The Tower. It wasn’t the only tower in the Last City, of course, but people just referred to it as “The Tower”. The warlocks actually had their own building where they studied, worked, and some even lived. It was a strange building, filled with the idiosyncratic personalities of those who were equal parts cloistered academic and maniacal warrior.
Jale knew she could find Ikora Rey in the Vanguard briefing room. She was easily accessible most of the time. At least, you could talk to her—whether she listened or not was often an unknown. Ikora Rey had driven more than one young warlock into stuttering and then silence simply by looking at them with a cool detachment that bordered on cruelty.
Being intimidated wasn’t something Jale worried about. Being understood was her only concern. Rather than practicing her arguments or thinking about the best way to communicate her thoughts to Ikora, she worked to relax herself and her mind. VTOL jets were constantly taking off from areas all around the city and docking at the Tower. As a Guardian, she could gain passage on any of these jets simply by walking into the landing area and getting on board.
The ride was quick and Jale used her time as efficiently as possible. She needed to be relaxed, but focused. Thanatonauts, the warlocks who experimented with death, had deep relaxation techniques that they used to slip into near-unconsciousness before they were killed and revived. The better to remember what happened between the moment of death and rebirth, or so the hypothesis went, anyway. Jale had learned some of these techniques to help her overcome the sometimes crippling bouts of frustration and anxiety she encountered almost daily.
As the jet’s engines roared outside and she was gently jostled by its travel, she sat quietly, hands in her lap. Jale allowed her eyes to become unfocused and let her gaze slide down the line of her nose. The sound of the engines passed out of her attention and into the background as a gentle hum. Her breath naturally slowed, became very regular and deep.
She was a jellyfish, pulsing along with a warm ocean current. Except, her body wasn’t made of translucent cells, but rather coherent energy, bound only by will. The current pushed her along and she knew that she was not drifting aimlessly. She had a singular destination, but she was traveling three paths all at the same time. She was three and she was one.
Jale opened her eyes and found herself sitting underneath the great twisted tree by the Gunsmith’s kiosk. There was no memory of the trip to the Tower, disembarking the jet or walking to the tree. She didn’t know how long she’d been sitting here and she didn’t care. The words that would convince Ikora Rey were in her mind, crystalline and fragile. She also knew what course the conversation would take. She could see Rey’s every counterargument and doubt. She knew how to counter each one, but she needed to get the words out of her head before they faded.
The warlock Vanguard greeted her perfunctorily and looked back at the book she was hunched over. The conference room was no place for quiet study, and Jale could feel the mundane chatter eating at the deep calm she’d established. She didn’t return the greeting or ask if she could speak, she simply launched her first verbal attack. “Praedyth is alive. We need to rescue him.”
Rey looked up at her, the usual stoic mask she wore slipping into incredulity for a moment before she was able to snap it back into place like the bolt of a gun. “Of course he is, Guardian. He lives on in our Archives and in our memories.”
Agreeing without agreeing. A perfect feint and counterattack. Jale wanted to smile. This was going to be fun. Her next question to the Vanguard would need to be a straw man that Ikora could knock down, allowing Jale to counter-punch from a different angle. “There was no DNA analysis of the bones found in the Gorgon’s Labyrinth?”
“No, there wasn’t. We know what happened to Kabr and Pahanin. The only person that skeleton could belong to is Praedyth. The Vault is his tomb now. There is no need to drag his remains back to the Tower. He’s given enough, he deserves to rest in peace.”
“The meta-data from the Ghost recordings sent by Praedyth show that they were created years from now. Have you reviewed the meta-data?”
“Of course I have. Some of it was corrupted. An amateur analysis of the data might give the impression that it has an anomalous time stamp, but that is an error.”
The dig about amateur analysis meant she had at least slightly nettled Ikora. Jale knew she had the advantage and pressed it. “You know I’m not an amateur, Ikora Rey. Those time stamps are valid. There was some corruption of the data, but not enough to render the files unreadable or even questionable.”
Like a shark, Ikora Rey ruthlessly changed tack. “Yes, Jale. I know you’re not an amateur. I know you. I know what you want. I know all about the Daughters of Praedyth.”
Jale was caught slightly off guard. She’d expected Ikora to question her motives at some point in the conversation, but she hadn’t expected it this quickly. The warlock Vanguard had tossed the accusation out as a statement instead of a question. She wanted Jale to either defend herself against an attack that hadn’t actually been made, or ignore the statement and tacitly accept the implication that she was biased.
Instead, she would respond with two-pronged attack of outright lies and absolute truth. Jale jammed a hand into her pocket and pulled out the stick of chalk she’d used earlier to write the title of Plato’s dialogue, Parmenides, on the sidewalk. Without hesitation, she strode over to the large conference table that dominated the middle of the room and began writing on it.
“My friends and I don’t call ourselves that. If anyone is our parent, it’s you, Ikora Rey. You’re as a mother to us.” Her hand juddered across the tabletop, writing out mathematical equations. When she’d covered nearly a square meter of the table, she stopped and looked at Ikora. “You recognize this.”
She hadn’t asked a question but Ikora nodded anyway, an eyebrow cocked and a smile tugging at one side of her mouth. “Yes. Quantum Tunneling. Why did you scrawl this on my table?”
“It’s evidence. Movement without sufficient energy to accomplish that movement. Evidence that there is another reality other than the one we can actually perceive and measure. A reality that is comprehensible but not apprehensible. We can understand that particles move without sufficient energy, but we cannot move them without the use of energy.
