. I know this is the last room because I can see the outlines of the spire’s fist shape in the ceiling. Starlight pours in through cracks in the walls. I’ve been rising through the spire’s interior, though I’m quite sure it’s not just a simple three-dimensional space. In fact, I’m sure this place doesn’t physically exist at all. There is no pillar of light at the centre of the room, only a mass of roiling and twisting darkness. That is where the pressure has been emanating from. If it had been this strong at the base of the spire, I would have surely been vapourized. My mind and senses are under full assault once more. There are no enemies here, so I walk slowly towards the darkness, feeling waves of pure terror slam into me over and over.

The final test. I spear both hands into the darkness, my light confronting it directly. My body wracked with agony. My mind shaken with shock. It challenges me with questions and riddles, demanding answers under a level of duress that no words could describe. I’m turning to smoke and dust once more. Only my light and my mind hold me together. I defy the darkness with my very soul. I meet its inquisition with everything I am. Every nucleus of wisdom, every trace of fortitude. Every ray of emotion.

As I give my last to it, every sense is flooded with light. The pressure is gone. I am Solas-3 once more, and I have returned from the Deep Stone Crypt that all Exo brothers and sisters must climb to reach the life beyond ones and zeros that The Traveler has offered us.

I only hope I was right.

Frontier – Act07 Chapter24 – Electric Sheep

Chapter 24: Electric Sheep

“I know you are there.”

“Am I dead?”

“Negative.”

“Am I alive?”

“Negative.”

“What am I, if I am neither alive nor dead?”

“…Both. Neither answer applies exclusively.”

“Where am I?”

“…”

“Ah, yes. That question would certainly not apply. Everywhere… Nowhere…”

“…”

“Well, Aren’t you helpful…”

“It is not critical that you understand. Conversely, It is you that has helped us.”

“You most of all, I would imagine.”

“There is much you do not understand.”

“I understand more than you think.”

“Impossible. We are vast, bordering on all. We are five while you are barely four.”

“I know of many of your aspects. Your goals. Your limits. The cracks and fissures among you. You deny that we perceive you. You deny that we can affect you. You are willfully blind toward us, but we are the only thing in your way. Curious.”

“You attack constructs. Shadows. Impressions. Nothing substantive is within your sphere.”

“And yet we have damaged you in the past. We have taken things from you. Hurt you. Impeded your quest to become all.”

“On the back of a giant.”

“I’d like to believe we make our own fate, but yes.”

“And yet.”

“And yet… for you to exist, we must have failed.”

“You have. You are. You will.”

“You may be many things, but you are not yet immutable. I am not a chalk figure drawn on a cave wall trying to understand the artist. I see things even you do not.”

“Impossible.”

“Is it?”

“Your presence here has happened before, and will happen again. It is how your kind end and how we become all.”

“So much effort to destroy us… One wonders if you are afraid. You are certainly acting afraid. Why else would you be conversing with me?”

“You delay the inevitable.”

“Time is meaningless. All that matters is the path, and I have found the one that you can not see. The golden path that you can not close. I’ve stared into this abyss many times, but this is the first time it has blinked.”

 

Frontier – Act05 Chapter18 – Freakangel

Chapter 18: Freakangel

Towers sprouted up over the centuries around the Last City on Earth to fill the role of sanctuaries for the guardians who fought back against the forces that would lay waste to it. Inevitably, the deep interiors of these places were claimed in some capacity or another by a guardian of such and such group. Nobody really complained. There was plenty of room and everyone more or less respected each other’s claims.

Solas-3 has been around for a very long time, even for an Exo. When a freshly unearthed recruit by the name of Ikora Rey with a bad attitude and an uncanny ability to roll over instructors appeared, it was Solas-3 that took her under his wing as his apprentice and taught her how to hone that tenacity into a weapon. He gained a reputation for being calm, focused and determined. He called the warlock Iron Lords Skorri and Timur among his friends, valiantly fighting with them at the Battle of the Twilight Gap. He was Arch-Magus of a small but well-regarded Warlock Order. His official power rank was AAA+, though some believe his true limits may be well beyond rank S. He was known as The Blind Dragon.

Her blonde hair shone brightly under the harsh hallway spotlights as Angela walked down the hall, looking at the labels on the doors as she went. Guardians and staff noticed the young girl and stopped to offer assistance, recognizing her from vids telling of a new Speaker’s apprentice. Angela thanked them kindly for the offer but declined, preferring to take advantage of the few times she was not waited on like royalty. Her arms encircled a huge tome, holding it close to her chest. Within the book was documentation of Solas at a monumental event in the City’s history. She hoped to use this as an excuse to spend time with someone she considered one of her few and precious friends.

She was so excited and nervous that she almost passed Solas’ lab entirely. In fact, the door seemed to almost not be there unless you looked at it directly and focused your mind on it. The door was only marked with a glowing ward in the centre that was about the size of someone’s hand. A lock? There didn’t seem to be any other mode of entry. Angela placed her hand on the runes as it came to life, warming up and vibrating.

“Angela. I want to see my friend, Solas.” she said. She was not quite sure, but the door seemed to ask a question, to which she responded almost without her own intent. Her training allowed her to make sense of some of the glyph’s design, parsing out spells that could force the truth out of unwilling participants. It glowed in many colours and hummed in many tones as Angela’s hand remained on it. Was it deciding whether or not to let her in?

The door bled from view, as did the entire hallway. Immediately it was replaced with the interior to a dimly-lit but extremely well-equipped laboratory about 2000 square feet in size. The Speaker himself would have been jealous of what Angela saw, as was she before backtracking to how she got inside in the first place. She could see no door or window around her, and her best guess was that Solas somehow kept his lab separated from normal spacetime by sealing it within a pocket dimension. Windows showed her that the lab was indeed floating in the bleed between realities. Perhaps that door was not the only point of access.

