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.

 

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Frontier – Act10 Chapter44 – Piercing

Chapter 44: Piercing

Earth
Above The Last City

As the battle raged in the streets and structures all across The City, the air above was filled with screaming engines and circus-like streaks of aerospace combat. Vast swarms of squawking Vex high-speed harpies commanded by gigantic hydras surged through the sky. The Vanguard had seen these formations in play before on Mercury, but not in anywhere near these numbers. Guardians weren’t just rapidly getting shot down, they were getting swatted away like bugs.

In contrast to the Vex’s specialized air/space superiority units, the craft employed by guardians were simply insufficient. It was rare to have a guardian’s jumpship fitted with any serious weaponry, as most guardians found that speed, agility and stealth proved far more effective in their field tasks. Also, while Amanda Holliday had amassed a sizable arsenal of guns, missiles, bombs and the like, they were too difficult to replace to be applied day-to-day in the field.

Amanda worked furiously from her fortified command centre in the Dead Orbit shuttle to get whatever implements of destruction she could into the field. Fighters were being called back to land when they could and being hastily fitted with all manner of offensive systems before being launched again. With sophisticated automated systems at her disposal as well as her impressive deck crew of specialized frames, she was slowly working the turnaround time down. The defensive guns perched at the hangar doors were doing a good enough job at protecting ships as they landed and took off, but the shipwright knew that it was only because the Vex had not turned their attention to her efforts yet. Once they did, she imagined they’d only have seconds before being rooted out.

A Javelin-class jumpship had just taken off freshly laden with a suite of micro-missile launchers and a forward gun when Amanda noticed an odd shimmer in the middle of the landing pad. At first, she thought the camera had been damaged by stray fire, but the shimmer was on all the cameras and in the same localized space. The shimmer intensified after a few seconds and coalesced into a winged and armoured humanoid form.

“Transwarp transmat successful. We’re back in our own universe. That wasn’t nearly as jarring as going through Solas’ door,” said Glitch.

“And we’re in a hangar. That’s pretty appropriate. I guess we’re supposed to go through a pre-flight of some sort?” quizzed Vatyr.

“Yeah… that seems like a good thing to do… let me see what I can pull up from the OS.”

“Watch out!” screamed Amanda through the loudspeakers. Vatyr turned to see a ship swooping in for a landing at high-speed and mere seconds away from plowing right through him. Amanda instinctively closed her eyes, knowing that nobody would have been fast enough to evade the landing ship.

“Thanks, Holliday. That was a bit close.” Vatyr called out. Amanda opened her eyes again to see the ship had indeed landed, but a different camera on a different angle showed Vatyr, hovering near the hangar ceiling. Black metal wings on his back were outstretched and emitting a soft yellow-orange solar glow. The landed ship was automatically shuffled to the side of the hangar for refit. Amanda rushed out of the Dead Orbit shuttle and over to the landing pad as Vatyr landed a little less than gracefully.

“What in blue blazes are you wearing?” Amanda asked in a mix of amazement and disbelief. Her eyes flashed all over the suit of armour that Vatyr wore. The wings seemed to move and flex in a way that normal metal shouldn’t be able to. It was as if it was something between technological and organic. The wings were attached to the back of a chest piece that seemed reminiscent of prototypes of the thruster-laden Twilight Garrison titan armour, but this design was far leaner and obviously far more advanced. With the exception of gauntlets and boots that matched his chest piece, most of Vatyr’s body was covered in a slim black hunter-esque bodysuit that looked designed for maximum dexterity with segmented aqua hard-light plates protecting him in key areas. His helm looked like a cross between a golden-age flight helmet and the top half of a large falcon’s beak, on the tip of which was a small orb that Amanda recognized as a ghost’s core. Glitch? Where was the rest of him?

“It’s called the Astranagant. I’d love to show it off to you, but we should both focus on work. You get back to organizing our ships, and I”ll see what I can do about evening the score.”

“I don’t know if you’ve taken a look outside, but we’re not exactly able to put up much of a fight. They own the sky.”

“Then I’ll take it back.” Vatyr announced. In the blink of an eye, Vatyr was a hundred meters clear of the hangar. With the help of his wings, a main thruster on his back that roared with solar light, micro-verniers covering his armour and small canard wings growing out of his hard-light armour segments, he accelerated at blinding speed toward the closest hydra.

