Grimoire: The City

"From across the ruined earth they came, seeking shelter from the storm."

Every wayward soul unlucky enough to be born outside The City's protecting arms whispers its truth across the wastes: an old metropolis, risen from the ashes of the Collapse, sheltered by the Traveler. It is a promise and a dream, the only refuge from the Darkness.

The City is a thriving walled ecumene, rich with the languages and traditions of every surviving human and neohuman culture. The City's population faces real challenges: inequality, fear, scarcity, and the specter of internal strife. But the deadly division of the Cataclysm remains a lingering memory, so many classes of suffering and injustice have been eradicated forever, to prevent it from happening again.

After all, if another Collapse were to occur while the Traveler lies dormant...what would remain, after the Darkness devours all?

xxxx

Shinji Ikari groaned, woozily raising his head.

His gray Ghost floated in front of him, alongside Mari. "You're awake."

The pink Ghost's eye winked, as though evoking a smile. "Out cold for about twenty minutes and thirty-one seconds! Princess hit you pretty hard!"

"He'll eventually learn how to take a hit. Or re-learn. Whatever."

Shinji blinked, realizing he was crushed against the body of his erstwhile rescuer...the robotic lady. Then he remembered his decidedly drastic reaction to her unmasking. "Oh. Um..."

"Don't move. I don't want you touching the wrong button. Might make us crash."

"Ooh, that sounds like fun!" exclaimed Mari, getting further into Shinji's face. "Push it. PUSH IT."

Asuka-2's right hand flicked at her Ghost's pink shell, right as his Ghost bumped into it with an audible huff.

Shinji slowly controlled his breathing, trying to keep himself from panicking.

(Center the target, pull the trigger...center the target, pull the trigger...)

Exhaling, he briefly noted the clouds outside the cockpit before leaning back against the taller woman. "I'm sorry."

"For freaking out?"

"Um...yeah. I mean...you went out of your way to save me, so...um...thank you."

Asuka-2 let loose an exasperated sigh, as though his words physically annoyed her. "Okay, first off: quit with the apologizing. Okay?"

"Oh. Sorry."

"Like that."

"Sor-er...um." Shinji gulped, barely catching himself. "...it's...a habit?"

"I gathered. But you're a literal newbie, so you're forgiven. So, secondly: if you're gonna end up heading back out into the Wild, you're gonna get transportation of your own." She briefly readjusted her seat, her armor jostling against him. "As you've gathered, the Sparrows and these jumpships aren't exactly built for two."

"Um...okay." He briefly wondered where in the would he would be going back out there, to that awful place.

"And third...well, you should at least enjoy the view." She tapped the cockpit window with the side of her gauntlet. "Look outside."

Dutifully, Shinji slowly leaned towards the cockpit...and saw the City. And truly, it deserved that capital 'C'. "...whoa..."

Two snow-capped mountain ranges encompassed that bastion of human civilization, one to the north and one to the south. A great wall - nay, a Barrier, blocking and repelling all who would dare strike against it - encircled the metropolis, itself a clustered gathering of roads, skyscrapers, and lights. Various vehicles moved through the air, a sign of life and vitality. Of greatest note, however, was the immense sphere that hovered over the City, reflecting the golden light of the setting sun.

"That's...the Traveler..."

"Oh, so you remember that much?" asked his Ghost.

"Can't imagine why you'd ever be able to forget it," muttered Asuka-2. "Then again, not everyone comes back with their heads screwed on straight."

"Speaking from experience?" slyly said Mari.

"Mari?"

"Yes?"

"Shut up."

Shinji was positively awestruck; he couldn't quite figure out why, but the sight of the monolith was invigorating, and pleasing.

(The Lightbringer had fled their world, and a great multitude followed it, seeking the paradise of Mercury, the greenery of Venus, the waters of Mars; they had remained behind, to reclaim their home from them.)

He looked closer at the white sphere, and blinked at the sight of scars: black patches along the bottom, and a broken hull. Other burns marked the surface at various spots, but the lower hemisphere bore the greatest wounds. "What...what happened...?"

"The Collapse," answered his Ghost. "And once we land at the Tower, you'll get all the answers you're looking for."

