Operation Husk

Tala Yaeg, Female Awoken, Titan

Operational Assignment: Fireteam Lupercalia (Inactive), Aphrodite Sink, Venus

Faction Alignment: Dead Orbit

Mission Report:

I left Mars at the request of Dead Orbit and on Garren’s recommendation. Operation Kingsfall was a success and the Hive were weak and leaderless. Like most of the factions, we were backing the Vanguard’s follow-up, Operation Husk.

They assigned me to Lupercalia 2, under Yorick the Skull. Garren and I had a “thing” back in my early days as a Guardian, or else I would have been in Lupercalia 1, with him. I would be dead, like him.

Aphrodite Sink is a jungle, slowly being devoured by the ocean. I could smell the tainted water from where we patrolled, even through my helmet’s filter. We swept the coast for an hour and had just turned inward when we got the call from Lupercalia 1 to close in from the South. They had tracked a Wizard and a dozen Thrall into a cave and wanted reinforcements before baiting them out.

I laughed at the first Thrall to reach me; probably just a release of pressure. The reports made the Hive seem so much more deadly than anything I encountered on Mars, but the moment this mottled, gangly thing with its exposed brain screeched and rushed me, I just… laughed. Why waste ammo? I shifted my auto rifle to my left hand and monkey-punched it right in the cranium. The miserable beast disintegrated and I gained the easiest Overshield I’ve ever earned.

My team mowed down a stream of the things as Garren and his team picked off the Acolytes, who at least looked a bit tougher. I remember thinking that maybe I had it harder on Mars than I thought. The Cabal don’t light up their weak spots with bright green.

Then the Wizard emerged.

Yorick saw it first and yelled for us to hit the deck. I got cocky; let my success in cutting down a bunch of weaklings slow my reaction. The damned thing melted through my Overshield in a second with its energy blasts, or whatever they are. If Yorick hadn’t drop-kicked me out of the way, I might have been out of the rest of the fight.

Yorick burned down its shield with his fusion rifle while I recovered. I watched as the Wizard exploded into embers a split second before I heard the retort of the sniper rifle. Garren’s hunter came over the radio, sarcastically thanking us for weakening the target for him. With their leadership gone, the Thralls and Acolytes retreated into the cave.

We regrouped at the mouth and I avoided uncomfortable eye-contact with Garren. The rest of the team vented the battle pressure by giving me hell over the near death. Normally the biggest jester of the group, Garren took me off guard by shutting down the chatter and insisting on flushing out the Hive. Yorick objected, preferring to flag the cave mouth and call in aerial artillery; bunker busters, as we call them on Mars.

Yorick was a veteran of the Ishtar Sink and knew Venus, but he played it safe. Garren took bold approaches to combat, just like a Titan. He also had more experience with the Hive than the Venusian vet, which is why he was given command.

The plan was for Lupercalia 1 to enter and flush out the remaining, leaderless Hive. Lupercalia 2 would mop them up as they spewed out while Lupercalia 1 remained and destroyed the nest and any larvae. Being the cautious leader, Yorick prepped a long-range transmission to deploy to the nearest Quick-Reaction Force, should something go wrong.

I must have been staring after Garren when they descended, because he made the “shooter” gesture at me and clicked his tongue over the mic; an “I’ll be fine” motion of reassurance. It probably sounds stupid to civilians who have never had a helmet conceal all of their facial responses. Looking back, I feel like I should have known something would happen; there should have been a stir in my gut or something. I just “shot” him back and then sat down on a rock. The only thing I expected to fight was boredom.

I perked up when Garren began reporting more Hive than what had retreated. I checked my alternate weapons, making sure all magazines were full and that my Overshield and Fusion Grenade were charged. I wanted something bad to bubble up; some loathsome creature I could avenge my earlier embarrassment with.

I didn’t expect screams.

I couldn’t tell what was happening at first. Talon shrugged his shoulders at me; Yorick stood perfectly still. Over the radio, Garren called out for his Hunter, quickly followed by orders for an assisted resurrection.

The Hunter was down and his Ghost could not resurrect him on its own power. For once I gave thanks to the opaque helmet that hid the fear on my face.

Talon started forward into that black void, but Yorick held up his hand. With only gestures, he motioned to his Ghost and then the sky. The Ghost shot up and began the broadcast. The Quick-Reaction Force should have taken only minutes to arrive and back us up.

The team channel went dead, but for the sound of my team’s breathing. Something terrible washed over all three of us; a presence of Darkness I had never felt on Mars before. I could sense my Ghost’s power draining and my Light wavered. I knew why Garren’s team couldn’t revive themselves.

