Commander Zavala stands behind his desk riddled with documents to greet Osiris. Through a cloud-covered shroud, the reforged Traveler fills the office with a delicate glow. “Osiris. I am glad to see you safe and with us again. Please, sit.”
Stress draws trenches in Zavala’s face: battle lines between worry and hope, duty and friendship; between survival and annihilation. Osiris meets Zavala’s eyes. They do not scream traitor, exile, heretic . Instead, they seek wisdom—to confide in another who knows burden.
“This won’t take long,” Osiris states, remaining on his feet. “Something is communicating across the forces of the Darkness. Do not let Eramis blind you to other threats on our borders.” His disquieting voice prickles.
“I can provide operational support for you, but that is all. The Vanguard’s focus is on Europa. We won’t abandon immediate threats to chase cryptic omens.”
Osiris scoffs in disbelief. “Since when has the Vanguard been capable of only one task?” He steps toward Zavala, thrusting a finger at him like a spear. “How do you not see the tactical advantage of tapping into their communications?”
“You know me better than that. We don’t have resources to launch a system-wide investigation. I put my trust in Eris…” Zavala inhales deeply. “Fifty-seven Guardians did not return to the City. Dead, or otherwise unaccounted for. The Consensus factions have their own agendas in light of our losses. And frankly, I didn’t expect to see you answer the call either.”
“I came, and now you tell me there is no plan. Perhaps it would have served me better to—”
“I won’t be hounded by absentee Guardians and armchair tacticians.” Zavala slowly places his hands on his desk, as if restraining himself from destroying it. “The information you’ve brought me is worth investigating. If you want to help, I will give you full authority to pursue this loose end. The City’s archives and support systems are at your disposal, but I cannot allocate additional ships or manpower to your cause.”
Osiris nods, realizing he had no right to demand action. “I apologize. Thank you.” He motions toward the windows’ reinforced glass. “The Traveler’s reforging was a sight to behold.” His words have a faint reverence to them.
Zavala turns away from the Traveler’s pale light, his face dimmed. “Indeed. I wish it was more than just that.”
“These events were beyond us all, Zavala. I should have seen it… I just want to correct my error.”
“I’ll help you where I can, Osiris. Remain in contact, and if it is dire, I will point every gun at whatever fiend you uncover.”
A siren has long wept over Io, mourning the death of a once-lively world.
The life left sleeping lay deep in the Cradle, awaiting a wish to waken the grove.
On wings of flame and golden skein, the Phoenix settled to deliver,
buried deep with flaming beak a seed to blossom and draw Watchers hither.
“That’s pretty good. I mean… it could be a little less narcissistic, but you’ve only had decades to practice,” Sagira pokes.
“It isn’t finished,” Osiris grumbles. “Stop reading my private drive.”
Fractals of color scintillate and split across Osiris’s jumpship as it slips through space toward Io.
His mind is still taxed from his last visit. He remembers—camouflaged against the rushing atmospheric bands of Jupiter—how he drifted alongside its evergreen moon. He remembers the deep wedge that sunk between the two bodies, dividing them.
The Pyramid before him, lascivious tendrils of wildfire hue flowed from it like a grasping hand across the Cradle. The image as clear as relived trauma. Io had been dwarfed against the black angular pit seated in its atmosphere. His eyes could not leave it then; even now, he feels himself falling into its gravity as they approach again.
“Have you sent it to Saint yet?” Sagira flitters into view. She brings him back to the present, soaring across space.
“No. I told you, it isn’t finished.”
“Have you told him you’re writing poetry again? He’s going to have so much to say about that.”
“Enough. You don’t need to be involved. He badgers me enough as it is,” Osiris barks half-heartedly, his face softening as the words leave him. “We have work to do.”
They lurch out of their jump. Jupiter’s depth fills the canopy with pyrographic incandescence. Dozens of moons arc around the giant in careful, patient grooves—cut into space over millennia of gravitational friction. Io is not among them. Osiris checks and rechecks coordinates. Sagira assures him they are correct. They stare at the disparity together.
The orbital readings of Sol’s bodies are intact, gravity unaltered. But the system is gutted, four globes plucked from the skies. His eyes sink into the maw of eternal depth lurking in Io’s place. An anomaly of Darkness. Osiris stares as if looking into the pyre-flames of a funeral; the corpse’s uncanny familiarity. A stranger you half-remember.
There is only the gouge of Io’s absence. A reckoning whispered and left.
