(Read the previous part here
“And you’re certain he hasn’t left?” I asked the very bored Flight Controller back home.
“Jovian Flight Control has not clocked any jumpships leaving Europa without authorization, sir.” He droned.
My eye twitched. We’d been holded up in this Light-Forsaken Comms Center for a week, eating cold beans, with cold vegetable puree on the side. No one had caught such much as a glimpse of The Target since we’d landed. It was beginning to feel like we were wasting our time.
More than that, I was beginning to feel like my Patron had led me out here as some sort of elaborate practical joke. Not that it mattered, the lead had brought me to a moon full of exactly the sort of scum I was supposed to destroy.
It was becoming impossible for me to so much as step outside without seeing a Traitor wielding the power of The Enemy. It made me sick to my stomach, and I’d locked myself in this dim backroom with George and Noma, practically fused to the radio, resisting the urge to burn heretics while my friends kept themselves entertained.
Noma had taken to polishing her Machine Gun three times a day, until the barrel shone bright silver. She was careful and she was meticulous, ensuring every inch of her weapon was well maintained when the call finally came in.
George, on the other hand, had decided that dramatic poetry readings would cheer us all up. He would pace around the room, scrolling through his datapad looking for another piece of free verse to belt out.
“Ah yes… marvelous.” He said, deciding on his next rendition.
Noma looked up at him, then across at me, and rolled her eyes. I smirked, and faked gagging. She laughed a little, and turned back to polishing her weapon.
“I can see you, you know.” George said, without raising his eyes from his DataPad, “This one is called…. Dogs.”
“It was written as the libretto for a piece of Classical Music. Floyd’s 10th Symphony, 2nd movement.”
He readied himself to begin his recital, when the door slid open, accompanied with a blast of frigid wind. Victor stepped through the door, and shook the snow off his cloak.
“Storm’s coming.” He said, patting himself down.
“Welcome to Europa, dipshit. There’s always a storm coming.”
The Traitor’s friend glared at me,
“Not like this. The Vanguard’s got a scout team on the far side of the Abyss reporting the biggest storm they’ve ever seen rolling through.” He took a chair from the plastic table stuffed in the corner, “Got any food?”
Noma continued polishing her gun. George resumed his dramatic reading, and I dialed in the radio, trying to get more information out of the Flight Controller on the other end. The signal was patchy at best, and the Controller didn’t seem to be in the mood to divulge anything.
Within a couple of hours, the storm hit. Comms vanished completely, probably down to the interface being output by Europa’s electromagnetic winds. This ended my conversation with The City quite abruptly.
In the strongest gusts, the entire station felt like it may get tossed away by the force of the storm. Inside, it sounded like a Cabal Centurion was trying to bash down the door, a relentless series of low hammer blows on the thick blast doors.
Nothing was going to get in, but going out could be incredibly hazardous.
George stepped across and sealed the door, as he seemed unsure as to whether or not it would ever close again if someone opened it from the other side. The tiny communications kit we had with us wouldn’t get a signal out of Europa’s atmosphere.
For the foreseeable, we were cut off from the Vanguard’s network, from vital intel. I was going to go insane if I didn’t find a method to calm down. George would suggest reading, and Noma would suggest a nap. Jess would suggest meditation. I decided that was likely the best course of action.
This lasted about an hour.
“I’m going out.” I declared, slipping on my helmet and walking towards the door.
“To do what?”
My brain blanked. I actually had no clue what I wanted to do, I just knew that If I stayed here any longer, I’d shoot Victor out of boredom. Knowing how these things tend to proceed, I might just shoot him for fun.
“No you’re not.” George said, climbing down off the table and stepping between me and the door. He pushed me back down into a chair.
“Why?” I asked like an angry toddler.
George didn’t answer, instead just fiddling with his DataPad, as though he could find the answer to the question ‘Why’ on VanNet. The comms blackout preventing him from finding any answer, and instead he scrolled through the settings, trying different encryptions and transmission bands. None of them punched through the storm. He paused, considering something, before handing me his DataPad,
“Because you have a job to do.”
I raised an eyebrow,
“Do I? Aside from slowly decomposing?”
“Yes. Try and get that DataPad to interface with that gargantuan dish on the roof.”