“Plato’s theory of the Forms is the same. He understood that reality is not what we can see and hear and measure, but rather, that there is an ultimate reality and ultimate truth to existence that we might be able to contemplate, but never manipulate. The Vex, either through design or by accident, have found the Forms. They call it the Pattern. Praedyth is with the Vex now. He’s alive and he’s grasped what the Vex have found. We have to find him and learn what he has learned.”
Rey leaned over the table, resting her hands on its smooth, chalk covered surface, partially smearing what Jale had written there. The warlock Vanguard sighed deeply and looked up from the equations to stare at Jale. “I honestly can’t tell if this is madness or genius. The thought of you finding Praedyth is just as frightening to me as the thought of you and your friends losing yourself in the Vault of Glass for the rest of time.”
Jale started to speak again, but Ikora waved her silent. “Have you read the Books of Sorrow? It took great effort and sacrifice to recover them, chapter by chapter, from the Dreadnaught. You should read them if you haven’t. Do you know the tale of Dredgen Yor?”
“Yes, Ikora. I’ve read the history of the Hive and I know story of that corrupted Guardian as well.”
“Then you know that the only thing that comes of the determined pursuit of power is suffering. Suffering for the seeker and suffering for all those around the seeker. Go, and find Praedyth if you can. Learn from him and return here so that humanity can benefit from that knowledge. Try not to destroy yourself and those you love in the process.”
“And then she told me that she would direct the Cryptarch and the Vanguard Quartermaster to provide us with whatever weapons and armor we needed.”
Sweet Susie raised her eyebrows and smiled. “New toys. Excellent. Good job, Jale. I knew you could do it.”
The small, high-ceilinged room was dimming as sunset sapped the light out of the day. The trio had gathered in the main room of their loft apartment located in the city center. The room did double duty as a living room and kitchen. Jale sat on the kitchen counter, contentedly peeling an orange. Sweet Susie sat in a threadbare yellow chair, one leg draped over the arm, the other foot resting on the creaky hardwood floor. Christina sat on the bottom of the spiral staircase that led up to the single bedroom. Sweet Susie and Christina had strung a sheet across the bedroom to divide it into two sleeping areas. Jale generally slept on the green leather couch that dominated most of the living room.
Jale could see the tree-laden Calcutta Boulevard, topped by an elevated magnetic railway, through the two narrow living room windows. Street lights were beginning to come on, but there was still enough ambient light to show the pictures, drawings, equations and schematics. It all related to the Vault of Glass in one way or another. Each member of the Daughters had contributed the stuff that covered the walls. Jale started it a year ago when she was living in this apartment by herself. All of it radiated out from a single quote from an audio recording found on a Ghost in the Vault of Glass. “There is only the pattern. And the pattern needs the Vex to see it to completion. And so the Vex must be. For the mind of the Vex, is that faith?”
Jale wrote that quote on the wall when she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Praedyth had spoken those words, who knows how long ago in the past or how far in the future. Those words crystallized Jale’s own swirling suspicions and theories about the Vault. Those words had set her on her quest. When the recordings of Praedyth’s voice had been recovered from the Vault, it had been a revelation for her.
Christina leaned back on the stairs and smiled. Her long black hair, accented with streaks of silver, was drawn up in an intricate design that required only a single dark purple lacquered stick to hold it together. Her irises were silver as well, the color matching the streaks in her hair. A traditional Mandarin character was tattooed on the palm of each hand. Her right palm bore the character 太 and 虛 was on her left, the characters matched her Chinese heritage and translated to “Void” matching her specialty.
“What goodies do you want from the Cryptarch’s stash, Sweet?” Christina asked.
“The Red Death,” Sweet Susie said without hesitation. “That gun gives you life while it takes it from your enemies. What more could a warrior ask for? I have everything else I need. My Ironwreath sidearm will take down just about anything at close range. And if neither of those two will get the job done, then good old Bretomart’s Stand, my heavy machine gun, can handle it. The Iron Banner has been good to me. What are you two going to get?”
“A Telesto, if they will let me have one,” Christina said. “Vex tend to use void shielding, especially those bastard Minotaurs. Telesto will cut right through them. Also, I want one of those Ram’s head helmets. I’ve always wanted to headbutt a Hobgoblin with Ram’s horns! Sniping SOB’s.”
Jale winced. “I’m a sniping SOB.”
Christina chuckled. “Yes, but you’re on our side, Jale. Didn’t your rifle get smashed up the last time we were on Venus? You should get yourself a new one.”
“That’s what I plan to get. Along with a set of the Claws of Ahamkara. A sniper rifle for the really long work, grenades and Scorch melee for the close work. My Tlaloc will take care of everything else.”
Sweet Susie jumped to her feet. “We’re three badass bitches for sure!” They all laughed. “I can’t wait to get in there!”
Christina held up three fingers. “No matter how badass we are, we are only three. Six would be better. Especially for unlocking that spire at the Vault entrance. The Taken have been cleared out, so the Vex aren’t just going to invite us in. Some more help would be nice.”
Jale nodded and threw her orange peel into the sink. “Ikora Rey has us covered there as well. She’s going to enlist three other Guardians to help us form the spire and unlock the Vault. They aren’t going in with us though. We’re on our own after we get inside.”
Christina loved this part the most. The learning and planning. All three of them knew that this fierce joy and exuberance would not last through the challenges that would face them. The future held fear and isolation, desperation and pain, for all of them. They were going to delve into a chasm constructed by coldly alien hostile intelligences that had motivations beyond their understanding. This new raid into the Vault would be no less of a challenge than climbing Mount Everest had been for un-augmented humans of the past. But for this moment, Christina was happy here with her friends, and that was enough.