Saturn grieves the loss of Titan. The cerulean jewel that once was had sunken into the gullet of the abyss. In its place, an anomaly , dark and rimmed in gravitational lensing. Osiris tears his eyes away and fixates on its sibling cavity: a swath cut through Saturn’s rings by Oryx’s blade during the Taken War. Within the rings, the Dreadnaught sails in solidarity with the anomaly’s orbit, whispering back in harmony.
“Do you hear that?” Osiris asks, turning to Sagira. He turns the ship’s scanning array toward the anomaly. “Like the tones Vance described. From the spires, and then the Pyramids. It was coming from the anomaly that replaced Io as well.”
“I don’t hear anything, but I can feel it.” Sagira cringes and constricts her shell flaps. “Like a shiver down my metaphorical spine.”
Osiris lowers his gaze. He does not want to see their failure or believe the Cradle’s Tree, the Forest, all the Golden Age treasures so many had died to preserve—were gone. All their victories: usurped and meaningless in the face of the enemy.
For all their power, all their heroism, they had invited this fate. And when it came, they were not prepared.
Phobos and Deimos orbit the grave of Mars where a roiling depth festers, hungry and reaching out to the little moons caught within its influence. The Warmind buckled, and yet somehow, it ekes out existence in hiding, a survivor again.
Ana still holds on to a dead hope. She should be out in the field as a paragon of the old age. Charging forward to lead unsteady neophytes. Like he has. Instead, she retreats to the City and lays her worries on Zavala’s brow, promising a Rasputin perfected to rebuke the assailing horrors of the night. But the Warmind did not stop the Pyramids, and unkept promises make Osiris weary. At least Sloane and Asher confronted the onslaught themselves, one last time. How he longs for that assured aplomb.
“To know the way forward, one must bear the torch,” he murmurs.
Sagira is silent. Osiris can feel the weight of each lost world shackle her hope to a blistering reality. There is no reason to linger here.
The ship drops into Sol’s mighty star-wind , the brilliant flames of the Sun at their backs. Osiris’s hope tells him he could find a subdued Mercury here, laboring under the angular shadow of a Pyramid. But he knows his hope is a lie. The wound is all he can see. A pit ringed in flame. He remembers the vast nothingness he had witnessed in the Infinite Forest. He laments the loss of his clairvoyance within its coded halls. Perhaps there, he would have had the answer to the question he wants to ask Sagira, “Have I led us down this path?”
He tells himself that his last visit was driven by anger. Sagira had chided him for storming the Lighthouse and ransacking Vance’s possessions. “They’re my relics,” he said to silence her protests. In truth, what drove Osiris to Mercury then is the same as what drives him now: fear.
“Why didn’t you tell Zavala about the Lighthouses? About the Tree?” Sagira asks. Osiris is silent. “There are people that will help. This isn’t the Dark Ages. You don’t have to do this alone.”
“When I have something to show them, I will. Right now, all we have are questions.” Osiris watches analytical data stream up his monitor.
“So where does that leave us?”
“Mara began this escapade with her message, and I did as she asked. I can only hope the Awoken can provide more answers.”
Rain falls in the Dreaming City. From within a hollow amethyst cavern, Osiris watches the amber droplets pepper the ground and burst into misty vapor. Their subtle impacts echo off crystalline walls and meld together in escalating, chaotic resonance that rings through the cavern. He could feel the sting of momentum dragging him to an unforeseen end. A million possibilities, and only a single chance to move through them.
“It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen it rain here before.” Sagira’s words pluck Osiris from his stupor.
The rain’s tawny sheen fades from the wet ground. He thinks for a moment to ask her what she was saying but airs his own thoughts instead. “Petra was useless.”
“She doesn’t know you like Mara does,” Sagira says wistfully as she buzzes back into the jumpship. “Oh good. Back in the ship. Again.”
“You saw the look on her face when she read our data. She knows something she isn’t telling us.”
“Maybe she’s just being cautious.”
“We don’t have time for the Reef’s suspicions.”
“They haven’t seen you in years, Osiris.”
“The same could be said for their queen,” Osiris scoffs and raises himself into the cockpit. “Unruly Hive activity is all the intelligence Petra had to offer. When are they not?”
“I can try talking next time. That might help.”
“If we return, you’re more than welcome to. For now, we’re Tower-bound.”
“That sounds AMAZING. I can finally stretch my shell for a bit.” Sagira flexes. “Speaking of the Tower, Geppetto keeps asking if you’ve checked under your seat.” She jabs a tiny shell point downward.
Sagira locks her iris on Osiris as he begins preflight checks. “You’re putting more effort in avoiding it…”
“I’m really not.”