"Don't make a promise you can't keep," said Asuka-2, her voice sounding vaguely distant. She lightly tapped the side of his head. "Who knows what kind of questions he's got in that head of his?"

"A fair point," admitted his Ghost.

Shinji didn't know why, but he felt like he was being made fun of.

A little red light winked into green on the main control panel. "All right, we are cleared for landing. Hang on." With a practiced tilt of the joystick, Asuka-2's jumpship descended, moving on a downward vector towards the Last City.

Shinji Ikari watched in quiet awe as Asuka-2's jumpship slowly maneuvered into a large hangar, latching onto a hanging arm amidst a variety of colorful vessels, of odd shapes and sizes. Before he could ask another question, both his Ghost and Mari emitted streams of light, engulfing both him and Asuka-2. "Hey, what are-"

SHYOOOM.

"-you doing-AAAAH!" yelped Shinji, nearly falling over as he suddenly found himself no longer in the ship. He caught himself on the concrete floors, bewildered by the sudden transportation.

His Ghost hovered over him, watching him with some concern. "Hmm. I think we should have warned him."

"Given that reaction? Absolutely not!" said Mari with a synthetic giggle.

Asuka-2's eyes made a passable attempt at rolling; helping Shinji to his feet, she explained, "This close to the City? Transmatting is practically instantaneous. Makes travel a lot easier."

"...um...?"

A delighted laugh came from behind them. "Well Asuka, it seems like you've found yourself another stray."

The two turned around, facing a woman with short, messy blonde hair; clad in an olive-green bodysuit - rife with stains of grease and oil and sweat - with a cut-off sleeve and a red scarf, she was leaning over a couple of schematics, littered with notes and scribbles. She stood up - revealing her right leg, a mechanical prosthetic - and offered a hand towards Shinji. "Always pays to make a good impression with the new help. Name's Amanda Holliday."

Shinji took one look at her green eyes, briefly blushed, and covered it up by bowing at the waist. "M-My name is Shinji Ikari. It's nice to meet you too."

"Boy, talk about old-fashioned," muttered Asuka-2, forcefully prying Shinji upward. "She's the chief mechanical engineer here at the Tower. Makes sure our ships and Sparrows are in tiptop shape. Speaking of which." The Exo glanced over at the blonde. "What's the status on my order for her mute button?" She jerked a thumb towards Mari, who was idly scanning a blueprint for a ship-mounted cannon. "She's becoming more and more useless."

"Love you too, Princess," replied the pink Ghost, not even bothering to look away from the blueprint.

Amanda chuckled. "Can't say I've had time."

"Feh."

She turned her gaze back towards Shinji, an amused smile on her face. "Hey kid, whenever you get your feet underneath you, head back here and I'll make sure you get set-up."

"Oh. Um...thank you."

"You sure about that? The newbie probably doesn't have a speck of Glimmer to his name."

"I can confirm that!" helpfully exclaimed Shinji's Ghost.

Amanda shrugged it off with practiced ease. "Favors and supplies are just as good. He wouldn't be the first Guardian to set up a tab with me." Turning back towards her schematics, Amanda casually waved at them. "Y'all take care now."

The two Guardians nodded their thanks, and Asuka-2 turned on her heel. As their Ghosts merged with their bodies, Shinji dutifully followed, trying not to look too nervous amidst the busy people moving to and fro through the hangar. Amidst the chatter and relative anonymity, Shinji felt safe enough to talk. "She...seemed nice."

"She is."

"...what happened to her leg?"

"Lost it outside the City, back when she was still a refugee. Vaporized by a laser from a Ramielim."

"...you two seemed like friends."

"I've known her for a while."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I was the one who escorted her family into the City. Used to be a rambunctious little tyke."

"Oh." Shinji tried not to think about it. But he couldn't help but think. "Um...how old are-"

SHYOOM.

BONK.

"GAH!" yelped Shinji, rubbing the spot on his forehead where Mari had suddenly rammed into him. "W-what was that for?!"

"Never ask a lady how old she is," chided Mari, trying to evoke as much mock outrage as she could.