“Let’s see what this thing can do!” exclaimed Glitch. “Deploying feathers!” The armour’s wings stretched out fully, launching eight feather-shaped devices in all directions. The feathers began to glow with arc light, coming up alongside Vatyr. “Each feather contains one of my body’s segments, so controlling them is almost second nature.” Glitch realized. A dozen harpies angled to intercept the hunter, and Glitch found it was finally his turn to take the lead in a battle. “Commencing attack!” Each feather accelerated to blurs ahead of them, darting through the sky at crazy angles and changing directions instantly to evade fire. Within seconds they had reached, engaged and destroyed the harpies, unleashing piercing beams of void light from their tips.

“Nicely done, Glitch, but we have a lot more incoming!” Vatyr yelled. A group of harpies rained death down from above him. Glitch recalled the feathers instantly and arranged them in a tight geometrical shape around Vatyr. Connecting void beams to each other and running arc light along them, Glitch created a protective bubble that easily weathered the attack.

“I’ve got you covered, boss!” Glitch declared jokingly.

“Thanks, partner. Now it’s time for me to earn my keep.” Vatyr answered. The hunter quickly accelerated to top speed towards the closest hydra, streaking solar light in his wake. Four of Glitch’s feathers extended circular barriers and ran point-defense routines while the others fired at will, sweeping their beams across the sky. The massive hydra and the thousands of harpies it commanded changed focus from eliminating guardian ships to Vatyr. Instantly, a cloud of harpies changed course and swooped in to meet the hunter.

Vatyr called up the Astranagant’s main heavy weapon. The frames that introduced him to the Astranagant armour’s systems had shown him three weapons before deployment, and it was the first time in ages that the veteran guardian had been at a complete loss for words. Exia was an impressive autorifle that when one of Astranagant’s feathers was mounted around the barrel, a massive energy sword was formed. Infinity Cylinder was a beam-based sniper rifle that while was slow to charge and fire, had enough output to vapourize the side of a mountain off in a single shot. This situation, however, required the heavy.

The gun was called Dis, a heavy machine gun patterned after the fabled Super Good Advice, and adorned with the ornate symbology of Alpha Lupi. The gun lacked a magazine, instead having a quantum entanglement generator that transmatted all of its ammo continuously from Solas’ lab stores, ensuring that the weapon could be fired for hours without needing to reload any kind of magazine. Not only that, but the ammo itself was decades ahead of anything Vatyr had seen in the field, traveling at the speed of a railgun round but being able to drastically change course mid-flight. As the leading edge of the harpy swarm came into range, Vatyr let lose a cold machined fury he had never thought existed.

Dozens of harpies were torn apart by the second, but the towering hydra only threw more at the guardian until they formed a singular metal blob, lashing out at a small point of light. Tendrils made of attacking harpies jutted out of the mass as if trying to grab Vatyr. Astranagant had what the frames had called an inertia store converter, which repurposed the immense amount of energy that Vatyr was creating through inhuman acrobatic maneuvers and kept it from killing him or causing him to pass out. Vatyr accelerated at speeds that would flatten a person’s brain inside their own skull and still managed to continually fire at the harpy swarm.

“Not to be a killjoy, boss, but we can’t spend all of our time on this one hydra. We have a schedule to keep,” noted Glitch in a slightly somber tone. She was enjoying this just as much as her guardian, but there were bigger considerations.

It took a matter of seconds for Vatyr to launch dive down into the city, blink-shifting rapidly around buildings and obstacles. The harpies simply could not keep up. “I assume you have an idea,” said Vatyr.

“One. If you’ll indulge me.” Bringing the feathers into a spiral formation ahead of them and emitting as much light as possible, Vatyr and Glitch dashed upward at full burn. A giant drill formed from the light, spinning fiercely and driving into the harpy cloud. “This is the drill that will pierce through the heavens!” Glitch exclaimed wildly as waves of harpies smashed against the light construct. Unable to defend their hydra master, the hunter and his ghost smashed through the Vex defense and straight through to the other side like a bullet, skewering the hydra lengthwise and causing the mountain of metal to rupture and explode.

The hydra’s destruction sent feedback through to the harpies it controlled, setting off chains of self-destruction that enveloped the entire swarm in massive strings.

“Um… A drill that will pierce through the heavens themselves?” quizzed Vatyr jokingly.

“What? I’ve always been a bit hot-blooded, boss. Anyways, one down.” announced Glitch with pride.

“Many more to go. Let’s work.”