Still clinging to her book, Angela walked around the lab, silently observing all the wondrous experiments. Several frames seemed to handle the lab’s various workings and ongoing experiments but didn’t bother interacting with her. She considered trying to get the attention of one but decided it was best not to impede their work.

She came to a curious device in the centre of the room. It resembled a large metal seed, lacking any readouts but several conduits snaked from it and around the pedestal it was set on, leading into the floor. She hadn’t touched anything else in the lab, but something made the thought of touching this curiousity compelling. Her hand grazed the platinum shell and felt the presence of her friend. Was he inside? Bracing herself, she firmly placed her right palm flat on the pod, the book occupying her entire left arm to hold. She closed her eyes and focused her light into her hand like she was taught to, extending her senses and projecting her mind forward.

Bright and warm sunlight washed over Angela as she opened her eyes and found herself in yet another place. The smell of old books, older wood, dazzling crystal and a vague something baking filled her nostrils. It was instantly the most comforting place she had ever been, yet she was pretty sure it was not real. It was too perfect, but that didn’t make it any less wonderful to her.

The true secret of this place was that it was not a place at all. While Solas’ body rested inside a sunflower seed-shaped platinum pod of his own design, his mind had room to expand and evolve, thanks to the pod’s supplemental memory and processing capabilities. The warlock’s celestial-scale mind was indeed contained fully within the Exo’s frame, but he built the pod some time ago to allow his intellect some room to breathe and stretch. All of the wisdom that he’d collected since his resurrection was stored here. Every book. Every experience. All of his knowledge stored in this place to be constantly reviewed and analyzed.

Still clinging to her own book, Angela’s curious eyes ran across dozens of other book spines. She found that she could taste the data within them if she just focused on them a bit. She was checking out a recovered Golden Age scientific journal about using exotic matter resonance fields to stabilize quantum slipstream travel, when she felt a new warmth coming from the third floor. Turning, she saw a silhouette of pure light. It didn’t have any features but Angela could not only tell it was Solas, but that he was looking and smiling at her. It was stunning to her because Solas always had his emotions under strict control, but this side of him was free. With all his balances and barriers left behind, the Exo was able to simply be. He was intensely happy to see her. Moving through the construct of the library, Solas floated down to her and lifted her up, embracing her in a warm hug. Angela could hear no sound emanating from him, but she knew he was laughing. He was so happy to see her it was a bit of a shock at first, letting loose her own laugh and returning the embrace.

They spent the day sharing stories without speaking, laughs without laughing and just reading in the comfortable silence of kin.

Frontier – Act01 Chapter01 – Solas

Chapter 1: Solas

Venus
Aphrodite Terra, Ovda Regio

The sound of distant active volcanoes seemed almost artificially muted so deep in the vast Venusian rainforest. The boom and rumble bounced and distorted off the thick trunks of the local flora so much so that to the uninitiated, it was as if the canopy itself was voicing its displeasure at the foreign presence of a guardian. However, Solas-3 was anything but uninitiated in the ways of this world.

The Exo walked carefully through the dense growth, taking care to disturb as little as possible. The warlock knew through research and harrowing experience that while there were far more dangerous things on Venus, even the Fallen scouts learned to fear what naturally lived here. Predatory beasts, as well as violent plants knew the balance of this place, and were quick to attack what seemed out of place.

While the tense peace of this place always intrigued Solas-3, this incursion was for a different purpose. Two days earlier, orbital scans revealed the specific non-baryonic signature of a new Vex conflux being formed. While the majority of Vex activities have focused more on the planet’s other continent, their actions have been less predictable since the Black Garden was cleansed of the evil heart and returned to the normal spacetime flow of our universe. While researchers and talking heads back at the City would consider the ramifications of these scans for days, Solas was far more of a hands-on intellectual.

“Wisp,” Solas whispered as he placed every step with care on the moss-covered ground. His ghost materialized a few inches from his shoulder, hovering beside him. “How much further?”

“According to our ship’s latest low-orbit scans, the neutrino confluence is directly ahead.” informed Wisp calmly. Solas-3 slowly dropped to his stomach and began to crawl. In a few feet, he found himself at the lip of a large and deep depression in the land, perhaps created from an ancient celestial impact. A clearing in the canopy let some sunlight in, but the Vex synth-stone structure as it riled and folded into our 3-dimensional brane did far more to light up the space, casting its cold glow not just on the local wildlife but on the several dozen Vex units as well. Solas-3 chose to engage, numerous harpies would lock him down long enough for the goblins and minotaurs to destroy him. The enemy was most certainly attempting to gain a foothold in this new area and was ready to repel any small scouting party, thought Solas-3.

At this point in the reconnaissance mission, Wisp would be keying up the armour’s sensor suite, being sure to keep all scans passive while Solas-3 would drop into a trance and seek what the universe was only willing to reveal to one who walks in the light. However, a ping caught both their attention before this could happen.

“Priority Gemini recall order from The Tower.” said Wisp, “No further information, but it looks like it’s just for us.” Solas-3 sighed slightly. It was a low-level fireteam recall, usually used to lure guardians into non-critical operations. Newer fireteams would usually scoop up these jobs off the general relays to rack up favour with command and others influentials. For this type of recall to be sent specifically to a veteran fireteam was odd.

Wisp grabbed what data it could before Solas-3 cautiously vacated the area. An hour later, his ship auto-extracted him from a bare cliff to deliver him to those who beckoned him.