Thrall poured forth from the mouth of the cave, as before, but this time with rabid determination. Yorick and Talon retreated to cover. I threw up my Ward of Dawn and set my shoulder against the tide of bodies and fangs that swept over me. My shotgun sang inside the shield, shredding bodies with each squeeze of the trigger. When the magazine emptied, I dropped it in the sling and started throwing punches. Bullets from the other two filled the air around me.

We heard the roar first. From the black curtain beyond the cave mouth emerged a Knight unlike anything I’ve seen in videos before. Bone-like, metallic spikes protruded from his black and umber armor. He towered over me, dwarfing even the pair of Ogres that followed behind him. A tri-cornered skull the size of a boulder beheld no visible eyes and I spotted the trembling Ghost lodged between his wicked jaws.

In his right hand he carried a magnificent sword, longer than a Sparrow and likely as heavy. In his left hand he carried the ragged and dying body of Garren.

I remember the echo of my scream inside the bubble shield as the Knight crunched Garren’s Ghost between his teeth. I knew what would follow, but the Thrall pinned me within my shield.

I wailed into the mic, demanding Yorick and Talon stop the Knight, but the Ogre beams were keeping them behind cover and their quick potshots did nothing to deter the giant monster.

The sword sent quakes through the area as he jammed it into the ground and took Garren in both hands. I stopped fighting the Thrall around me, letting my shield level drop as I looked on, silently pleading with the wretched devil to end it quick.

The Hive do not abide mercy, even for cold practicality.

Yorick broke from cover, drawing the Ogre beams to where he danced among the rocks. In that moment, Talon managed to lay his high-impact sniper rifle across the top of his cover and slam four, rapid shells into the side of the Knight’s head. The Knight soaked up the thunderous shots and the prodigious damage they created in his shield, simply to make a grand show of pulling our leader, my friend and once-lover, apart like roasted fowl before our eyes.

The anguished, incoherent shrieks in a frequency that vaguely resembled Garren’s jolly, charismatic voice will be forever etched inside my Ghost.

(Brief pause in recording)

Revenge filled me. It saved me from my paralysis and forced my body to move as the Knight swept in on me and invaded my Ward of Dawn. The wind from his sword swing propelled my jump. I skated away from the Knight, dropping behind cover as the Ogres turned their beams on me.

Yorick’s voice, calm amidst the storm of carnage, hit my ear. “Heavy weapons. Right Ogre. On my mark.”

His battle-hardened clarity saved us and the grips of my machine gun in my hands lit a fire in me. On Yorick’s command, Talon and I broke from cover and unloaded on the right Ogre. Four Javelin Rockets and fifty-two, 30-caliber “Penetrator” rounds smoked that slag-bucket and rendered it to ash. Yorick tossed a scatter grenade and cranked out a few fusion blasts to keep the other Ogre’s attention while Talon and I reloaded.

We underestimated the Knight’s maneuverability. He closed the gap on Talon in an instant, his unholy roar sapping our Light. Talon was a Bladedancer; that should tell anyone worth their salt how quick he could move. That Knight’s sword crashed like a shotgun blast and Talon dodged it. That kind of speed would tie up the tongue of Lord Shaxx in the Crucible.

The bastard wasn’t aiming for Talon, though. With his mighty wrecking-blade, the Knight sought to rob us of cover. Talon didn’t see the strategy of it; only Yorick. Our leader’s voice lost an ounce of composure as he shouted for Talon to flee. The Bladedancer focused on the Knight swinging for him and forgot the Ogre who had him dialed in.

I remember running for him, not to save him from the purplish bean that melted his armor into his flesh right before my eyes. I ran because I thought I could reach his Ghost before the Knight did.

It didn’t matter.

The Knight’s slam stole the ground from under my feet. I could hear the Ogre charging up another blast as I landed on my side. Yorick directed me to cover just feet away, but like an idiot, I still thought I had a chance at reaching Talon’s Ghost.

At the last second, I gave in to survival and boosted away from the approaching Knight. Talon’s Ghost retreated and I allowed myself to hope as my fingers found the shotgun rounds on my bandolier and shoved them into my secondary weapon.

The Knight lingered over Talon’s smoldering corpse and… feasted. I’ve never witnessed Light being sucked from a Guardian’s body. The Cabal destroy. The Vex repurpose. Neither of them rips the essence out of a warrior and ingests it. I cannot dream of a greater sacrilege.

“Ascendant.” I knew there had to be a special name for this Knight; a Hive creature so devilish he could siphon the Light from a dead Guardian on sight. As soon as Yorick used that word to describe our enemy, though I had not heard it before, I realized the depth of our woe. The roaming Fireteam that made up the QRF held no more capacity to deal with this threat than our team. If we did not exit the Darkness and send out a transmission before they showed, we would be leading another six Guardians to their death.

We tried to summon our Sparrows, but the overwhelming Darkness made the task take much longer than it should have. We could not stay out of cover long enough without meeting the same fate as Talon.

