A week went by as Jale, Christina and Sweet Susie prepared for their expedition into the Vault of Glass. They collected weapons and armor from the Cryptarch. They discussed and planned how to traverse the Vault. Christina built them a holographic projector that displayed the known areas of the Vault in three dimensions in their living room. Using the projection as a map they plotted a course and marked areas where they expected particular challenges. The Oracles and the Gorgons might still show up. No one knew if they would stick around now that Atheon was no more. The place would certainly be crawling with Vex units of various kinds. They were in for a fight no matter what.
Finally, the appointed day came. Jale woke late in the morning. She could tell by how quiet the place was that Christina and Sweet Susie had already left. Reading and re-reading everything she’d ever been able to pull together about the Vault of Glass had kept her up until the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, knowledge of the Vault just wasn’t that extensive. As she lay on the green leather couch, her eyes still drifting closed every so often, she smiled at the thought that soon she expand that knowledge.
“Good morning, dear.” a raspy but somehow sensuous female voice said. Jale’s eyes snapped open and she sat upright, her favorite argyle blanket falling away from her. Lakshmi-2, the leader of the Future War Cult, was standing casually in her living room looking out the window.
She’d been completely relaxed, feeling that she was completely alone in a private space. Finding that the apartment was not only occupied by another, but also a stranger who’d been standing almost right next to her completely undetected was like suddenly bursting into flames while taking a bath. Her mind could catch up and mouth just gaped. After a few seconds Lakshmi turned. The Exo’s lightning blue eyes took in Jale’s disheveled hair and complete astonishment. “I know it’s rude for me to drop in on you like this, Jale. But we have something important we need to discuss in private before you go looking for Praedyth.”
Jale’s mouth finally found a gear and she could speak again. “Rude? You snuck into my house while I was sleeping! Get out!” Her voice was shrill, she knew it but couldn’t tamp it down. She wanted to be cool and controlled like the Exo intruder in front of her but, on top of the shock she was already feeling, part of her mind was wondering if Lakshmi was actually standing there or if this was one of the delusions she sometimes suffered.
Lakshmi shook her head. “My people can only divert Ikora Rey’s hidden for so long. Soon you’ll be back under their surveillance and I need to be gone before then. I don’t have time for hysterics. Besides, i’m here to help you.”
Reeling, trying to find purchase Jale tried blindly to get some control of the conversation. “I know the FWC has a deep interest in the Vault, but you’re not going to get me to act as your agent by sneaking into my home.”
“This is a transmitter,” Lakshmi continued as if Jale hadn’t spoken and held out a small cobalt blue cylinder with a single black button on one end, “if you get into trouble in the Vault, you may be able to summon help with it. Hold the button for three seconds and then say “Chasm”. There are no guarantees in the Vault, but this device is designed to reach out to beings who might be able to help you against the Vex.”
“Who exactly will be contacted if I use this thing? Why wouldn’t the Vanguard give me this device? Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?”
“I’m doing this because I want you to succeed in finding Praedyth and I think this might help. The Vanguard doesn’t have any idea what they’re doing when it comes to the Vault. Kabr, Pahanin and Praedyth were all destroyed, in one sense or another, by that ignorance. The only reason…” She broke off and blinked. “I don’t have time for any more questions. The Hidden are watching you. Ikora Rey doesn’t trust you.”
Lakshmi strode quickly over to Jale and pressed the cylinder into the warlock’s hands. “Good luck, Jale.” The exo left the device in Jale’s hands and walked out of the apartment without another word, leaving the door hanging open behind her.
Later, Jale would realize that she had been perfectly manipulated. That morning though, she had no time to reflect or try to think through Lakshmi’s possible motivations and goals. The operation was beginning, the Vanguard had given its support for the mission and that was not a resource to wasted.
She met Sweet Susie and Christina at the Tower. Paranoia kept her from saying anything about the meeting or the device to her friends. If they were being surveilled by the hidden she dared not speak of the item. If Ikora Rey knew that the Future War Cult using Jale to meddle in Vanguard business she would cancel the operation in a second. Jale weighed her options and decided she would tell her friends about the meeting and the device as soon as they were deep enough into the Vault that they couldn’t be monitored.
After a last check of their gear and perfunctory farewell from the warlock Vanguard leader the Daughters of Praedyth transmitted to their respective ships and arrowed away from Earth toward Venus. The ship’s navigation system handled the orbital insertion from FTL perfectly as usual and while normal citizens in the Last City were still waking up and having coffee Jale, Sweet Susie and Christina observed that most changeable of planets: Venus.
“I’m so glad the Vault isn’t on Mars.” Sweet Susie declared as the group’s three ships descended through the Venusian atmosphere. “Mars is so boring. Sand, sand and more sand. You never know what Venus is going to throw at you. Did you know that it was once probably a lot like Earth?”
