Sometimes I write other things. This is a story based off of the Destiny video game. Probably won’t make much sense if you aren’t familiar with the game.
It’s been twelve days since the last time I died.
My fingers touch the back of my neck while my ghost shifts slightly, as if in sympathy to the phantom pain. It doesn’t hurt. Not really. I just feel like it should. I always feel like it should still hurt afterwards but, eventually it fades. Until the next time.
The stiff, dark grass next to my outstretched leg stirs. The sky is wide and blue and beautiful above me. Far below my rocky vantage point lies a rusted ruin. A grave of tanks, crawlers, transports and other unknown machinery cover the landscape from the titanic launchpads of the cosmodrome to the nearby sea. I can taste the salt in the air, even up here.
My sniper rifle, all flat black with flecks of tan, is already set up and waiting. I have time still. A little time. My finger traces the line of my neck and I can feel each small hair. Unbroken, perfect skin. Not the ruin of flesh and bone and brains from twelve days ago.
Jace was pissed. I can remember opening my eyes to his face. Grim. Bloodied. My blood and fragments of bone covering him. I don’t know how long I was out but the Fallen were all dead.
“What the hell was the point of that?” Jace had growled. He was angry but also worried. We’ve been running missions together a long time and were a close team. Tsuni sat quietly on the side, cleaning his rifle but still listening. His armband glowed brightly. Probably running a simulation of the fight to look for ways to improve efficiency. We’d hear about it later that night.
I’d shrugged at the time. “I saw the sniper. I tried to shove you out of the way but you’re too damn heavy. I took the shot instead, I guess.” I thought I could almost feel it even though I knew the death was instant. Goosebumps rippled down my arms. I hated dying.
“My. Ass,” Jace said, teeth grinding together. “You’re always like this! Every single time! You’ve died more than the rest of us. It doesn’t matter if it’d hit me. If I’d died, I’d come back. You know that. You think your life-“
“Leave over, Jace,” Tsuni said slowly. “We have to keep moving before they miss the patrol and come looking for us.”
And now, twelve days later, here I am. Sitting atop a crest overlooking a small patch of the ancient launch site. I smell like sweat and oil and the nearby sea but that’s fine; I blend in better that way. Some of the Eliksni can track through smell. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss a good hot shower. Or, a bath. God. Baths. I can remember them from before. Before my ghost found me. It’s a game I play sometimes. A gruesome game where I check to make sure I’m still me. That my memories are still there. That all the times I’ve died haven’t been chipping away at who I am. Sometimes I wake up at nights, panicking because I can’t remember my own name or my face. I always hear Cayde’s voice when that happens.
Eight Hunters all facing down range at painted targets. Eight veterans of an old war re-training in a new world where all of the rules had changed. Cayde stood behind us, pacing back and forth.
“Breathe deep, Guardians,” he’d said. His voice, always ready to crack a joke, was serious for once. “Smell the world around you. Bring it all in and taste it all. We’re hunters. We hunt. And, for that, we need to be a part of the world. The Traveller gave you these gifts. Use them. Taste the water in the air and adjust for it. Feel the way the wind flows over and around you and adjust for it. Feel your heartbeat, if you have one, strong and sure in your chest. Breathe out. In between one beat and the next, the world stops around you. The warlocks may have their fancy computers taking care of everything for them, telling them what to do and when but not us hunters. No. We are one with the world and everything else is our prey. You don’t need a fancy calculator to tell you when to do your job. It’s in your blood. In that brief moment between heartbeats, you show your teeth and your prey cowers before you. Show ’em your teeth, Hunters.”
I remember Cayde’s voice every time the panic hits me. I remember his voice and I breathe. Slowly. In and out. Feeling my heartbeat, strong and sure. It works as it always does. The tension drains from my body and I visualize it as if pushing it all out from my chest to my fingers and toes and ears. And then out.
Ghost clicks quietly beside me, three times. My signal. I lean forward, laying myself flat to look through my scope. Ghost feeds data directly to my gun and I move it, following the line he’s drawing for me. The data he’s picking up from innumerous sensors and satellites show him exactly where I need to look.
Rocks shift silently in the view of my scope. My breathing slows. Sounds fade around me as I focus. More rocks and dirt move. A clawed hand reaches through. And a second. The target pulls itself through the ground, just like we thought it would. My Omolon scope gives me distance to the target, wind speed and direction and so much more. My eyes flick to each corner to take the data in, storing is subconsciously. I adjust.