The pink Ghost let loose a squeak of surprise as Asuka-2 grabbed her tightly. "And this lady is not a fragile little flower." With a slight growl, the Exo threw Mari into the sky. In a flash of light, the Ghost disappeared, once more merged with her Guardian. "...annoying Dummkopf."

'...they seem like quite the team.'

His Ghost's idle comment was a signal for Shinji to try and distract himself; looking off towards a lower part of the hangar, he noted a large black banner hanging against a wall, bearing the white sigil of an upside triangle with what looked like seven eyes. Further above on a higher level, affixed outside the window of a secluded suite, there was a purple banner that showed the image of what looked like bloody claws stretching from the image of Earth. "...what are those?"

Asuka-2 briefly glanced at the banners that he pointed out. "They're the logos of two of the City's three main Factions."

"Factions?"

"Part of the City's governing Consensus with the Vanguard and the Speaker. There are other factions, but only three have enough clout to actually be a part of the Consensus." She gestured towards the black banner. "Seele." She then pointed at the purple banner. "Wille. The third one congregates on the other side of the Tower, near the Speaker's Observatory."

Shinji mulled the names 'Seele' and 'Wille' over in his head before asking, "...what's the third one?"

"The third one is called Nerv."

In retrospect, Shinji would look back on this moment and say that he was quite justified in tripping over his own feet. "Did...did you say Nerv?!"

(The red leaf was a sign of hope for everyone else; a heavy burden for him.)

Asuka-2 looked oddly at him. "What's got you spooked?"

"Oh...um..."

("I brought you here because you were needed." His father's voice was calm, yet distant, detached; nothing had truly changed.)

"...nothing..."

The female Exo's eyes seemed to pierce him. Shinji wondered if it was impossible to call someone a liar with just a look. "...whatever." She jerked her head forward. "Come on."

Shinji quietly followed the older Guardian, moving through the halls with trepidation. After ascending and descending some distant flights of stairs, they found themselves outside on a massive terrace. Various kiosks and computer terminals dotted the platform, which were crowded by various individuals clad in myriad styles of armor and eclectic colors. The presence of Ghosts, a multitude bearing odd styles of shells, indicated that a great deal of these people were also Guardians. "So many..."

"We've been fighting for a long time," murmured Asuka-2. "Thousands of Guardians, spread all over the Inner Planets, beating back the Darkness...all so we can have one more day."

"...what...what is the Darkness?"

"And that is a question that smarter people than you or I have tried and failed to answer. And we're about to meet one of them. Come on."

Shinji silently followed, eyes wandering to and fro at the other Guardians. His sheer newness must have been obvious, because a few actually looked back, giving him nods of acknowledgment, or even a thumbs-up. It was...nice.

'Every Guardian was once in your shoes,' said his Ghost from within his mind. 'Some of them still remember what it was like, waking up as someone...new.'

...huh. Slowly, he realized that the certain Guardians were something...else. He saw humans, and Exos like Asuka-2; however, he also saw people with skin in various shades of pale blue and gray, bearing oddly-colored eyes that glowed. Who...who are they?

'The Awoken? You...you don't have any knowledge of them, do you?'

(The girl had blue hair, and glowing red eyes; despite her injuries, she was going to step forward in his place.)

...no. Should I?

'Not necessarily! It only means you originally died before the Collapse, since the Awoken didn't exist until after the Cataclysm ended.'

...will I actually get answers about this Collapse? This Cataclysm?

(He had many questions; about the giant in purple armor, about the enemies they faced. He never asked, because he knew there would be no answers.)

'As much as we know. Which might not be as much as you'd like.'

...okay.

Stairs led to a hall underneath the terrace, and Asuka-2 continued walking with confidence. He moved past thin, cycloptic robots with a rather skeletal look - 'Frames', his Ghost cheerfully elaborated - and past a hall adorned with various canvases and banners, predominantly red in color.

"Ah, Asuka!" called a loud voice, boisterous and full of vigor. Shinji glanced at the source, blinking at the bulky Guardian; clad in white, orange, and blue armor, with brown fur adorning his pauldrons, and a single golden horn curving away from his helm (the horn on his left was simply missing, and Shinji wondered what this man's story was), the Guardian cut an imposing figure. "It is good to see you return from the Wild once more!"