“Compress the video data of this fight and send it as soon as you breach the Darkness, then bug out. I’ll buy you as much time as I can.” That is the last command Yorick the Skull issued. Thinking back, I should have said something back; some recognition of his sacrifice.

Instead I ran; straight through the hole in the Thrall wave that his Nova Bomb created. We had no time for sentiment; only the mission and its slimming window of success.

I don’t know what happened behind me. I don’t know how long he lasted, how much or how little hell he gave those slags as he covered my retreat.

I don’t know how my commander died; just that he did. I know that he bought me enough time to summon my Sparrow and ride it precisely 3.6 seconds.

The Ogre blast ruined my left leg along with my Sparrow. My helmet cracked and immediately leaked a steady stream of atmosphere upon crashing. I had to roll out of the blast radius when the compromised fuel cell’s high whistle signaled the immanent explosion.

Hive appeared in front of me. I don’t know where they came from and for a moment, in my concussed state, I feared I had gotten turned around. They must have been part of a returning patrol or something.

My fusion grenade latched onto the center Acolyte in a group of three, weakening a fourth with the second pulse. My assault rifle finished that one off and wounded the last one. I lunged for it just as the sound of a charging Ogre blast reached my ears.

I had enough time to worry that my Overshield wasn’t ready, or that my armor wouldn’t be able to convert the Hive death in time. In the span of two, fleeting thoughts, I disintegrated the last Acolyte, gained an Overshield and lost that shield as the Ogre blasted me through the air and into the jungle undergrowth.

Red lights flashed, either in my helmet or inside my head. I coughed up blood that obscured half of my screen. I smelled electric smoke; a loud ringing plagued all of my other senses. My legs took on a mind of their own; scrambling to push me away from danger even as my military mind chastised them for giving away my position.

I caught sight of the first Hive creatures to find me as I forced my body into stillness. My assault rifle was absent, but my right hand found the grip to my shotgun and an Acolyte’s head exploded.

The Knight and the Ogre followed behind the dead Acolyte. My shotgun would do little to stop them; but with one last trigger squeeze I could spare myself from being slowly torn apart. The ringing cleared enough for me to hear my Ghost acknowledge a successfully sent message just after the Ogre blast momentarily knocked me clear of the Darkness. That settled it. I completed my mission. I jammed the muzzle of my shotgun to the crack in my helmet.

Movement to my right distracted me; it also distracted the Hive. The jungle exploded with a reptilian roar and the Knight turned his focus from me to a behemoth in antiquated armor.

The Cabal Colossus had discarded the recognizable, heavy, ribbed plates of steel and traded the traditional armor in for what appeared to be Hive chitin. The skulls of dead Hive Knights adorned his shoulders and lifeless Wizard faces stared from his joints. A row of finger-bones ran up the middle of his helmet in a grisly Mohawk and the Hive hieroglyphic scrawled in green blood across his chest plate enraged the Knight on sight.

Before the Knight or the Ogre could move to destroy the odd Colossus, he pulled a chain gun from his back and opened up the gates of Hell on the Hive. Thrall and Acolytes shattered like porcelain and the Knight stepped back and held up his sword in defense. I swear I even saw the big, dumb Ogre try to find cover.

In seconds all of the lesser Hive were dust and the barrels of the chain gun glowed like Mercury. The Ogre did not go down as easily and turned its beam on the Colossus. Moving faster than any Cabal that size has a right to, the Colossus dropped his gun and jet-boosted through the canopy to avoid the purple blast.

He slammed down next to the Ogre with the same ground-quaking force of the Knight’s sword. With sheer, brute strength, the Colossus lifted the Ogre and hip-tossed it to the jungle floor. Grabbing the beast by its head, the Colossus directed its lethal beam onto the Knight.

The beam that melted Talon in an instant barely staggered the Ascendant before his roaring command stifled the Ogre’s instinctual blast. As soon as the Ogre lost its use to the Colossus, the gargantuan Cabal warrior obliterated its bulbous skull with a single, crushing blow.

The Colossus straightened and shook the blood and gore from his armored fist as the Ogre’s corpse burned away to ash. The Cabal warrior pointed at the Knight and uttered what sounded like a challenge in his guttural tongue.

The Knight accepted with a roar and hefted his sword to advance on the Colossus. The Colossus beat him to the punch, producing a Boomer Cannon and unloading it on the Knight, preventing him from making any ground.

During the barrage, I took the opportunity to climb to higher ground. I wanted nothing more than to bug out and get to safety; to send my transmission and call in aircraft to light up the whole damned coastline. Something stopped me. Maybe curiosity about Cabal on Venus called me to stay; or maybe I wanted to see some vengeance on the Knight that killed Garren, even if it came from another enemy.