 

Frontier – Act07 Chapter30 – Sinister

Chapter 30: Sinister

Audiences with Mara Sov of the Awoken, Queen of the Reef, were often very small. The Queen herself, her Prince and brother, some guards and whomever was being granted the audience. Almost without exception, audiences were only a single person, and if they were representative of a group, that group would only send one person to represent them. No attendants. No servants. Such things were distractions that the Queen didn’t allow in her throne room.

This time, however, there were three. Three guardians. A human warlock, a human titan, and an Awoken hunter. This irked the guards, but Mara Sov saw the necessity of it this time.

The Techeuns stood in seemingly random places around the room, seeing things useable and saying things without saying. They sensed this was a pivotal moment, but for all their efforts could not yet see the shape of it.

Uldren looked out of the large windows towards the Awoken people. His people. His first duty was always to them. Did Vatyr represent a danger to them and their ways? He did honour the Batchall challenge. His second duty was to his sister, the Queen. Did Vatyr represent a danger to her? The Queen loved him and trusted him implicitly. His third and final duty was to his own honor, and in that, Vatyr had shown some new and unexpected value. The guardian saved his life when all the Prince wanted was revenge for a slight that perhaps never existed. He turned his head to see his sister had pivoted her throne directly toward him, her eyes peering into his soul. Sometimes she could still drive fear into his core, but this stare was one of sibling compassion, though her expression was the stone and perfection that her station demanded.

Uldren turned and walked towards Vatyr, who was flanked by his team on either side. The guardians bowed deeply, as was custom. Uldren signaled with a twitch of his hand that they could rise, and they did so slowly, as was custom. Uldren and Vatyr stared at each other for a few long moments, trying to discern each other’s heart.

Without breaking the stare, Uldren brought up his hand and opened his palm to reveal a small data stick. “This will lead you to the ship and get you past the automated sentries we’ve set up around it. You’ll find it anchored to 1143 Odysseus, trailing in the orbit of Jupiter.” Vatyr looked at the device and slowly took hold of it. Uldren’s other hand shot up and grasped Vatyr’s wrist tightly, holding it in the space between their faces. The guardian’s eyes returned to Uldren and he was brought in close. “There is a great deal between us that remains unresolved. If you die, I’ll consider it your loss of the Batchall and a forfeit of whatever honor you have left. I expect you to return, alive and successful.” Uldren whispered in a low growl. Vatyr nodded, and the grasp was slowly released.

“Go. Now.” said the Prince, turning his back and coming to a deep kneel before his sister. Another bow given by the guardians before they departed.

 

Frontier – Act07 Chapter29 – Defying Gravity

Chapter 29: Defying Gravity

Asteroid Belt
19 Foruna /687 Tinette
“The Fortuna Plummet”

During the Reef Wars, Queen Mara Sov and Paladin Abra Zire deployed the mysterious gravity weapon Carybdis, slamming asteroid 687 Tinette into asteroid 19 Fortuna in an effort to stop the Fallen fleet of Beltrik the Veiled from resupplying. The battle, as well as the resulting mass of two shattered asteroids, has since been known as The Fortuna Plummet.

Vatyr floated silently in the hard vacuum, hidden in a nook of a random rock as he reviewed his position. The two celestial bodies had indeed met catastrophically, but they were far from obliterated. In the end, they resembled two bubbles partly joined together with a cloud of debris around the molten hot contact area. Huge canyons had torn through the minor planets, giving the impression that the only thing keeping it all together was their own gravity. It was within one of these canyons on 19 Fortuna that Vatyr hid.

Indeed, the gravity in the area was perhaps the most remarkable and dangerous element. The leftover effects from the Carybdis created small, random but severe gravitonic events in the area. The result of these gravity events popping in and out of existence could potentially rip holes in the hulls of passing ships or send them careening into the Plummet itself. In addition, the constant shifting of gravitational fields in the area sent the millions of smaller objects in the Plummet careening around at railgun speeds, and from a distance, the cloud of dust and rocks more resembled an angry swarm of wasps. To a lone body with minimal attitude control and even less protection, any time spent in the Plummet was suicidal.

Vatyr had no idea where Uldren could be. The Plummet spanned hundreds of kilometers in every direction and was filled with billions of places to hide and ambush. His passive sensorium would help to some degree, but using any sort of active scan would give his position away instantly. Of course, that was the only way to track down one’s target in this environment, so both Vatyr and Uldren took to sending out sporadic active pings over the past few hours, shifting position to avoid assault and pinging the enemy before shifting again. Two sharks circling each other.

