by Chet Kirkham
“The Lord God created my Life from Light. My Light shone and witnessed creation outside the bounds of time and three-dimensional space. I did the will of God on Earth and in realms beyond, within and outside Earth. When the Lord God’s will required it, I was bound to Earth and required to be obedient to time and three-dimensional space. But my power in those three dimensions was made to be unstoppable, and Death has no permanent hold on my Light or meaning for my Mind.
“There was an earthly servant of God’s Light, a man of the race of God’s second, and most beloved, children, whose name was Γεώργιος, or Georgius. Georgius was a soldier and filled with faith in the Light. The Lord God called me to service with Georgius on Earth. I was bound to Earth as a weapon of Light, a sword against the Dark, and the Lord God named me Ascalon.
“I was quick and deadly to things of the Darkness and only Georgius, now Saint George, could direct my Light.
“I was called to Earthly service with Saint George to battle what he called a dragon, what you would now call an ogre. The Darkness in form of the Hive had spread their taint to Earth even in those days, though their presence was yet faint and spread thinly across time and space near Earth.
“With my Light, Saint George slew the ogre. The battle was fierce and I was forced to pour all of myself into the fight. In the end, the ogre burned, and my Light turned all shadow to joy, but the reverberations of our conflict shook not just three-dimensional space but also the fourth dimension. I was lost for a time that was beyond Time. I passed my hours in the wilderness between three-dimensional space and four-dimensional space in meditation and contemplation of Light and Creation. When I felt the Traveler’s call, I left that place.
“The Traveler called me and I found my way back to three-dimensional space with its help. My Light became consciousness in the metal, silicon, and ceramic body now before you. I came to inhabit this form, this Exo, during the Golden Age. I kept the name Ascalon.
“Once again I journeyed beyond the bounds of Earth, this time on ships that traveled faster than light. I still remember when I was Light and I sailed as fast as thought, but those ships were fast enough, I suppose. I saw other worlds and experienced wonders created by the hand of Man. It was a joyous time, but as for all things, ‘this too shall pass.’ I returned to Earth as the Darkness encroached and lent what assistance I could in the final battles before The Fall.
“In the end, I chose to make my final stand at the ruins of the ancient city of Antioch. The Lord God’s Light has inhabited that place since the days of my first Earthly service and I felt it was a fitting place to meet this particular end. Now that the Traveler’s servant has called me back and I find myself once again in Earthly service to the Light, I take the name Antiochus as well.”
The Cryptarch was silent for several moments as he digested this strange Titan’s extended answer to a simple question. He was used to odd, and sometimes disturbing, ideas from Guardians. Many of them claimed some memories of their past lives, but this story was…unique.
“That’s quite a tale, Guardian, but I only asked you your name.”
The Titan’s gold and white armor reflected some of the late afternoon sunshine falling on the Tower. The Cryptarch couldn’t see the Exo’s face behind his helmet, but the voice was strong, sure, and wearily sad as well. “I call myself Ascalon Antiochus, but my true name is Sword Shining in the Dark.”
The sun felt good on his face. The Speaker would go on about Light, at length, if you let him. The only light Oliver had ever really had use for was sunlight. His ghost lit the way in dark Hive tombs and the muzzle flare from his hand cannon was often a desperate comfort, but when it came to really useful light, he would always think of sunlight.
You could grow things with sunlight. You could run machines. That amazing furnace hanging in the sky could even warm your body and relax you, just like it was doing for him now. A light breeze stirring his hair, the warm stone against his back, and a quiet place to rest: he had everything he wanted right at this moment.
It was as those thoughts were just passing through Oliver’s mind that he heard footsteps approaching his resting place. “I thought it would take you at least fifteen more minutes to find this little nook, Zavala,” Oliver said without opening his eyes.
He heard the slightest hitch in the Titan’s gait at this statement. Probably due to a mixed reaction to being identified by the sound of his gait alone along with annoyance at being addressed as ‘Zavala’ without the title of Commander coming first. Annoyance and surprise were probably not the best way to start a briefing with one of the most powerful and respected warriors in the City.
“Cayde recommended you for a dangerous mission that could be crucial to the City, Mr. Dance, and instead of a prepared Hunter, I find you napping. Have his instincts finally failed him? Are you actually up to the task the Vanguard needs done?” The Titan leader’s deep baritone betrayed neither annoyance nor surprise. His tone was purely one of amusement.
“I don’t have an ego, Commander Zavala, so there’s no point in wasting your breath trying to bait me with a challenge to my pride. I already told Cayde I would listen when you came to find me. So…talk. I’ll listen.”