I found cover and watched as the Colossus staggered the Knight with the final round in his stolen cannon. The Knight still maintained a considerable overshield; part of what made him Ascendant, I suppose. I knew little about the fight against Oryx, but the stories said neither he, nor Crota, could be brought down by normal means. As capable a warrior as this Colossus appeared, if he couldn’t drop the shield, the Knight would eventually win.

Before the Knight could recover, the Colossus pulled an ornate cylinder from his waist and clicked it to the side. The tube extended into a spear, with a tip that shimmered in the same fashion as the Knight’s blade. Just as the Knight locked eyes with the Colossus, the Cabal warrior chucked the spear with the force of an artillery tank and planted it dead-center in the Knight’s chest.

I saw the shield dematerialize on impact and I began praying the weirdest prayer the Traveler has ever heard. The Knight was vulnerable and I willed the Cabal to win with all of the Light I still possessed. Not in thirty lifetimes could I hope to avenge my team on this Ascendant Knight, but through some profane miracle this warrior appeared with a way.

I didn’t care that he was Cabal. I didn’t care that he would surely crush me to death and snuff out my light upon his victory. I rooted for an enemy I have fought my entire second life; I hated his opponent that fiercely.

The Knight recovered and charged, abandoning his arrogance and swinging wildly. The Colossus ducked a swing and flared his jet-pack, slamming into the Knight with an armored shoulder and driving him into the cliffside.

The knight’s strength must have been ungodly, because even the massive Colossus could not hold him for longer than a second. The Knight peeled him off with ease and went for a killing strike. The Colossus jet-boosted away, but I witnessed his head rock back as the sword grazed his chin. The warrior stumbled backward on his landing and for a moment I thought hope was lost as the Knight raised his sword. Then the Knight’s gaze dropped to his side where a fusion grenade sparked.

The explosion momentarily blinded me and when my screen reset, I could see the Knight’s armor glowing red with heat.

A roar filled the air and the Knight rushed in with brilliant speed. The sword came down and quakes rocked me. I gasped and peered through the dust storm his strike created. My screen only picked out shadows.

The Cabal’s bulky form evaded the blow, side-stepping at the last moment and spinning into the Knight. A short blade appeared in the warrior’s hand and as the Knight tried to recover from the missed blow, the Colossus rammed the dagger up underneath monster’s arm, between the gaps in his red-hot armor.

The Knight did not roar, as I expected, but his grip on the sword loosened. The Colossus drove his right foot into the Knight, sending him staggering backward.

The sword did not follow.

Without hesitation, the Colossus took up the sword, wrenching it from the ground in one heave, and performed his own slam. The Cabal’s aim proved superior to the Hive, and the Knight fell to his own weapon. The sword cleaved right through his super-heated armor and I swore I noticed his lower jaw twitch. I bet the slag never expected defeat in single combat. He didn’t make a single sound as half his torso slowly slid off the rest of his body, which soon after crumpled to the ground.

I would have cheered if not for the fear of giving away my position. Garren forgive me for allowing your vengeance to come from a Cabal hand.

The Colossus produced two discs with haste, attaching one to the sword and the other to the upper section of the dying Knight before he dissolved to ash. I witnessed a slim shield expand from the discs and cover both. Astonishingly, the top half of the Knight did not dissolve, but remained in a sort of stasis, as did his sword.

I watched as the Colossus called in a ship of Centurions, who departed and quickly policed up all evidence of the battle. My Ghost deciphered the tongue and body language of the grunts to identify the strange warrior as a Primus, which I could have guessed myself.

This Primus existed as an anomaly to me, however; no other ranking Cabal acted or moved like what I had witnessed. This Cabal hunted the Hive, challenging their Champion to open combat and methodically dismantling him. From the grim armor to the repurposed sword technology, this Colossus seemed designed for a sole purpose: to assassinate the most powerful beings the Hive had to offer.

This lone Cabal Primus was a “Boss Hunter.”

As if responding to my realization, the Colossus turned and looked right at me. When he reached for the Centurion’s grenade cannon, I sent my Ghost in the opposite direction and made a break for it through the plasma that rained all around me.

The next memory I have is of resurrecting in a ship bound for the Tower. Members of the Vanguard ushered me blind through the docking bay and directly into a containment cell, like some sort of criminal.

Now here I am, narrating a story that you should already know from interrogating my Ghost. I know how ridiculous it sounds; I’ve fought the Cabal enough on Mars to understand their methods. I’ve also heard the stories of Atheon and Crota and Skolas. I’ve read the report on Kingsfall. I know we’ve seen the worst that the Fallen and the Vex and even the Hive have to offer, but I also know we’ve seen only a fraction of the Cabal’s Empire.

We’ve yet to see their worst.