The hunter did his best to control his breathing. Breath control was core to his training. In space, your breathing was your only companion. It lived inside your suit and your head. It had a tendency to amplify things. Calm breathing meant a cool head and steady hands. Aggravated breath made you claustrophobic of your suit and agoraphobic of everything outside it. Your mind spins and your hands shake. Vatyr was having a hard time keeping things in check. Was it because of the lethality of his opponent? Was it because of what would happen if he lost? Was it because of what would happen if he won? He was not sure which he feared more, and that fear was making choices for him at the moment. Deep breath. Control. Calm. Focus, damn it.
A vibration shook his bones suddenly, like being too close to a huge sub-woofer. Vatyr tucked his legs under him and instinctively shoved off the rock he was nestled up against, only to see it reverberated to dust in seconds by a graviton eddy.

Vatyr floated towards the surface of 19 Fortuna, peeking over the crest of the canyon wall. A rock the size of a Hive seeder flew silently past Vatyr’s head, only inches away and faster than a bullet. Death came at you from all directions in this place. Normally space was not so inhospitable to a trained hunter. Vatyr had taken multiple jaunting missions where zero-g traversal and combat was called for, but the constantly and aggressively changing landscape of The Fortuna Plummet was unlike anywhere else in the system.

Ping. One of Uldren’s. Vatyr’s HUD told him his opponent was closing in fast now. If Vatyr left the canyon, he’d be spotted easily, so he took off quickly down the canyon ridge that led directly to where the two asteroids had made contact.

Ping. Uldren again. Vatyr realized that he had let himself get cornered. Nowhere to go but towards the infernal wall at the end of the trench. The hunter would love to set up an ambush at that point, but with what? No projectile weapons, no explosives, nothing. Sure, he could conjure something out of his light that could end this thing pretty quickly, but the entire point of a Batchall was to meet on equal terms. Uldren had no access to The Traveler’s power, so honour dictated that Vatyr could not use it either.

Ping. Closer. A lot closer. Uldren was in full pursuit and gaining fast. Most zero-g combat instructors would tell you that if you have the good fortune to have decent attitude control systems, it is beyond unwise to open them up completely in a straight line. You become a bullet without control. Uldren was letting his emotions take over, lusting after the kill. The Prince was normally a focused and cool Machiavellian operator, but this was as personal as personal gets. Vatyr was under Uldren’s skin and he suspected that using this propensity to blind aggression constituted his only, if slim, chance of winning. The question was, how?

The horizon curved sharply towards the Plummet’s epicenter and Vatyr decreased his speed. He’d need to be able to maneuver sharply among the dense debris.

Vatyr pinged his own active sensorium and fed all his data into a cartography matrix. The layout shifted quickly and constantly in this molten hellhole but a quick snapshot could help. His HUD sprang to life, illustrating his immediate vicinity. The hunter’s eyes danced across the data as his mind ran a thousand different scenarios instantly. A plan emerged, and as usual for Hunter S’Jet, it was reckless.

Pings began to spring up on Uldren’s HUD. Lots of them. The Prince surmised that the guardian (no doubt naive in the ways of zero-g combat) had gotten himself lost in the crush between Fortuna and Tinette and was desperately trying to find a way out with his active sensorium. A sneer crawled across his face as he armed his tether and readied his blade. He squeezed the handle of his knife, relishing the impeding sensation of sinking with all his might into Vatyr’s heart. It had been some time since a kill had been so raw and personal. There was no mask to wear here. The Prince of Crows wanted his honour back, and he’d carve it out of the guardian’s vacuum- frozen corpse.
Zooming into the hellish environment, Uldren brought his weapon up, expecting the disoriented hunter to be right in front of him, but all that floated there was the small, shiny active sensor module that would have normally been in Vatyr’s helmet. A trick? A trap? Uldren fired his tether towards one of the rocks floating close to where he had entered the area, intent to exit by using the environment in a swooping brake maneuver. The Prince angled his maneuvering jets and began to swing around his anchor when his comms opened.

“Gotcha, my lord.” said Vatyr, who was standing on the very rock that Uldren was rocketing towards. Even with his vast superiority in skill, Uldren had no control over his direction or angle. In comparison, Vatyr’s feet were planted firmly and could apply his blow easily, which gave him the clear advantage.

A moment before contact, reality itself seemed to quake. Uldren came to a stop just outside the reach of Vatyr’s dagger, and for an instant, their eyes met in bewilderment.