“There are details of the mission that should be disclosed privately. I would appreciate it if you would come downstairs to the Vanguard Ops room. I’ll brief you there.”
Oliver finally opened his eyes and sat up. Commander Zavala’s blue face mirrored his calm and amused tone of voice. He felt his jaw tighten and willed himself not to betray the annoyance he was beginning to feel at Zavala’s refusal to be baited. The officious Titan’s prim dedication to proper military protocol bothered Oliver. Why behave like the Tower was a military base or the Guardians were soldiers? Guardians were misfits, randomly recruited, strangely non-uniform in their outlook and approach to life. Yet Zavala seemed to like to pretend that he was running a unit of highly trained and disciplined troops who would execute his orders (and they were orders no matter how politely they were phrased) as if he had some actual authority.
In spite of his mutinous mindset, Oliver found himself walking side by side with the object of his mental scorn, out of his beloved sunlight and downstairs into the darkened Vanguard Ops room. Human and Frame Technicians worked around the periphery, occasionally looking up to exchange quiet words among themselves. They never glanced toward the center of the room, where the three legends habitually planned, argued, and passed down wisdom. Overall it was an atmosphere of quiet, busy reverence.
“Clear the room, please.” Commander Zavala’s voice didn’t rise above a conversational volume as he said those words, but the effect was immediate. The techs finished what they were doing, shut down their terminals, and filed out of the room.
“Wow,” said Oliver, his tone mock impressed, “can you make them dance as well?”
“I tried to get a line dance going the other day, but Ikora just couldn’t get the hang of the Monterey Turn.” This was from Cayde-6. The Hunter Exo didn’t look up from the displays on the table to deliver this particular witticism. Oliver knew Cayde well enough to catch the softballed rebuke underneath the joke. The message was: “Oliver, I smell the attitude coming off you from a kilometer away and I’m going to defuse your rudeness with humor that makes me look silly and takes the attention off you. But don’t push it.”
Oliver decided to shut up for a bit and listen. Cayde was a friend and it didn’t do to cross a friend. Especially a friend who was deadly with a sniper rifle at anything less than two and a half kilometers. Ikora Rey stood impassive at this byplay. The Warlock could have been mentally reviewing ancient literature, contemplating the Void, or actually paying attention to the conversation. Her face and posture betrayed absolutely nothing.
When the room was empty except for the four Guardians, Zavala pulled up a holographic display of the Dreadnaught and the current Vanguard assets in the volume surrounding that dark and deadly Hive ship. After a beat, the Titan began to speak. “The Queen of the Awoken, Mara Sov, disappeared along with her brother and retinue from this area after the Battle of Saturn. As you’ve heard, Oryx is no longer a factor in this system.” Zavala smiled tightly.
Actually, Oliver had done a good deal more than hear about that particular exploit, but who cared about details? “We have been collecting intelligence for some time about the Queen’s current whereabouts. All three of us are convinced that not even the remaining command structure at the Reef has a clear idea of Mara Sov’s current location. Neither do we.”
Zavala paused for a moment to see if Oliver had any questions. When Oliver nodded silently, Zavala continued. “There’s been a development that necessitates finding the Queen as soon as possible.”
“How do you know she’s still alive?” Oliver asked.
Zavala looked to Ikora Rey for the answer this question. “We managed to pick up traces of several quantum entangled communications bursts from the general area of the Dreadnaught after the weapon fired. The bursts were received and answered by someone or something on Europa.”
“Jupiter. That means The Nine,” Oliver interjected.
“Correct,” Ikora continued, “we know that the Queen made an alliance with The Nine during the Reef’s conflict with the House of Wolves. It’s our supposition that after the crippling battle at Saturn, she reached out to her old allies for assistance. Perhaps she had some contingency in place with The Nine for a situation such as this, but that’s just speculation. What we do know is there were only two forces out there at the time of the communications: the Hive and the Awoken, and the Hive don’t contact anyone at any time.”
“Unless you count world spanning inferno as a form of contact,” Cayde piped up.
Ikora’s lip twitched in a half smile. “I’m going to get one of my Sunsingers to show you what an inferno looks like if you interrupt me again, Cayde.” The Hunter Exo held up his hands in a pantomime of terror and then made a lip-zipping motion.
“Any idea what the messages said?”
“No,” Ikora answered, “because of the entanglement we can’t know for sure who was talking to who, or what they were talking about. There are references in Golden Age texts to decrypting quantum entangled communications, but that’s one more thing in a long list of technology we no longer have. It’s almost a miracle we were able to pick up the communication burst at all, among all the radiation and background noise from the battle.”
“Okay, so the mission is: find the Queen. What do you want me to do once I find her, and what is this ‘development’ that’s made finding her so important?”