New Debts – Chapter 9

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I sat at my desk for an hour alternatively stunned and angry. Balan’s death could not be a coincidence. I’d asked him for a favor and it had gotten him killed. Someone had just shown their hand. The Shepherds were the key. Rupert knew about them and he’d been killed. Balan knew about them and now he was dead. If I had tried to search for information on the Shepherds in the public archives I would probably have been targeted as well. Instead, I’d used Balan and now he was dead.

Who were the Shepherds? Why were they important and who were they important to? I was going to find out. I was going to find out who’d killed Rupert and Balan and why.

The story about Balan’s death mentioned that a memorial service was scheduled for later that day at the top of the Tower in front of the Iron Banner dais, whatever that was. The news article had almost no information about how exactly how Balan died, only that he’d been killed during a mission on the moon. I needed more information about what happened to him. Also, I needed to pay my respects. I had to get to the top of the Tower.

That actually proved easier than I thought. After considering my options: stowing away on a transport jet, faking a delivery, calling in a favor I didn’t have through the police department and a few other equally unworkable ideas, I decided to just call the Vanguard and ask permission to attend the memorial service because of my connection to Balan. It worked.  I spoke with a polite human Vanguard technician who promised to submit my request to the Vanguard leadership immediately. She got my contact information and said I would hear something soon.

I was getting undressed to take a shower when my terminal binged signaling an new message. It was a digital day pass to the Tower authorized by Cayde-6 himself. I made sure that the pass was saved on my pocket terminal and then I took a shower.

In the shower I finally came to terms with a thought that had been percolating in my brain for the last hour. Killing Rupert was one thing. He was a middle aged lawyer, unarmed and not particularly imposing. Balan was a trained warrior with decades of combat experience. It had to be a Guardian who had killed Balan. That meant going to the Tower was probably one of the most dangerous things I could possibly do.

My only protection was anonymity. If the killer suspected that I knew anything about the Shepherds, I was next. The pistol I kept in the safe wouldn’t be any kind of protection against a threat like that. I was angry and I couldn’t think of anything better to do than go to the Tower. If you want to find a Guardian you go to the Tower.

I pulled my black suit out of the closet. The last time I’d worn it had been for Rupert’s funeral.

The maglev got me to the nearest VTOL pad. While I rode the train I started typing out a message to Kara giving her a summary of everything I knew. Then I deleted it. The knowledge I had killed Rupert, killed Balan and was likely to kill me. I wouldn’t put her and David in danger.

It was a beautiful day. As I crossed the landing pad to the VTOL jet it felt like a day that should fill you with optimism and joy. The sunlight didn’t seem to touch me. As I boarded the jet and strapped in the engines cycled up to a scream that obliterated all other sound. That scream mirrored my mood. The jet banked and I caught a brief view the Traveler out the window. For a moment I wondered what all this was about, and then realized I didn’t care. I just wanted to find the person responsible and figure out a way to hurt them.

Disembarking at the Tower was an interesting experience. I was riding with cargo crates, human and Frame technicians. Everyone looked at me curiously, clearly regular civilians didn’t visit the Tower very much. Showing the digital pass on my pocket terminal to a human guard got me onto the jet, I had to show it again to get off, this time a Frame. Its single glass eye scanned my pass, then its angular metal head swiveled smoothly up to look me in the face. “Welcome to the Tower, Mr. Hill.” Its voice was pleasant and kind, but also clearly inhuman.

Boarding in the city had been done via a lowered rear hatch. Getting off the jet involved climbing down through the belly of the craft into a tube that extended out from the Tower. I could hear the wind howling under my feet, only a quarter inch of polymer and aluminum struts separated me from a very long fall. Then I was inside the Tower. The high fortress of the hope of Humanity, the home of my unknown enemy.

By asking directions a few times I managed to find my way up out into the sunshine again. My anger gave way to awe for a few moments as I stepped out onto the main concourse of the Tower. Guardians were everywhere, some consulting with each other or various members of the Tower staff. Others speaking with their Ghosts or examining weapons and pieces of armor. I did a double take when I saw a group of super powered nigh-immortal warriors playing a rowdy game of soccer. Their armor and weapons were all different. The variation of colors and styles of hair, clothing, skin and race was bewildering and exciting. I couldn’t decide if I was overdressed or underdressed in my plain black suit, black tie and simple white shirt.

An announcement over some kind of public address system saved me from having to ask for directions again. A stentorian baritone voice sounded out from unseen speakers. “Attention, Guardians and Tower Staff, this is Commander Zavala. A memorial service will be held for Titan Balan Riordan in ten minutes. Please gather in front of the Iron Banner if you wish to attend. Per Balan’s wishes, Lord Saladin will conduct the service.”

The flow of the crowd changed in response to the announcement. Instead of random interwoven patterns of movement, people now started moving in a concerted way up some stairs and towards a large doorway to my right. I followed the crowd. A few Guardians looked at me, but I was mostly ignored. When we made it through the doorway I stopped, struck by the incredible view of the mountains framed by the beautiful red leaved trees growing at regular intervals on either side of pool. The pool had rectangular stepping stones set in it so that you could pace the entire length of the water and never get your feet wet. Conversations that had been going on around me quieted as we entered that space.