The creature emerges fully from the ground. I’ve killed so many of them that I can read the panic on it’s inhuman face. Bloodied. One of its four arms hangs limp. It looks around, orienting itself. Looking for its exit.
My rifle’s scope is full of raw data but my hands move of their own accord. I don’t know how many shots I’ve taken over the years. How many times I’ve killed these things. I couldn’t count them all but their deaths are engraved into my body. Into my soul.
I breathe. My heart beats. I breath again. My finger touches the trigger. My heart beats and I breathe out. The rifle cracks, popping in my hands and I watch the creature’s head explode into a bloody red mist. My heart beats again.
“Nice shot,” Ghost quips quietly. As talkative as he can be, he knows I like silence when we’re hunting. But, the target is down and dead and we’re done for the moment. “Do you suppose we should check on him?”
“No,” I tell him. I’m already breaking down my rifle to store it with the rest of my gear. I try to run light. “His brains are leaking out all over the ground. No intel on this one, remember? Just supposed to make sure he doesn’t make it out to spread the word. Tsuni will get whatever he can out of their cell’s data. If they even have any.”
We’ve been in the field for six months. Tsuni thought there was a pattern to their movement. He said he felt it at the edges of his data field. Says he could see it as heavy white dots weighing the fabric of probability. I think. Something like that. He told me once that my focus is inversely proportionate to his excitement. I punched him for it but he’s right. I can sit outside for hours and hours and just stare off, enjoying the world around me. Tsuni would rather argue with his ghost over whatever new piece of data he was chewing on. He’d argued with Ikora for hours before they agreed to our assignment.
And, Jace. Jace never relaxes. He barely sleeps. He worries about me and Tsuni and the world. It’s too much for him but he holds it all on his shoulders. So, I do what I can. My ghost and I conspire with Jace’s ghost to make sure he’s eating. I’d try to drug his food to get him to sleep more but I’m pretty sure his body would just filter it all out. We’re none of us exactly human anymore.
I stand and stare at the world for a moment. The wind ripples around me, stirring my cloak and I close my eyes and breathe deep. Drinking it in. I’m alive. I’m still me. Images flash through my mind. Old wars from before. The Traveler whole and pure in the sky. Desperate fighting with my unit. Losing battle after battle until we held on with our fingertips.
Then, death. And nothing else. Nothing else until I woke cold and stiff to stare at this same blue sky and rusted landscape. The first time I saw Ghost. Confused and lost but he felt so familiar. We fought our way back to the Tower and I learned the way of the new world. Everything had changed.
I had changed.
“Let’s go, Ghost,” I say. Without waiting, I begin making my way down. I already know where I’m going next and it’s not too far. My slung scout rifle taps rhythmically against my hips with each step.
I spend the night hidden away, wrapped in my cloak. Fighting nightmares. Fighting my past. I’m awake long before Ghost chimes a gentle reminder to start the day. We talk along the way. About everything. The past (which he is always interested in hearing), battles that I missed while dead and thoughts about the future. I think we’ll be sent out soon. We won an incredible battle not too long ago but gossip around the Tower is that we’re only just starting. That Oryx, dead and lost, was the harbinger. Cabal signals have intensified and we’re still trying to crack those lines. Either they’re planning on moving against us or something else is riling them up.
It’s nearly noon, local time, when the small settlement comes into view. A makeshift wooden fence, nothing more than sticks, really, lines their perimeter. Small tents are arrayed around a few larger ones. Their… sentry… notices me too late. I could’ve killed everyone there before he raised the alarm. I stop and raise my hand, pulling back my hood so they can see my face. Adults pull children away. A few men gather, faces hard.
“I’m looking for a bit of food,” I call out. “I have glimmer for trade. If you have any ammo drops, I’m willing to pay for those, too.” Sometimes scavengers will find drops. Caches left behind or delivered but never picked up. I could call for supplies but I’d rather trade for what they won’t ever use.
The men stare for a while until one takes a half step forward.
“We got some of both,” the old man says. “You’re welcome to them if you can pay. We don’t want trouble.”
“Good,” I answer. “I don’t want any trouble, either. Just making a stop and then I’ll be on my way.”
The old man nods and beckons. I follow to one of the larger tents. Dozens of hungry, scared hidden eyes follow my every step. Two hulking men follow at a distance behind me. Ghost turns to watch them, chirping and clicking in frustrated amusement. I can hear them whispering about me.
The inside of the tent is full of wooden crates. Although I want to do my part to help, I’m no fool and we bargain for about an hour. I come away with five days worth of food and ammunition for my rifle. They make off with twice what I’d pay elsewhere.