"Hey Shaxx." Asuka-2 pointed her thumb at him. "Taking the new guy to see the Vanguard."

"Ah, it is always heartening to see new blood!" The man, Shaxx, enthusiastically shook Shinji's shoulder. "I look forward to seeing you sharpen your skills in the Crucible!"

"Er..."

Asuka-2 sighed. "Come on, don't intimidate the newbie. He needs...a chance to adjust."

"And what better place to adjust than on the field of battle with his fellow Guardians?"

"Look, I know how you get. If you promise to leave him alone, I'll head to Bannerfall for a few rounds later this afternoon, and show some of the younger Titans the ropes."

Even though his face was hidden, one could tell that Shaxx was grinning. "An acceptable promise!" He released Shinji's shoulder, allowing him to escape. "I'll see you soon, Guardians!"

Shinji scurried after Asuka-2, feeling somewhat...unnerved. "...who-?"

"Lord Shaxx. He manages the Crucible, which is a...live-fire training program for Guardians, so to speak. He's easily excited."

Her tone had a sense of finality to it, so Shinji didn't ask another question. Finally, they descended more stairs, entering a large chamber with old pillars of stone surrounding a central table; atop its surface were various papers, maps, and digital tablets with holographic screens. At the far end, in front of a window with a picturesque view of the City's Barrier, a monument stood, three spires surrounding a sphere of metal. Three individuals stood around the table, talking intermittently with each other.

"Look," said the Exo standing to the left of the table, clad in garments of browns, grays, and greens; a dark hood covered his head, colored shades of blue and gray, but it couldn't hide his electric blue eyes, nor the yellow glow of his mouth as he spoke. "All I'm saying is that it would be a great morale booster."

Another Guardian, bearing bulky armor of white and silver, stood on the right side of the table. He was shaking his head with well-practiced exasperation. His helm was brilliantly polished, with a thin vertical visor of neon purple; of particular note was the extension shaped like a broom sticking out from the crown of his head, a historical throwback that Shinji would not have been able to place. "Cayde, I appreciate your enthusiasm." There was a subtle twang to his voice, a cadence shared by Asuka-2 and this 'Cayde'; was he also an Exo? "Know that I would never doubt your sincerity."

"I'm hearing a lot of doubt right now," said Cayde snarkily.

Another voice interrupted them. "If you two would have a brief stay on your discussion...I believe we have some guests." The man at the head of the table was clad in robes of yellow and black, his head shrouded in a hooded helm of golden metal. The shape was akin to that of a canine, another ancient throwback. "Asuka-2." His voice lacked an Exo's twang, so he could have been a human or an Awoken. "Who's your...friend?"

Asuka-2 huffed, turning back towards Shinji. "Kid, these guys are the Vanguard, responsible for coordinating the City's defenses, Guardian missions, and our overall military strategy." She pointed at the Exo to the left. "Cayde-6, Hunter Vanguard."

"Yo."

She pointed at the Exo on the right. "Saint-14, Titan Vanguard."

"Greetings, young warrior."

Finally, she pointed at the golden man at the head of the table. "And that's Osiris, Warlock Vanguard, and the current Vanguard Commander."

"Welcome, new Guardian..." Osiris tilted his head, as though observing Shinji with...understanding. "...or should I say, Shinji Ikari? The Ahamkara Slayer, and Hero of the Cataclysm?"

Shinji blinked. And then paled at the man's words.

(With a mouth not his own, yet so much more, he howled. Facing him was a great wyrm, the first of many.)

"You...you know who I am...?"

"I know who you once were. Despite our relative lack of records about Earth before the Collapse...no one who knows anything about the Cataclysm would be ignorant of you." There was a definite smile in his voice. "You've made quite a find, Asuka."

Asuka-2 appeared entirely unimpressed by Osiris's knowing tone. "No need to intimidate the kid."

"Not at all, not at all," said Osiris, stepping around to the table to get a closer look at Shinji. The Warlock's Ghost fluttered silently behind him, its shell painted yellow with jagged black. "It's simply rare to run into any figures of note from before the Collapse. Wouldn't you agree?"