Slightly perplexed, I took the Pad and looked around the room for an input. It took me ages to find a cable that would let the City tech talk to the dormant Golden Age comms system all around us. It took a weird combination of cables, short-range signal boosters, and a few bodged-together lines of code to eventually give the DataPad access to the Communications Center’s control.
“George!” I said excitedly, scrolling through the building controls, looking almost certainly like a little kid who’d just broken into the cookie jar.
“Mm?” George asked, suddenly roused from his power nap.
“I did it. I’m into the settings!” I exclaimed excitedly.
“Oh.. great. Give it here.” He said, trying to grab it.
“No!” I held the pad close to my chest, “I cracked it, so I get to play with it.”
George closed his hand, and sat back down, folding his arms disapprovingly.
“Why do you want it?’ I asked him, scrolling through the menus.
He steepled his fingers, tapping them together over and over again. Something didn’t sit right with him. When he was unsettled, it was usually for a reason.
I set the DataPad on the side, and leaned forward.
“What is it?”
“Probably nothing..” He conceded unconvincingly.
“George… come on. What?”
He scratched his purple head, his eyes scanning the ground.
“I…” He paused, collected himself, and spoke clearly, “This storm seems like perfect cover for House Salvation to deal real damage to us. There are probably dozens of Fireteams operating out there, with no support. It’s a perfect recipe for an ambush.”
Picking it up off the side, I handed him the Datapad.
He nodded wordlessly, and started to manipulate the menus. The various consoles around the room sprang to life, startling Victor, who dropped his revolver to the ground.
“The hell are you doing?” He asked, scrambling around on the floor.
None of us responded.
A speaker popped and crackled into life. Before anyone had a chance to react, George linked in his headphones and the first syllables of a message vanished. His expression soured, he listened intently for just a few moments before standing up abruptly.
“Victor, are you ready to move?” He asked the Hunter.
“Grab your things.” He said, pulling on his duster and checking his SUROS Impromptu-49 rifle was loaded. “Noma and Max, stay here. Hold down the fort, stay on comms.”
“But…” I started to protest.
“Stay here, m’dear.” He instructed, before nodding to Victor and walking through the door, into the whiteout. Victor:
We cruised through the storm, pressed in on all sides by the weather. George rode ahead, only visible by the faintest glow coming off his Sparrow’s engines.
The Sparrow he’d given me to borrow was a bit old, and its engines were in urgent need of a tune-up, but it just about let me keep up with him.
“How’s it running?” George asked over crackly comms.
“Fine. Care to tell me what spooked you?”
“That scout team’s stranded out on the Ice, and they’re broadcasting wide-band.” George said gravely, as though he was announcing their deaths.
“They’re broadcasting wide, so what?”
George was quiet for a moment. I thought I could make out him shaking his head.
“So, their message is out there for anyone with a powerful receiver to pick up.”
“Yes. And also, more than likely, House Salvation.”
“Oh indeed. With luck, we’ll make it to their camp first.”
He still seemed to be blowing things out of proportion.
“It’s one fireteam, can’t imagine they’d send more than a Pike Gang.”
The ground shook beneath our Sparrows, blurring everything in front of us. The low screaming roar of a ship dropping out of Warp straight into the atmosphere tore above the storm. A Ketch. House Salvation had sent an entire Ketch to obliterate this fireteam.
“That… may have been premature.”
George chuckled, and revved his engine, disappearing into the storm ahead.
“About 4 kilometers to go.”
I nodded, and pushed hard, pulling alongside him as we thundered onwards across the flat ice sheet.
“George, tell me something…” I said, focusing on what lies ahead.
“I was going to say ‘nuts’ but zealous fits.”
George chuckled, I could see his helmet lifted towards the sky, trailing the orange dots that signified the Ketch’s engines pushing it through the storm.
“Yes. Even within the Order, who are hardly a group of moderates, Max’s zealotry is considered extreme. There are very few like him, who have such a single-minded obsession with besting fallen Guardians.”
He paused, adjusted course slightly, and continued to tell me as we plunged towards the camp.
“He has reason to be. A personal stake, if you like.”
“He once had a great love, as I suppose we all do at one time or another, and they were taken from him by one who fell.”