Just when I thought I’d reached the limit of my amazement at this place I saw the Iron Banner. It wasn’t so much a banner as a huge metal disc wreathed in flames. It appeared to be made of copper and was engraved with snarling wolf heads and a tree with spreading branches.  Laid flat the “banner” would have taken up more floor space than the room I used for my office.

The disc sat on a raised platform.  Four figures stood on the platform. I recognized three of them. Commander Zavala and Cayde-6 I knew from pictures I’d seen in various news stories.  I recognized Ikora Rey by reputation. She somehow managed never to get her picture taken. I knew that Commander Zavala was a Titan and that Cayde was a Hunter, my guess was that meant Rey was a Warlock.

The fourth figure, who I presumed was Lord Saladin, was helmeted and wearing gold and white armor. He might as well have been a monolith. The man exuded competence and power.  The group of four was having a conversation while the crowd gathered. Each of them made some small movements as they spoke or turned to listen to another speak, except for Saladin. His helmet hid all facial features and were it not for his chest slightly rising and falling he could have been a statue. His body language said only two things: I am here. Think before you approach me.

Complete silence fell over the crowd when Lord Saladin turned to address us, his gravelly tenor voice struck out like a sword. “Balan Riordan has died the second death. He was a veteran of impeccable skill, unblemished honor and steadfast dedication. After an extended battle with the Hive, he and his Ghost fell into one of the chasms on the Moon opened long ago by Crota. Neither he nor his Ghost could be recovered and so they shall lay there forever as so many other Guardians before him.”

Saladin’s tone had been measured up to this point but now a fierceness crept into his voice. It sounded like pride and anger and sorrow pounded down and tempered into something else. “He died the second death, but before he fell he built himself a pyre with his Hammer of Sol.” Lord Saladin threw his right hand into the air and clenched it into a fist. “His Light rests on the embers of thousand slain Hive!” The fist came down on the word “Hive” and a savage cheer went up from the crowd. My jaw and throat tightened. I felt tears in my eyes again.

Lord Saladin’s hand whipped out again, this time pointing into the crowd. “Giovanni and Kvioh had the honor of being Balan’s fire team members for his final mission. They were nearly destroyed themselves and only escaped by virtue of Balan’s fearlessness. Everyone here has heard of Kvioh, she who some simply call The Blade. When she says that Balan was a terror to his enemies in his final battle we know that he was terrible indeed!”

Another cheer went up from the crowd. I looked where Lord Saladin pointed and saw two hunters, a man and a woman. They were nodding at Saladin’s words and seemed to be making comments to people in the crowd around them. The man had a plain looking, unremarkable face and very dark brown, somewhat shaggy, hair. If it weren’t for the cloak, armor and weapons you could easily pass him on the street and not notice a thing about him. The woman, by contrast, was striking in a almost visceral way. Her red hair was part of it along with her angular facial features and pale skin. It was her eyes most of all, though, that cut through you. Her gaze had an almost physical force. When those eyes fell on me, and stared into me, the urge to look away was so strong it made my palms sweat. I felt like a mouse being examined by a hawk.

We looked at each other as Saladin spoke. I didn’t hear any more of what he said. She turned away from me as the crowd broke into applause. My heart was pounding and it took me several moments to realize that the memorial service was over. Moving with the crowd I slowly made my way toward the exit.  I heard my name and turned.

“Mr. Hill, My name is Cayde. Thanks for coming up for the service.”

Cayde-6 is tall, taller than you would imagine from his pictures. “Thanks for signing off on a day pass. I appreciate the chance to be here.”

“We get all kinds of requests every day from people wanting to come up to the Tower.  Mostly it’s folks who have some kind of Guardian obsession or power fetish. Some of the requests are…odd. Anyway, it was good to have a City dweller come up who had an actual connection to Balan. Not many Guardians have friends in the city.”

“I don’t know if you could call us friends. I definitely owed him at least this, though.”

“I think you’re wrong about that. The friends thing. Balan mentioned you briefly to me once. He said the the he was the one who owed you.”

I shook my head. “It’s the other way around. For sure. It was good to meet you Mr. Cayde.”

“Just Cayde.”

“It was good to meet you, Cayde, but I’ve got to get going. Thanks again for the pass.”

“Sure, happy to be of assistance. I’ll send you my personal contact info. Feel free to contact me if you need help. I’ll do what I can.”

I wanted to trust Cayde, but at that moment I didn’t know if I could trust any Guardian.  “That’s great. I appreciate it. Thanks.”

I didn’t see Kvioh again as I made my way back to the VTOL and left the Tower, but I had that feeling again. The feeling I’d gotten when I first went to the maglev crossing where Rupert died and at several other times during this investigation. The feeling of walking in a dead man’s footsteps. I wondered, as the jet carried me back to the City, if what I’d actually been feeling was that of prey being watched by a predator. I wondered how long those hawk’s eyes had been on me.