"...feh." The female Exo patted Shinji on the back. "You take care, kid. I'm out."

"Huh?" Shinji whirled around, watching despondently as his rescuer began to leave. "You...you're leaving?!"

"I brought you to the safety of the City, but I'm not gonna hold your hand. Believe it or not, I actually have shit to get done." Asuka-2 looked over her shoulder, a piercing blue gaze pinning him down. "Maybe we'll run into each other again. Though, probably best if you don't."

SHYOOM.

"She's basically warning you that apocalyptic calamities happen near her on a regular basis. She's a walking, talking doomsday event!"

Asuka-2 brought her hand up, flicking Mari in the side with her middle finger. The pink Ghost cackled with delighted madness before vanishing once more. "ANYWAY," continued Asuka-2, looking towards the Titan Vanguard. "I'm off to deliver some spinmetal to the Quartermaster and do a few Crucible matches at Bannerfall. Anything in particular I need to be aware of?"

"You should visit Owl Sector. They're researching something that seems to have caught Lord Saladin's attention," answered Saint-14.

"...that so?"

Before the female Titan could turn away, Osiris spoke up once more; the Warlock's gaze never broke away from Shinji. "Oh, and while you're there...you might want to ask for Ikora. Her Hidden have found another one."

"...seriously?" The Exo sighed, this one deep and heavy with resignation. "It never ends...stupid idiots." She looked once more at Shinji, this time with less heat in her synthetic gaze. "...see you around, Ikari." And with those words, Asuka-2 departed.

Shinji suddenly felt incredibly alone.

"...I still believe she would've made a better Hunter. Any takers?" Cayde-6 looked around. "What? No one else?"

Osiris focused more intently upon Shinji, prompting the teenager to fidget. "What do you remember of your old life, young Guardian?"

"...um..." The teen brought a hand up to his head, resisting the urge to tremble under the Warlock's penetrating gaze. "Um...well...it's...there are...flashes. Bits and pieces. I..." He tried to concentrate, to remember specifics. There were impressions, faint feelings...but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't say a word. "...well..."

"There are many details I'd like to learn from you personally. What do you remember of the period before the Cataclysm? How and why were the Exos created? How was humanity able to so quickly mobilize and escape from Earth during the Cataclysm? What was the catalyst for the emergence of the Ahamkara? What was it like, controlling an Evangelion? How-" An armored hand dropped onto Osiris's shoulder. "What?"

Saint-14's body language was clear enough. "Friend, you're going to overwhelm the young child. Everything in its own time."

"...a fair point." The Warlock stepped away, relenting in his barrage of questions. "There will be time. There's always time, if you can find it."

Shinji stared dumbly at the Warlock.

"...so, unnecessarily intrusive interrogation aside," interjected Cayde-6, drawing attention away from the youngest Guardian in the group. "Tell you what Shinji, mind if I call you Shinji?"

"Um-"

"Good! So Shinji, tell you what: you look like you could use a bite to eat, so why don't we go grab some grub, and we can talk about what you want to do. Sound fair?"

"...uh-"

"Good, glad you agree." The Hunter Vanguard glanced at his compatriots, casually saying, "Don't wait up you two." Placing an arm around Shinji's shoulder, he began leading the young teen out.

"...Cayde, you're an Exo. You can't eat," said Saint-14.

"Oh I know. But a guy can dream, can't he?" And with that, Cayde-6 whisked Shinji away.

xxxx

Well, at least the food looks familiar. He calmly chewed the marinated pork off a kebab, purchased by Cayde-6 from a vendor that worked at the base of the Tower. The two were now at the edge of the terrace, leaning against the rail that overlooked the City. The meat was cooked well, and decently seasoned. Although he didn't feel hungry, eating was something normal. It was...expected. It made things more easy to deal with.

"So. I'm not much for talk about memories, pasts...stuff like that." Cayde-6 began speaking, his gaze affixed on the Traveler. "Not exactly in the best position to say anything, myself."

"...what...do you remember?"

"That's the tricky thing. Talk to any Guardian, and they'll give different answers. Sometimes in the same day. Our connection to who we used to be is...sketchy. Sketchy's a good word."