“Right, the Traveler helped us terraform it.” Christina volunteered.
“No, ye muppet. Long before the All Powerful Volleyball showed up. Venus is situated even more perfectly in the Goldilocks zone than Earth is. It had water and an atmosphere which probably means it had life of some kind or another. Something started a runaway Greenhouse effect and over time you got that hellish mix of lead rain and sulphur oceans. Then the Traveler came and we turned it into a jungle. At some point in there the Vex came in and turned it into a giant computing stronghold. Now the jungles and our old cities just lay on top of the Vex constructs like moss on a rock. Venus has been through a lot.”
“I like Mars.” Jale responded. “It reminds me of the Frank Herbert Dune books.”
There was a distant clonking noise over the transmission. Christian chuckled, not unkindly. Jale frowned. “What’s that noise?”
“That’s me! Banging my head against the inside of my ship because you’re a giant nerd, and I can’t take it. Jale! You live a life so unbelievable and weird Frank Herbert would have shat himself if you showed him one minute of it. Why do you read centuries old science fiction when you live a sci-fi adventure of your own?”
“If you don’t know that answer to that, i’m not going to tell you.” Jale said primly.
“You’re a pain in the arse.”
The utter weirdness that would dominate their lives for the entirety of their time in the Vault of Glass began as soon as they touched down on the planet. The group transmitted in unison directly to the area known as the Waking Ruins. The plan was to rendezvous with the team sent by Ikora Rey and fight their way into the Vault. Instead they found the door standing open.
Vex Goblins, Hobgoblins and Minotaurs littered the area in drifts, clumped up in three main areas like seaweed washed up on a beach. Scorch marks and bullet holes pocked the entire area. A tree burned, popping loudly as the moisture cooked off deep in it’s trunk. The trio stalked through the wreckage, weapons at the ready.
Christina spoke first. “What is going on?”
Jale shook her head in confusion as well as negation. “I have no idea. Ghost, try to contact the Vanguard team that was sent to assist us. Find out what they know.”
Her Ghost popped up. “I actually just received a message from a Hunter, Oliver Dance, the leader of the team Ikora Rey sent to help you gain access to the Vault. But, the message doesn’t make any sense.”
“What is it?”
Instead of answering the Ghost played the message. A smooth male voice emanated from the floating computer. “Good luck, Jale. Keep your head in there. I hear things can get weird in the Vault of Glass. But,” the disembodied voice broke off into a laugh, “based on the way your team fought maybe I should be wishing the Vex luck! Safe travels, Guardian.”
“Should we abort?” Christina asked.
Jale threw her hands into the air. “This gives me the creeps as well, but cancelling the mission because we didn’t have to fight our way in seems counterintuitive at best. Foolish at worst.”
Christina nodded, but Sweet Susie shook her head emphatically. “There’s a factor we don’t understand here. Something is off and we have no idea what it is. This unknown factor is pushing us into the Vault. Your friends don’t hide from you, that’s an enemy thing. If some enemy is making it easier for us to enter the Vault then we should do the opposite.”
Jale sighed and slapped her left hand against her thigh in frustration. “You’re right, Sweet. But this is the Vault. If we abort every time something unexpected happens we’ll never get anywhere. None of us can tell the others what to do, so I say we vote. I’m for going in.”
“I’m against it.” Sweet Susie said simply and without rancor.
The two looked at Christina, who looked steadily back. “I won’t miss this opportunity because of some unnamed fear. The door will reset in another few seconds. Let’s go in.”
The trio turned as one and sprinted up the hill to the great circular Vault door set into the side of a mountain. As they approached the pie-piece shaped opening in the door Sweet Susie spoke again. “I’m changing my vote. We should be unanimous on this. So, if things get banjaxed later, just know i’m here because I want to be here, not because I got outvoted.”
“Thank you, Sweet Susie. I appreciate that, seeing as I was the tiebreaker.” Christina said wryly.
They all fell quiet when the rustling hush of the Vault’s interior fell over them. Jale felt an instinctual alarm. She wondered that ancient animal instinct could react at all to the inexplicability of the Vex. After a few seconds they could hear running water and air skirling through the choked throat of stone and metal the machines had built as the passageway down into their construct.
“We’re finally here.” Sweet Susie whispered.
“Incoming.” all three of their Ghosts whispered in unison.
Jale raised her scout rifle and sighted toward the nearest stirring of air and static that presaged the imminent arrival of the Vex. The part of her that had been in combat on four different planets, not to mention a Hive Dreadnaught, did its job smoothly and mechanically. The rest of her reeled and inwardly screamed the same word over and over: “Unprecedented!” No one had ever reported being attacked in this part of the Vault. None of their planning had anticipated hostile action so soon after breaching the Vault entrance.