Suddenly, both of them lurched violently towards the Plummet’s core and rapidly picked up speed. “Gravity event!” yelled Uldren who engaged his thrusters in the opposite direction of the pull, ‘up’ imposing itself aggressively. His engines whined and struggled but quickly proved to be useless against the deepening gravity well. Vatyr clung with all of his strength to the rock he was perched on. Given the extremely localized nature of these events, there was a good chance he could weather it from his position. Uldren, however, was rapidly falling in. Given the intensity of the pull and the fact that it was pulling directly into the molten Plummet’s core, the Prince would not survive the crush.

His engines finally dying, Prince Uldren’s only hope was the tether. Uldren looked up at Vatyr and sneered as his arm began to strain with every enhanced fiber. “It looks like you’ll win this. You get what you’ve wanted.”

“This isn’t what I wanted, you egotistical fool! I was never your enemy or the enemy of our people, but you could never see past your pride!” screamed back Vatyr. This wasn’t right. He was a guardian, and a guardian should be able to find the right path through the darkness.

Uldren screamed as his joints popped out of their sockets, his rage-filled eyes never unlocking from the guardian. The gravity field only continued to grow in intensity and the Prince thought his thoughts of ending. He screamed defiantly at the world but knew the world would not move for him this time.

However, a guardian would, and the world would move for the guardian on this day.

Vatyr sheathed his blade and dove straight ‘down’ at him, firing his wrist-mounted tether back at a rock face that was well-clear of the event. He came to a spine-snapping stop inches from Uldren and latched on to him. Focusing all of his light through his armour, he took his maneuvering thrusters far beyond their operational limits. A column of violent white light rushed out under him, but it was not enough.

“Glitch! Get your tiny shiny ass out here!” Vatyr roared.

The ghost appeared and quickly sprang open, enveloping the two. “I’ll emit all the anti-gravitons I can but this event keeps growing!”

“The anti-gravitons should accelerate the destabilization. We just need to hang on a little while longer!” said Vatyr, trying to instill what hope he could.

Uldren was grasping on to Vatyr’s waist with his free hand, but the Prince’s hand slowly snaked towards the guardian’s sheathed blade. Vatyr noticed just as his hand reached the handle. “You kill me now, we both die. If we survive, I’ll be exhausted and defenseless. Killing me then is still within the terms of the Batchall. It is to the death, after all.” Vatyr said. There was no regret in his tone for saving the man who was intent on killing him.

“What do you want? Why did you come back? Why did you come into our lives in the first place?” Uldren challenged, his voice full of confusion, desperation and pain both physical and emotional. He was begging for answers at what he thought was his failure and his end. There was no honor in killing his opponent in this way, and he had to know the truth.

“Right now, all I want is to save a friend and brother-in-arms from a fate he never deserved. I came back for my only shot at rescuing him. As for our sordid past, all I can say is that I love her. I love her with all my being and I would never do anything to hurt her or her people. I’m sorry you got hurt in all this, but after I pull of this amazingly heroic and near-impossible rescue, I’ll explain everything.”

The world around them convulsed as if they were about to be vomited up by some gargantuan beast. As the gravity well destabilized, Vatyr cried out in effort as it yanked violently at them. Suddenly, a pressure wave smashed into them, expelling the two Awoken from the Plummet core at blinding speed and in a chaotic tumble. Both Vatyr and Uldren were knocked unconscious by the ejection.

It took Glitch some time to find them again. The little light kept both of them from careening hopelessly into the black and carried them both to a nearby Awoken cruiser. The Queen awaited.

 

Frontier – Act07 Chapter28 – Shattered Dreams

Chapter 28: Shattered Dreams

Telemica and Arrenn were escorted to a small waiting room and left alone, save for the two guards posted just outside the door. Arrenn sat quietly and said nothing but Telemica’s mind raced.

The door slid open quickly to make way for Vatyr who was walking so fast he might have broken into a jog at any moment. His hands flew up in a sign of submission as soon as his eyes met the fury in Telemica’s. “Don’t kill me until you hear my plan!” he cried.

“Plan? The only thing you seem to have planned is suicide.” Telemica said, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back. “Go ahead. Surprise me.”