“Why are you out here,” I ask. “You know none of this area is secure, right? I could call for an escort from the Tower and-“
“We been to the City,” the old man says. “They turned us away. No room, no room. No food for us. Not unless we separate and go where they says. Live like they says. Work like they says. No. No, we says. We lived together until now. We stay together. It’s all we have.”
I’m not surprised. It’s the same almost every time. A few go but most have lived together so long out in the rough that they can’t imagine a life elsewhere. And the City is run like a machine. They’d be assigned jobs and lives without much regard for who they used to be.
Just like me.
I want to tell them. I almost do, even though I’m not allowed. The area is full Eliksni living in caves and underground. If they don’t move, they won’t live another month. But, if they do move, scouts are likely to wonder why and I’m not supposed to change any… variable… in our mission. Tsuni and Ikora were clear. Touch nothing. Disturb nothing. Not where it can be seen. Let no rumor spread of our intentions. These people won’t move without a threat and I can’t give away what I’m doing.
So, I thank them and then leave. I’m nearly to the entrance of their little camp when I spy a small girl crouched with her back to me. A woman hisses to the side and the little girl looks up at me with huge eyes. She bolts to her mother with a small cry.
There’s a small bowl of water where she was crouched. A piece of wood floats within and, on top of that, a tiny lit candle rocks and flickers.
Ghost chirrups. It’s his version of a sigh. I look over at him, floating over my left shoulder and his single lense focuses on me. His shell rotates in exasperation.
“It’s a tchelk,” he says. “My first time seeing it in person but I’ve heard of it.”
“Okay,” I answer. I crouch in front of it like the girl had. “What’s it mean?”
When I don’t get an answer, I turn back to stare at Ghost. He clicks and chirrups again.
“It’s,” he pauses. “It’s symbolic. They’re… look, it really doesn’t matter.”
“Ghost?” I ask, my voice firm.
“I- you aren’t going to give up, are you? I know that voice.”
“No. What is it?”
“Fine. It’s a light to guide you on to the afterlife. The belief among lesser- among people that live outside the City is that Guardians are dead. Not alive. This is a small prayer for you that you find a way to move on. It’s all superstitious nonsense, really.”
I crouch there, staring at the tiny flickering light. I feel the weight of my pack and my rifle. I can hear every conversation around me. I can smell all of them. When Ghost found me and woke me, I was changed. My first death. I can run for miles and miles in my gear without tiring. I can make a headshot from over 3 kilometers in a storm. I once broke an iron bar that had pierced Jace’s side. We were making an escape but the ceiling collapsed on us, blocking our way and trapping an unconscious Jace. Tsuni and I moved blocks of cement and I broke the bar that held him in place. The bar and four of my fingers with the effort of it.
I am alive. I know I am. And, yet, I watch the little flickering flame and a piece of me is terrified that it will suddenly go out and I’ll die along with it. And another part of me wishes it could happen. I stand and turn back to the settlement.
“You need to move your camp,” I tell them. “I know you don’t want to give up your freedom for the City but you are surrounded by Eliksni and they are hunting for something.”
“Tsss-” Ghost hisses.
“There is an encampment not one kilometer away and they will kill you and eat you without blinking. Even your children. And that’s just the closest one. You have to leave.”
Not one of them spoke. Their whispers died when I raised my voice and now they bowed their heads silently. I grind my teeth and almost continue but it’s useless. They’ll die out here. I look for the little girl but she’s gone. Hiding from me.
“Fools,” I whisper. And then I leave.
Jace and Tsuni should be waiting for me already. I took longer than I should have while arguing over food. Jace won’t be happy. Again.
I was less than two hundred meters away when I felt something stir along my spine. Ghost whirs behind me and half a second later, I hear the first scream.
“Don’t!” Ghost said instantly. “You know our orders! You- you have to leave them!”
I run and the landscape streams past me.
There were so many of them. Already two small fires blazed in the back and people were rushing about, pulling terrified children behind them. Trying to escape. There had to be at least a hundred of them. The creatures. And, behind them, two Captains. Driving them onward. That meant they’d have scouts up and watching. Which means I was ruining everything. My scout rifle was in my hands instantly and two Dregs fell, the gun coughing with both shots.
Too many. Too many to shoot.
I drop my rifle. It takes a moment to concentrate. To find my center. To work through the exercises I’d learned since awaking. I smell a faint scent of burnt hair and then close my right hand into a fist. Before my hand closes completely, a large glowing knife bursts into existence. The air shimmers around me and lightning crackles up and down my right arm.