The tunnel was cramped, no place for a gun battle. It was like a fist-fighting in a closet. The Goblins appeared one after another, almost on top of one another. Rows of dull coppery fanlike crests stretched back into the tunnel, red eyes glowed duly in the half light. The three Guardians backed up slowly, giving ground but firing methodically. The air in the tunnel became close and hot with the smell ozone as the robots synthetic bio brains spattered across the floor and their metal bodies fell and were trampled.
The Goblins fired intermittently and ineffectively, the red bolts cracking into the Guardians’s shield with little effect, but still they appeared in front and around and behind the warlocks. The Daughters gave ground, finding themselves forced backward now, sometimes scrambling to avoid being separated, avoid being overwhelmed. Sweet Susie grunted when a Goblin blasted her at close range. She responded in kind with a blast voltage from her fingertips that left the robot a smoking ruin.
Now Jale glanced behind her and saw that the entrance had closed behind them. “We’re going to be forced against the wall.” she though, “We barely got inside and they’re going to put us up against a wall and shoot us.”
A perceptible change came over the Vex bots as their fire began to coordinate and intesify. The incoming bolts of energy were becoming a constant stream, smashing against the Guardians’s shields and armor. Then Christina gave a quick two-tone whistle through clenched teeth and her fellow Daughters fell back behind her.
Through innumerable hours of practice and study Christina had developed her own technique for channeling the Void and she used it now. She drew both hands down to her right hip, palms open, fingers curved as if clutching a large rock. Then, after a half second of concentration she flung her hands out in front of her, elbows locked and fingers splayed. The characters tattooed on her hands, 太虛, were written on the air and then a ray of Void energy erupted from her. Intensely violet light filled the tunnel, so bright that Jale and Sweet Susie flinched back from it. The beam played down the length of the passage leaving destruction wherever it went. The attack only last for very slightly more than a second, but when the Void beam extinguished itself the Goblins were decimated.
Christina hung in the air for a moment, literally elevated by the amount of power she’d channeled. Smoked curled up from her gloves and twined around the horns of her ram’s head helmet. Jale thought in that moment her friend looked like some kind of Hive god, rather than a Guardian of the Light. Then Christina dropped to the ground and stumbled forward to her knees.
Jale and Sweet Susie quickly pushed forward, cleaning up the few remaining functional Goblins with brain shots as they went. When no more of the robots appeared they hurried back to their companion. “Are you okay?” Sweet Susie at the same time Jale said: “How did you do that?”
Christina waived away offers of help and got to her feet. “I’ve been working on it for a while. I focus on the characters on my palms and build the beam in my mind. It’s not like a laser, it’s more like a fountain or a waterfall. Lots of tiny Void constructs strung together. When any part of the beam encounters resistance, either from a physical object or an electromagnetic field like the one the Vex give off, some of it splits off and detonates.”
“I’ve never seen or even heard of anything like that before, Christina.” Jale said. “You’re going to be famous. Christina Wallace, the warlock who changed Voidwalking. What do you call it?”
Christina shrugged. “I don’t call it anything, it’s just a construct i’ve been working on building.”
“I call it the dog’s bollocks, sister. Void Engineering at its finest.” Sweet Susie said and slapped a new magazine into her pulse rifle.
“It takes me a while to recover.” Christina said with a grin. “Also, my hands are kind of numb for a while. I won’t be much of a marksman until that wears off.”
The group proceeded in company, more warily now than they had at first. Finally, they emerged from a particularly cramped and curving section of tunnel onto a flat but narrow expanse of metallic ground. To their left was a solid wall of rock, to their right nothingness stretched away beyond the limits of their vision.
Jale stopped and looked out over the edge, then turned back to look at Christina and Sweet Susie. “We’d agreed to take the Second Raid’s Route instead of Kabr’s Route. I don’t think anything’s changed now, but that fight was unexpected. If we want to divert and take the path that Kabr’s team followed, now is the time to do it.”
“I agree, something different is going on in here that we expected.” Sweet Susie replied, “But I don’t see that as any reason to take a manifestly more difficult path. I say we stick to the plan.”
Christina nodded her weary agreement and the trio headed on toward the Templar’s Well. As they walked Jale reached thought of the device Lakshmi-2 had given her. She was afraid now that they had so suddenly encountered totally unexpected resistance to tell her fellow Daughters that she’d been keeping something from them. “Fear is the mindkiller.” she muttered to herself.
“What’s that, darlin’?” Sweet Susie asked absently as she hopped down from a rocky ledge.
Jale drew a deep breath. “I have something to tell both of you.”