“I’ll do it.” She flutters past his shins and dives under the pilot seat. A muffled “Found it!” sounds beneath him. She emerges with a crumpled note tied in lavender frill and sealed by a crude wax stamp of a flaming bird.
“He made us a stamp!” she says, excitedly shaking vibrato into her voice.
“What does the letter say, Sagira?”
“Oh, now you want to know what it says?”
“You just didn’t seem interested. I can read it to myself—”
“He will ask when we get back.”
“Well, if you want to know that badly… It says he likes your new poem.”
The Tower crowd is dense and boisterous at dusk. Outside Zavala’s office, Osiris can hear Ikora’s cool tone clearly pierce through the thick doors. Her words are considerate, crafted. Osiris contemplates interrupting them. But they have enough on their shoulders. To the Hangar.
“If you’re headed to see Saint, I’ll tag along. Otherwise, I’ll meet you back at the ship,” Sagira says.
“First Ana, then Saint.”
“Why do you always see him last?”
“He is the most patient.”
“You’ve been busy.” Osiris takes in Ana’s hastily assembled workshop located within the partition between the Tower and the City. Tools and schematics litter the room.
“Talking to me or yourself?” Ana asks and rolls out from beneath a disassembled Exo chassis. “Hard to tell sometimes,” she says, standing.
“It’s been too long, Ana.”
“You don’t visit often.” She glances over her shoulder. “Except to point fingers.”
“I suppose we’ve both been busy. I’m glad to see you back in the Tower.”
Ana rolls her jaw. “I guess we have to stop running sometime.”
Osiris looks at the Exo chassis. “Do we?”
“What are you here for, Osiris? Looking to make another mess for me to clean up?”
“When the Warmind was overtaken, did you notice a resonant tone in the Darkness’s attack? Like this?” Osiris asks and plays a waveform recording of the Lighthouse’s song.
“I was a little preoccupied. But I didn’t hear any suspicious… tones.”
“You experienced the Darkness’s assault firsthand. Instead of using that experience, you’re dredging up the dead.”
“Osiris, content only if he alone can play god.” Ana swipes a welding torch from a nearby workbench.
“You should meet up with Calus. You two would get along.”
“Run the tones through your database. If your pet project has any related information—”
“I’ll run it.” The words sarcastically fall out of Ana’s mouth as she slides back under the Exo and ignites the torch with a Solar finger-snap. “Next time you want to drop in, use the Ghost-vine instead.”
The Tower Hangar is still, its ships grounded. Gearheads and pilots alike wait in tense reticence. Scramble speakers buzz with static anticipation of orders from Vanguard High Command. Osiris turns back to a lone point of Light shining through the gloom.
“I do not understand all of this code. This is Geppetto’s specialty,” Saint-14 says while standing bent over a wide desk covered in data tablets. Holographic images of the Lighthouse shimmer in the Hangar lights. “We could use the Crucible right now. Your trials. This will be very helpful. You mean to stay, yes?”
“I will. Long enough to show you how to implement the simulation; but tonight, I must disembark,” Osiris says.
Osiris tenses his jaw in forced silence. He twiddles with code. “I’m worried about what Vance found.”
Saint places a heavy hand on Osiris’s chest. “Let go of your obsession. Do not leave chasing phantoms again.”
“Phantoms… You think the Darkness is satisfied? This is just the first move. I need to know the next before it’s made.”
“If there is something you fear, let me help you. We face this together.”
Osiris’s mind drifts to the Dark anomalies. Saint doesn’t need another burden.
“The safest place for you is the Tower, Saint. Time… tends to renege on its gifts.”
“So, your mission is dangerous?”
Osiris considers lying. “Potentially.”
“Then do not go. The Vanguard already scouts Europa. The Forest is gone, my fiery bird.” Saint gives an uneasy chuckle and bats Osiris on the shoulder with his palm. “You don’t need to disappear and go looking for another.”
Osiris smiles faintly. The Forest is gone, and all the simple pleasures in existence could not replace it. Sagira had told him once that life ebbs and flows. And in that ebb, he is still lost. How long will it last, until purpose rushes forth to find him again?
“Me, disappear?” He gives Saint a tilted look. “I won't. I'll be back, and I will continue to keep Zavala abreast of my travels.”
“And me.” No number of tethers would keep him.
“Yes, and you.”
“And you will answer my letters.”
Osiris skirts the promise. “If I am able.”
“Or I will send you with more of this candy corn, and Sagira will make you eat it.”
“Do not be ridiculous. It is delicious.”
Osiris fails to contain a chuckle. Saint embraces him. His mind is starside, but Osiris still feels himself relax. Someday, this will be enough.
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