“It was on a Strike mission, in Old Chicago. The third member of their crew was a Warlock, who was under suspicion by The Order. They’d cleared him for active duty, and mid-way through the mission, he disappeared. When he returned, he started behaving strangely.”
The storm eased slightly, and our Sparrows started to move a little quicker.
“Max told him to calm down, and got hit in the side by a Devourer round. She stepped in the way, and this Warlock tossed her into a Hive nest.”
“He never saw her again. After the mission, The Warlock was placed before a Tribunal, and begged for his life. He got placed in Bakken Prison, serving an indefinite sentence…”
“And Max didn’t think that was good enough.”
“No. He joined The Praxic Order the next day, and began hunting down those that’ve gone rogue.”
“The best. He’s fuelled by a vendetta that can never be satisfied. I warn you Victor, for the sake of your friend…”
“He does not make exceptions, he does not make deals, and he does not take prisoners. If Max reaches Dvol, he will kill him.”
“Unless Sarech bests him.”
“I’ve read the file. He won’t”
Flashes of light, and the rumble of explosives detonating in the distance reached us.
“Nearly there.” George increased his speed, and I matched.
A Skiff flew overhead, firing only a couple of shots from its turret, more focused on its destination. High up in the storm, the Ketch dropped heavy artillery onto the ice sheet. The explosions burst bright orange, silhouetting two Hunters locked in melee combat with Fallen.
“Elksni ahead.” George said evenly, taking one hand off his Sparrow’s controls, and placing it on his rifle.
Something jumped at me out of the storm, and I felt something sharp slip through my armor as I hit the snow. A spear, several feet long, had been driven into my shoulder by a lone Wretch, who screamed with glee as it jumped onto my chest and drove the spear further into my shoulder.
I grunted, trying to lift my gun arm, but it was no good. The Wretch squealed and pressed it deeper, pinning my arm to the ground. My left arm was still free. There was a popping noise from above, like corn in a frying pan. Orange spots flashed on the dark shape of the Ketch hovering far above us.
Incoming artillery fire. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
The Wretch wrenched his spear out of my shoulder and pointed it towards my forehead. Someway behind him, huge solar rounds impacted. Huge orange flashes went up, silhouetting the Elksni standing on top of me.
The shockwave from the explosion staggered the Wretch, giving me a moment to grab my knife and jam it into the back of the Elksnis knee. A rush of snow fell on top of me, as I ripped my knife backwards, cutting bone. The Wretch fell off me, and I tore his spear free from my armour.
On my feet, I flipped myself over and drove the tip of my knife into his esophagus. Ether splurted out onto my faceplate as the two-armed Fallen clawed at me, clawing to stay alive. He failed, and died underneath me.
The storm intensified. I could feel the cold eating into my skin. Could Exo get frostbite? I suppose I was about to find out. The snow pressed in around me, gripping my skin. It hurt. My time was running out.
I got to my feet, struggling to keep myself upright. The wind was vicious, trying to bury me in the snow building around my feet.
Bang, bang, bang.
Another barrage from the Ketch lit up the dark. Something orange was glowing at the edge of what I could make out. I staggered forward, trying not to seize up from the cold. I shivered, which felt wrong. Like it was something that should be impossible for me to do.
Every step was harder than the last, battering against the storm and scanning through my snow covered vision for the sight of any enemy lunging towards me. Another artillery blast landed somewhere to my right, but I couldn’t feel it.
The orange light was closer, and closer, and closer.
I was practically frozen solid by the time I fell face first through the shield and into the bubble of warmth. My armor began to melt, and I could feel the ends of my fingers again. Oh thank the Light.
Inside this strange orange bubble of warmth, sat George, conversing quietly with two Hunters. The Vanguard Scout team.
“You seem to be missing someone.” George said, in a way that suggested it was a question.
The Hunters nodded.
“We came out here, as a team of 3. Heard rumours about the entrance to the Deep Stone Crypt. So far all we’ve found are these weird heat bubbles, thought to set up camp in one, and brought their whole House down on our heads.
A sound like an anvil being dropped onto my head detonated above me.
The Ketch’s freshed barrage caused the shield over our heads to groan with the strain of holding us up.
George ignored it, and carried on interrogating the Hunters.
