Cosmodrome, Old Russia, Earth
With a sudden rush, I was back. Instinctively, I crouched to get my bearings. Resurrections are always like this. You tend to come back without the memories of the last few moments before your ‘death’, so it makes for a few anxious moments as you try to figure out what’s going on. The chatter of Garm’s auto rifle told me that we were still in the thick of things. My ghost was there, floating in my face, hurling admonishments.
“This time please try to keep your head down!” the tiny machine snapped.
I pushed him away with my left hand and checked the pulse rifle’s magazine. Full. As I stood, I became aware of the guttural and unmistakable sound of Fallen speech. Dregs. Very close. Like, shotgun close. Fallen are generally humanoid in appearance, but with four eyes and four arms. They wear masks that supply the Ether they need to breathe. The motion tracker in the upper left of my helmet’s HUD showed them just on the other side of the broken wall that currently sheltered me from the firefight raging nearby. I couldn’t help smiling as I quickly swapped the rifle for the shotgun. As their name implies, Dregs are the lowest of the Fallen society. Dregs are forced to have their lower set of arms removed and the stumps fitted with docking caps until they prove themselves worthy. These Dregs wouldn’t be earning those arms. Or anything else. I crept forward a few meters and crouched again. Wait for it. Wait.
The three Dregs scurried around the corner, looking back in the direction they’d come and they nearly ran into me. The first one spotted me and began to screech before my first slug caused his entire head to disappear. I quickly racked another shell into the chamber, swung the barrel slightly to the left and took the head off the second Dreg. There’s something deep inside me that loves the way their heads always seem to... vaporize. Like smoke wafting out of the empty neck hole. I’ve never asked about the physiology that makes it so. I don’t really care. And I know I probably shouldn’t find it funny. But I do. The third Dreg had closed the distance between us and was right up in my face. It earned him a ferocious punch. When Titans punch things, they often just disintegrate. Just like this fellow did, floating away in a purple mist.
The firing had stopped now, so I paused to replace the three shells I’d fired. My helmet comm crackled slightly. “Adam? Are you okay?”
“Yep,” I replied. He couldn’t see it, but I smiled at my ghost. “Nothing my little buddy here couldn’t fix.”
Scout rifle at the ready, Kat stepped cautiously around the same corner from which the Dregs had emerged only moments before. She still had difficulty with the idea that Guardians could be revived after death. It wasn’t often that one of us went down, but when it happened she was always concerned.
Despite the fact that her helmet concealed her face, her body language clearly conveyed her relief when she saw me standing upright and breathing. It’s better that she wears the helmet, because her light blue skin is simply mesmerizing to look at. Kat is Awoken, a species that evolved from Humans who fled Earth after the Collapse. Most of them have blue or purple skin that shimmers with some kind of energy. They tend to be quite... appealing to look at. Not that I’m interested in that. You know. She’s my teammate, after all.
“What hit me?” I asked as I stowed the shotgun and went back to the pulse rifle.
“Would you feel better if I said it was a servitor?” she asked. The tilting of her head told me that she was teasing.
“But it wasn’t,” I muttered. “Was it?”
“Nope. It was a Dreg.”
Thankfully, my own helmet hid the look on my face, not to mention the reddening that I knew accompanied the feeling of shame at having been killed by a creature that was aptly named for the lowest of the low. Not that death was a good thing by the hand of any other enemy, but you know... It was a Dreg. Damn it.
I prodded one of the headless corpses with a foot. “Red and gold armor,” I observed, changing the subject. “Definitely the House of Devils.”
She clapped a hand on my heavy shoulder plate. “C’mon Titan, let’s get this done and get out of here.”
I followed Kat about fifty meters to where Garm-12 was crouched, peering into a large hole blown into the side of a building. Kat, Garm and I are one of many Fireteams that operate under the guidance of the Future War Cult. We’d been on a routine patrol of the area, when we received new orders dispatching us to investigate reports of activity in the Cosmodrome’s Refinery. This Cosmodrome and others like it, once served as launching points for Humanity’s effort to colonize the galaxy. Now, it was little more than a ghost town, littered with broken technology.
“Our quarry lurks within,” Garm stated, without looking away from the building’s ragged new entrance. Under his helmet, I knew that his glowing yellow eyes would be flicking back and forth; scanning... probing... analyzing.
Garm-12 is an Exo, a race of artificial beings created late in Humanity’s Golden Age. They’re living machines with thoughts, feelings and personalities. Many believed that the War Cult was originally responsible for their creation, but I’m not sure anyone can really substantiate that. It does seem likely, though, given that nearly every Exo I’ve known has been somehow aligned with the War Cult. Lakshmi-2, the public face of the War Cult, is an Exo. Fully armored, you’d never know that a Guardian was an Exo, until he or she removed the helmet. Their faces are angular and robotic in appearance, with plasteel alloy skin and glowing mechanical eyes. If I’m being honest, it’s a little creepy until you get used to it.
Garm stood. His long blue robes fell into place and he shouldered his auto rifle. He turned to face me and appeared to be assessing the fact that I was once again intact. “You should really learn to duck.”