Vatyr walked over to the far wall and activated the news feed holographics embedded in its wide surface. Everyone in the Awoken Empire was talking about the challenge. His eyes glazed over the data and slipped into his memory. Now was the time to come clean with those he professed to trust most. “I wasn’t always a guardian. My remains were unearthed during the celestial collision that we called the Fortuna Plummet. I was found by the Queen’s Corsairs in the aftermath and brought to her. Those touched by the Traveler are always quietly sent Earthward, but for some reason she kept me. Claimed me. Officially, I was just another Awoken military officer thanks to some creative identity creation by her agents, but in reality, I was her consort. Her lover.”

Telemica’s expression had shifted slowly from smoldering anger to pure shock as Vatyr revealed his past in melancholy tones. He sounded as if he were remembering her first embrace with more than a little longing, and more than a little conflict.
“Why?” asked Arrenn in his coldly analytical tone.

Vatyr had to take a deep breath to bring himself back to the moment. His eyes found purchase on a proclamation by a minor house, supporting the Prince’s actions. “I can’t say for certain. I asked from time to time and her answers were always cryptic. Something about me intrigued her, and that intrigue itself was a rare thing.”

“You’re powerful, even for a guardian.”

“That would not have been enough. Trust me when I tell you that her power makes beings like you and I seem entirely laughable. She’s a goddess in every meaning of the word.”

Telemica reacted to that. “You love her.”

Vatyr turned away from the feeds and locked eyes with his titan companion. The answer was never in doubt. “With every fiber of my being. It only ended because Uldren came close to finding out. Mara had me whisked away.”

Telemica rose from her seat to stand in front of him with a compassionate smile on her face. Her hand coming fast and hard across Vatyr’s face nearly upended him, but the smile remained. “That’s for keeping secrets from your family. Now, why don’t you tell us your plan for getting us all out of here in one piece?”

Vatyr rubbed his cheek but didn’t protest. She was right, and he’d have to make amends for it at some point.

“On the outskirts of Awoken space, there’s a derelict ship from the Exodus Fleets. This in itself isn’t special as many Awoken major structures are built out of such massive hulks. This one, however, is off-limits and its exact location is beyond top-secret. The theory is that this ship was outfitted with something that allowed its engines to bend spacetime in a unique way. Someone was hoping that this would help those aboard escape The Darkness. Whatever the nature of that system, it must have malfunctioned. The ship is mired in a bubble where spacetime is completely shattered. What’s more, there are some signs that Vex have taken up residence inside the ship.”

Vatyr walked over to a small table and poured himself a drink before continuing. The amber alcoholic liquid tasted slightly sweet and burned the new wound inside his mouth caused by Telemica’s strike, and reminded him that she was not going to like this plan. “I came here to trade myself for the location of the ship.”

“And what? Stop being a guardian and become the Queen’s toy? Why?”

“The tech on that ship was bleeding-edge at the apex of the Golden Age. It potentially manipulates spacetime in a big way. It’s probably why the Vex have shown interest. Solas fell into a Vex conflux, which is basically a big processor for data sent along the Vex’s spacetime-bending network. I think that ship is our best chance to get him back, if he’s still out there at all.”

Arrenn had begun reading the feeds flashing along the wall, which had started to trend towards the Prince’s supporters. “What about Uldren?”

“If you’re asking whether I knew he’d do something so brazen, the honest answer is I was told by one of the aids that he’d be kept in the dark until it was all over. If you’re asking if Mara knew, I have no idea. Perhaps I should have expected this.”

“What exactly happened out there?” asked Telemica.

Vatyr sighed slightly. He knew how odd some of his people’s traditions could sound to Terrans. This needed to be framed properly. “The Awoken have ancient codes of conduct. While they’ve mostly been synthesized into more modern laws and cultural practices, the old ways are still valid. The Batchall is an honorable challenge between two parties when one feels their honor is being gravely encroached upon. They’re basically unheard of these days among the populace. Even among the nobles, such challenges are rare and are almost always settled with words and assets. It has been lifetimes since there has been a challenge to the death. As the challenged, it was my right to name the type of combat and where it will take place, though I’m sure in Uldren’s mind, I should have no rights at all. Personal, bladed combat was my only choice without involving Tower assets or personnel. Anything else would just escalate the problem beyond control, and we need to get to that ship.”

Telemica rose from her seat and shook her head slowly “So let me get this all straight. You’re about to enter a mortal duel with Prince Uldren Sov of The Awoken, a legendary virtuoso of bladed combat, on the immense shattered asteroid pair where you were brought back from the dead. He wants you deader than dead for the sole reason that his queenly sister made you her sex toy once upon a time and you’ve made the incredibly bad choice to come back for more. If you miraculously win, we have a slim shot at boarding a centuries-old spaceship mired in fragmented timestreams in a one-in-a-billion effort to retrieve Solas from a galactic cluster-spanning super machine quantum network, while you become the Queen’s concubine?”