“Where is the third of your party?”
The two survivors looked at each other, as another blast deafened us from above. We all winced, and I spied what looked to be a Skiff prowling outside the bubble. I lifted my Hand Cannon from its holster and rested the barrel on the top of my wrist.
A line of Fallen appeared out of the storm, and charged into the bubble. I shot and killed the first two before the others fell on top of me. I hit the hard metal plate beneath my feet and slashed wildly with my knife, killing a third Fallen before I stood and fired at the last Wretch to charge.
3 bullets from George’s rifle dropped them before I had a chance. I turned to look towards him, nodding my thanks, and spying the tell-tale shimmer of a Marauder slipping into the bubble behind him.
Without warning him, I fired a bullet over his shoulder. His attacker’s head popped, and the body dropped to the floor. George shouted my name as he fired at something behind me. A Captain died on the floor behind me.
The survivors were on their feet, firing into the storm, hopping their shots would connect with one of the attackers who swarmed our tiny bubble of safety. Another barrage was dumped onto us by the Ketch above. The shield quivered, it was weak. About to break.
Fallen soldiers kept pouring in from all sides. They were more bodies than I had bullets to beat them back. George was backpedaling, firing furiously to try and keep them down. The survivors were being overrun too, and it seemed like the Ketch was readying to drop another barrage on our heads.
Something with two arms and two legs sprinted into the bubble. He was dressed head to toe in black, and brandished a white katana in his right hand, while holding a staff made of ice in his other hand. His face was entirely obscured by a breathing mask.
With a sweep of his staff, the oncoming force of Fallen froze in place. He turned on his heel and pointed his staff towards another oncoming front of Fallen, and they too turned to ice. He moved around the circle, using this power to hold every enemy that charged towards us in place.
Then, he stood in the center of the bubble, and raised his staff over his head.
A sound like a huge bell being struck reverberated my insides. It felt hollow, Light-eating, like a yawning chasm opening up and devouring all other sounds around it. The wind and the sound of ice shattering filled the circle.
Every enemy that had begun to invade our bubble of safety had been shattered into a million pieces. Our savior’s staff disappeared, and he took a seat, clearly exhausted from the effort. George, without missing a beat, stepped forward and extended a hand.
“Perfect timing.” He said. The new guy waved him away.
I looked up in time to see the Ketch pull away into the night. Guess they got bored. With more than a little relief, I slid my gun into its holster. The two survivors didn’t. Instead, they pointed the guns at their teammate.
George and I looked at each other, then to the survivors. Their faces both suggested that whoever had saved us, wasn’t their teammate. My hand went back to my gun, as George retracted his.
No one spoke, as the new man rose, and raised his sword.
“Who are you?” I said, asking the obvious and boring question. The Man looked at me, and opened his left palm. A beam of frigid cold shot out of it, and encased my feet in ice. I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t feel my foot. What the hell was this stuff?
George pulled his Pulse Rifle off his back and aimed it. The Man didn’t look at them, instead he simply focused on me. Behind his black-tinted goggles, any recognisable features were completely hidden.
“Don’t follow me.” He said, voice garbled by the electronics in his mask.
Even so, without a doubt, I knew his voice instantly.
Sarech Dvol summoned a Stasis crystal in his hand, and threw it at the ground. Between him and George, a wall of ice erupted from the warm metal. Through it, I could hear the sound of his pulse rifle discharging, trying to break through.
Without so much as a look back in my direction, my friend disappeared into the storm.
The ice wall disappeared, and my foot was freed as he disappeared. Without hesitation, I sprinted after him. Or I began to, before George’s hand clamped down on my shoulder.
“Are you sure?”
I looked out into the storm, any sign of him completely lost. He’d been like a Spectre, there one moment, gone the next. No guarantees I would or even could find him again. But I had to try. After everything we’d lost together, and everything I’d staked on coming here, I had to try.
And I followed my friend into the darkness.
//Yowza, the Deep Stone Crypt raid is really something else. My LFG team and I managed to clear the first encounter, but the first boss fight is a real challenge. Day One raiding ate a lot of my time today, and so this entry in The Line arrives slightly later than intended. Join us next week for Max’s descent, and a collision of ideas.//
(Read the entire series here)