The world slows. Dregs are pointing at me. One Captain is slowly raising a rifle to his shoulder. Refugees seem frozen in place. The young girl from earlier is trying to free herself from a Dreg. She’s holding her mother’s hand. Her dead mother’s hand.
I move and I’m a blur. The Dreg holding the girl is dead before it realizes. My knife slices through the armor covering it’s throat and face without resistance and I can almost count the drops of blood as they slowly spurt into the air. But, I’m already moving again.
My knife slices another Dreg from crotch to throat and I step aside as a round from a Vandal’s wire rifle passes through where I stood. The Vandal dies next. My blade cuts through his fingers, the butt of his rifle and most of his face before I dance away, on to the next one.
And it is a dance. My partners move slowly around me and I follow their lead. The Light fills me near to bursting and the burning blade pulses with it. Stepping and twirling and ducking with each of them. A round clips my shoulder but I feel nothing other than the Light.
When I reach the back of the camp, the first Dreg I killed finally hits the ground.
The horde is before me. One of the Captains is pointing at me with a sword, screaming in their harsh language. The other is aiming for me and I watch his finger flex on the trigger of a small pistol. It bucks but I’m already gone, standing in front of him. I snarl at the Captain, left hand pushing its chin up and away as my knife flickers. Lightning arcs out, tracing along its body as I slice, severing its spine. The creature flails all four arms spasmodically as its head falls to the ground.
I’m going to die here. I can’t hold the Light much longer. The blade flickers and sputters in my hand. I can only pray I hold the Fallen’s attention long enough that some of the refugees can escape. And that Ghost makes it away in time.
I think of that little makeshift boat with the candle and I wonder if this will be the last time.
Small hairs stand on the back of my arms. The sharp scent of ozone fills the air. One-by-one the Dregs all look up, over my shoulders. One of them drops their knife and turns to run. The second Captain is running towards me, two swords raised.
The blade flickers once in my hand. Twice. And then, the Light leaves me. Time begins to flow again and I fall to my knees, exhausted. I watch the Captain coming while I pant, one hand on the ground to hold myself up.
Show ’em your teeth, Hunters, Cayde’s voice echoes in my head.
“Fuck. You. Cayde.” I growl, rocking back to my toes, ready to throw myself at the Captain.
A high pitched whistling fills the air. A line of molten fire, almost too painful to look at, races towards the Captain and then impacts, throwing the huge creature back. I watch it crash into a group of Dregs. The Captain and five Dregs have a huge hole burned through their chest.
Lightning crackles in the air, nearly masking the screams of the retreating Fallen. Tsuni floats past me and I feel arcs of pure Light caress me as he passes. That same Light then cracks out, the storm breaking over the retreating mass. Fire and lightning follows. Jace and Tsuni burning them all before they flee.
I stumble back to the camp to make sure there are no hidden stragglers but all I can see are the dead I left behind. And the humans the Eliskni killed. So, instead, I find a solid looking crate and sit back against it to catch my breath.
Ghost is by my side in an instant. Before he can check on me, Jace rushes up. I can see Tsuni far behind him, still clearing out a few Dregs that thought they could hide.
“Are you hurt?” Jace demands.
“No,” I croak. “Just… the Knife always wears me down.”
“Come on,” Jace growls, putting his arm out for me to grab. “We have to find their scouts before they report back. We can still catch them-“
Beside me, Ghost screams. I can feel its pain as sharp spikes along my spine. It’s body rotates frantically and then it freezes, staring into the distance. Jace’s ghost turns to the same direction. Both begin speaking at the same time and in the same voice. It’s Russian. Old Russian. I never bothered to learn. They speak as one and then collapse. I catch Ghost before he hits the ground.
“Did you-” Jace starts.
Tsuni rushes over, gasping, his brow filled with sweat. “That was Rasputin!”
“The- Rasputin?” I ask, stupidly. “I thought he was a rumor?”
“No,” Tsuni says. “No, he’s real. I’ve seen the data. The council tries to hide him away but they can’t hide everything. Jace. He’s calling for us. The three of us specifically.”
“What the hell did he do to Ghost?” I demand. He’s still immobile and I’ve never seen him like this. There’s a faint light behind the lense but nothing else. My chest aches and there’s a headache blooming behind my eyes. It’s only then that I notice Tsuni and Jacen cradling their own ghosts.
Jace turns to look towards the path the Eliksni were moving and then towards the coast where Ghost had faced. Tsuni and I watch him silently. After an eternity, he looks at us both.
“We have to go to him,” Jace says. “We have to find Rasputin.”