Vatyr gulped down the last few fingers of liquor as she laid all the insanity out in stark fashion. “That’s about right, yeah. What could go wrong?”

 

Frontier – Act07 Chapter26 – Neverland

Chapter 26: Nevrland

The bed seemed impossibly soft, but sleep was at most an elusive concept to Vatyr.

The hunter stood nude in the center of the huge cylinder-shaped bedchamber, taking in the singular mural that took up the entire wall. It depicted the mighty Queen Mara Sov as she rose to power in the Reef Wars. Most would much rather look at the naked form of that same Queen on the bed, pale and drenched, a far cry from the embodiment of power immortalized in the painting, but Vatyr knew how terrifying she truly was. The conquering and idealized entity rendered in the mural was far less intense.

The Techeuns had easily stopped the murder-fueled Uldren in mid-flight with their psychokinetic gifts; the Queen herself ordered him and the witches to leave, not even deeming the scene unfolding worth her gaze. She was clearly displeased with his actions but could not possibly be surprised, and neither was Vatyr. As the visage of fury soared through the throne room at him with a pure and deep violence singing from his aura, Vatyr considered letting the Master Crows’ blade sink into his heart. At least this dance would end after so long. He knew fully all the levels of antithesis that the guardian represented to Uldren, and Vatyr couldn’t yet bring himself to war over it. Had she commanded it, he would have embraced the steel looking to rip the life from his body without hesitation.

Numerous veiled attendants appeared and scurried off with Vatyr, removing his bodysuit, bathing him and scenting him with perfumes to the Queen’s liking. He was then led to her bedchambers, where she awaited him.

The night had been long and exhausting. There was no love in her actions, only lust and the joy in being worshiped. His every movement, exertion and word intended to placate and satisfy the goddess that straddled him commandingly. Even now, she merely lay there in her afterglow, letting her plaything recuperate for the next round.

He loved her. Endlessly.

He was not sure why he adored her, and he couldn’t possibly be sure that his devotion existed purely because she bent his will to it with her own. Nobody was quite sure where the borders of her influence lay, nor how she came by the power that bent spacetime and souls. Most were certain that she was the source of whatever encapsulated the Prison of Elders, and that was more than enough to fill most sane people with fear and awe.

Yet, he still loved her.

“My Queen, may we converse in the time between…” Vatyr was not quite sure how to properly describe what had filled the last few hours.

“No doubt you came back to me with purpose more serious than your need to venerate me most directly,” she purred as her naked body arose from the mountain of sheets and pillows as if carried upon libidinous dreams. She stalked slowly towards Vatyr as if the hunter was prey, “Are there not more enchanting focuses of your attention?”

When she pivoted around him and met his gaze, Vatyr was awestruck. Such power housed in such a faultless form, and yet he was the only one to find the softness in her eyes. He dropped to his knees and began to kiss her body deeply, speaking as he went. “A dear friend has sacrificed himself in a colossal battle against the Vex, no doubt saving Earth and the Reef in the process. His deeds alone won the day.” He kissed her feet, her calves, her venus, her belly and her breast. A smile crawled across her lips. With a slight hesitance as he met her gaze again he cradled her head softly in his hands and for a fleeting moment his fear was elsewhere, seeking that softness in her eyes that only he knew. He kissed her lips in the long and tender way that took him back to what seemed like another lifetime.

“My Queen is powerful, and benevolent. She rewards those who serve her people, and so I come to her now to beg for her guidance. If there was some way to bring my friend back, surely my Queen would know of it.” Vatyr had hoped he would be more eloquent in his plea, but his reason for being here was being quickly overshadowed by the divine creature before him.

Vatyr’s body suddenly shot into the air, 20 feet above the bed, and hung there inverted. Mara’s outstretched hand pointed at him, holding him in place. Static filled the space between them, her face stoic and timeless. Her eyes locked on to his, staring into his soul. Guardians were used to seeing impossible things, but Vatyr had never seen such a display of power put on with such ease. To Queen Mara Sov, bending spacetime to her will was as easy as breathing. Vatyr could feel her mind pressing on every inch of him. The world around him echoed a low thunder at the edge of his perception, like the atavistic thrum of a black hole, threatening to shake him to quantum potentials.