Again, the helmet hid my red face. “That’s what my little pal keeps telling me,” I mumbled, inclining my head toward the ghost hovering over my left shoulder.
“For what little good it does,” my ghost rebuked. I batted it away again. It’s a common exchange. The ghost scolds me for doing something stupid and then I swat it away like an annoying insect.
“Shall we?” Garm asked. He started into the building without waiting for a reply from either of us.
We’ve been a Fireteam for a few months now. Before coming together, all three of us had bounced around a bit, partnering with a number of different Guardians. This is pretty normal. In fact, some Guardians never find a ‘fit’ and continue to change companions throughout their careers. We’ve never discussed it, but I think that all of us are pretty happy with the current arrangement.
Katrin, who we commonly address as Kat, is a Hunter. Gliding undetected through any environment, she’s the very definition of stealth. Like most Hunters, Kat wears light armor and a hooded cloak. Proficient with just about any weapon she touches, Kat is especially lethal with blades and sniper rifles. It’s pretty rare that an enemy gets so much as a glimpse of Kat before eliminates it.
Garm-12 is our Warlock. I generally don’t even ask for any sort of explanation for the arcane and unnatural things he’s capable of. I’m just glad he’s on my side.
I’m a Titan. Basically, that means I’m the guy that smashes things. Pure brute force. Compared to Garm and Kat, I don’t see myself as particularly special. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Guardian, and my combat skills are well above the minimum standards required by the Vanguard. I’m good. But I think the other two are simply amazing at a level that I’m not. My teammates seem to appreciate my company, though, so I do my best to earn my place on the team every day.
Garm stopped and spoke though the helmet commlink that connected us.
“We are very close,” he said, in the flat monotone that he normally used. “It would be best if we exercised maximum stealth from this point.”
In other words, it was time for Kat to take the lead and do her invisibility thing. Garm and I would follow at a bit of a distance. Close enough to help her if things went bad, but not close enough to give her away. We simply didn’t possess the same level of ‘sneaky’.
Without a word, Kat slipped forward and dematerialized within a few steps.
We continued on in silence. Soon, we reached the main portion of the Devil’s former lair. The piles of bones were still there, but the Devils were not. We detected no activity, though it was clear that there had been Fallen here recently. The dozen Dregs we’d killed outside had been wearing the Devils’ signature red and gold, but they were certainly not the significant presence we’d been asked to look for. We hadn’t encountered anything more than the Dregs. No Vandals or Captains. You remember how I mentioned that Dregs have to prove themselves worthy before they are allowed to grow their lower arms back? Well, once that happens, they are called Vandals and they’re allowed to wear capes bearing the colors of their House. A Vandal will often lead a small group of Dregs. A particularly skilled and experienced Vandal will eventually become a Captain. Captains command several Vandals and their subordinate Dregs. Vandals tend to be a bit bigger than Dregs and Captains are even bigger than Vandals. This has something to do with a special Ether draught that the leaders consume. The more they take in, the bigger and stronger they grow. This is how some of the top level Fallen leaders manage to be more than two or three times as large as a Dreg. The hierarchy continues after that, with each House having a couple of Barons that oversee a group of Captains. Each House has a single Kell that acts as the operational leader, issuing orders to the Barons. Here’s where it gets kind of weird. The Fallen worship these floating purple machine spheres called servitors. You’ll sometimes find them on the battlefield, funneling additional Ether to the Fallen troops. Each House has a Prime Servitor. On top of that, they have a single Archon. The Archon is similar to the Kell in size and appearance, but that it serves a much different function. The Archon communes directly with the Prime Servitor and then communicates the wishes of the machine-god to the Kell. Thanks to the efforts of my fellow Guardians, none of the known Fallen Houses have their entire leadership structure intact.
Nearly a year ago, I’d been part of another Fireteam that had breached the Devil’s lair and destroyed their Prime Servitor. As we reached the place where Sepiks Prime had met his end, we stopped for a few moments to rest, rehydrate and, most importantly, listen to our surroundings. This practice had served us pretty well in the past. As we resumed our search I caught myself grinning again. Sepiks Prime had been a very memorable fight. After that, the Devils had been mostly scattered and leaderless. Constant patrols of the area had picked off the occasional straggler or two, but there had been no sightings in quite some time, so it was generally believed that the surviving Devils had either been absorbed into the House of Kings or perhaps found their way to the House of Exile on Earth’s Moon. Despite this, none of us were really surprised to hear that the Devils might be on the rise again. They were vermin, and vermin always seem to find a way to survive.
We took another two hours to complete our sweep of the area and had no further enemy contact. We found a defensible position and took a few minutes to rest. Kat quickly prepared a Field Activity and Intelligence Report. As soon as she finished, her ghost transmitted it both the Guardian Vanguard and the Future War Cult back to the Tower. Though our missions were usually issued by the War Cult, the Vanguard was responsible for monitoring and directing the activities of all Guardians in the field, regardless of their faction affiliation. The Vanguard could elect to overrule our instructions or even co-opt our team for their own missions, if need be. Thus, both organizations had to be notified. A few minutes later, we received a short response acknowledging our information and instructing us to return to base.