“You come here seeking a boon which only I can give, and yet you denied me what I sought from you all those years ago.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“A thing that I could have easily taken and, one would have thought, came from a mutual place.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“And in response to my invitation, the likes of which no other being in the cosmos would not covet, you left to scurry around in the dirt and fight a war that is not your own.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

The pressure increased. The thunder rolled. It was if he was being driven deep into the Earth’s mantle.

“Are you willing to give me what I still seek, in exchange for what you seek?”

A split-second of hesitance is all Vatyr could allow himself. “…Yes, my Queen.”

Vatyr’s body slammed down into the vast bed with purpose, dazing the guardian. Gathering himself, he found he was already set upon by the nubile form of the Awoken queen, moving not unlike a pouncing cat playing with her kill. “I always knew my pet would come back to me one day. Tomorrow I will grant you your boon. Tonight, we play.”

 

Frontier – Act01 Chapter03 – Vatyr

Chapter 3: Vatyr

Earth
Ruins of Old Toronto

The sun was just cresting over the horizon, but the Awoken hunter Vatyr S’Jet was always hours into his schedule. His ghost Glitch displayed holographic representations of various traps going through their final automated checks and syncs. Hunter S’Jet was just finishing the reconstruction of his sniper rifle. It was a ritual for him. The pattern of it soothed him.

Harassment, others called it. Control an area through guerrilla tactics and make operations in that area undesirable. Vatyr just thought it was wicked fun.

The Fallen House of Exile had recently moved what few earthbound forces it had to this continent and were currently seeking a place to build a stronghold. Exile was always in dire straits when it came to supplies and infrastructure, and this half-flooded city seemed like a perfect spot to put down some roots and build. Plenty of materials to salvage and old skyscrapers to dock their ketch against for much-needed repair.

Vatyr’s keen hunter instincts warned him of movement at street level before his sensors did, even from his perch over 50 stories up in a half-destroyed office tower. Settling into sniping position, he peered down his long-range scope and ramped up the zoom. Yep, 9 dregs and a vandal were weaving their way through the street, filtering around the husks of old vehicles. While the main force was busy setting up under the broken spire in the city centre a few kilometers away, this group seemed to be a simple scouting party.

A sly grin formed on Hunter S’Jet’s face as his crosshairs settled on the vandal leader. He took an almost cruel enjoyment from seeing dregs panic after their commander either died, or ran away in a futile effort to save his own life.

A blinking indicator popped up on his heads-up display. Glitch silently overlaid his analysis along with video from a remote camera feed, showing another scouting party to the north and another to the west. All three were in Vatyr’s actionable zone, and therefore existed from this point on solely for his amusement.

Through the armour’s neural interface, Vatyr and Glitch concocted a plan: herd all three groups into the same killbox using planted explosives, and pick them off one by one. Each one wondered who was more evil for liking the plan.

The staccato pops of distant explosions echoed through the urban ruins. The party Vatyr had at the end of his rifle barrel looked agitated as their vandal commander attempted to keep composure. Soon the other two squads came running into the intersection that the first was holding in. Vandals and dregs screeched, squawked and growled at each other. Vatyr kept telling himself he should learn the Fallen language, but for now he let Glitch do the translating.

“They’re pretty rattled, boss. They have no idea what’s going on.” mused Glitch, sharing in her guardian’s smug amusement. She set off a few other distant charges just to keep them on edge as Vatyr lined up his shots.

Pop, followed by the screaming hiss of a Fallen’s essence violently vacating its body through the space where its head used to be. One vandal down. Pop. Hiss. Another vandal down with only one left. The dregs were in a full craze now. Some fired wildly into the surrounding towers while others simply ran. Glitch set off another two charges close to the intersection, one of which vaporized a fleeing dreg. There was to be no escape from this hidden and wrathful god.

A background beeping caught the hunter’s attention as he felled another dreg that attempted to bug out. “Recall order from the Tower. Priority… Gemini? Must be a mistake.”

Vatyr prized himself on having a keen sense of things, and something about this message seemed to be more than what it seemed. With lightning reflexes, he quickly mopped up the last 14 dregs while letting the last vandal run back to spread cheery tales of what it was like to be a fish in a barrel. Glitch set the remaining charges on proximity protocol while Vatyr broke down his rifle in the same ritualistic fashion he always did. They’d be back at the Tower before lunch.