Shinji numbly ate at the pork, idly looking down over the rail. It would make for a long fall.

(He tried to ignore the memory of a claw piercing his not-eye, of cold demands that he fight. He looked over the cliff, and wondered if anyone would miss him.)

A very long fall. "How...how can I trust that I'm me, then?"

Cayde made a thoughtful hum. "Can't exactly know what's in your head. Osiris would probably reference one of the oldest surviving texts we have from before the Collapse, mentioning the mighty war machine called 'Evangelion', one of many that faced the deceitful dragons. A testament to the potential of what could have been a Golden Age, before the Collapse. He'd also sound really excited when talking about it. Inappropriately excited."

"Point is, scant historical records don't do much to describe a person. I've got some ideas about you, but not much, given that we've only been talking for...ten minutes? Maybe fifteen?"

"...what...what do you think?" He briefly gulped, distinctly wondering if he was setting himself up. Compared to Asuka-2, to all these other Guardians, what worth could he possibly have?

(Without Eva...would anyone care about him?)

"Well, to start with, you strike me as a loner in need of a friend. Shot in the dark, I know, but trust me, fireteams are an absolute necessity. Might be the difference between successfully bringing down a Bardielus without a scratch, and bringing down a Bardielus in...rather uncomfortable ways."

"..."

"Long story, remind me to tell you sometime."

Shinji didn't quite know what to make of Cayde's 'encouragement'.

'I think it was helpful! It's good tactical information.'

...okay. He never imagined a scenario where he would even want to face a Bardielus, much less get near one. "...why me?" His right hand slowly clenched, open and shut. "Of all people...why me?"

'Because your Light spoke to me.'

"You'll soon come to realize that Guardians aren't all cut from the same cloth. Because they're people, they're all unique. Hunter, Titan, Warlock...doesn't matter. No one's the same. But every Guardian has something deep down, a solid core for something...spectacular. Kinda like the atoms in an old-fashioned nuclear bomb. But less explosive. Maybe."

"...and...you think I have it?"

Cayde looked meaningfully at him. "You're here right now, aren't you?"

(I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away!)

"...I guess."

"Tell you what Shinji," said Cayde, patting him on the back. "Go and meet the Speaker. Sure, he's a little cryptic and...well, a little creepy, but what can you expect for someone who Osiris calls a teacher?"

"Who...who is the Speaker?"

SHYOOM.

"He's the Voice of the Traveler," explained his Ghost. "His knowledge is vast, and he's a source of stability for all of us here at the Tower. If you have questions, he can answer them!"

"What she said," agreed Cayde. "Trust me, you'll find your place before long. And in the meantime...I've got to get back to work. As usual. Like...always..." With a despondent sigh, Cayde-6 left, returning towards the Vanguard Headquarters.

And then Shinji was alone with his Ghost.

"Well, shall we?"

"...okay." It's not like he had anything better to do. And so Shinji followed his Ghost through more halls, emerging at a veranda that connected to a large observatory. Looking further down the veranda, he saw a gathering of individuals, clad in familiar colors; he saw the banner bearing a single red leaf, and promptly walked even faster.

If he never saw Nerv again, it would be too soon. He wouldn't be able to elaborate on his animosity, if asked...

(The blue cyclops advanced in his place, holding a large canister. Ramming it down the gullet of a massive wyrm, the two vanished in nuclear fire. And thus did he scream.)

...but it would have been no less real.

Entering the Speaker's Observatory, he briefly marveled at the arcane scanner that dominated the expanse, a revolving system of golden pylons and metallic rings. A green, holographic mesh hovered amidst the machine, apparently representing the Traveler. Beyond the massive opening in the dome, the white sphere loomed large. Even this far away, the mysterious being was...

"It's awe-inspiring, isn't it?"

Shinji turned; a curved stairway extended up another level, connecting to a personal study of sorts. A man clad in dark blue robes slowly descended, his form shrouded by the loose clothing. "A great presence, who offered us many gifts." His head was adorned by a black headdress, and his face was hidden from view by a white mask with curved lines etched into it; a thick orange stripe arched across the mask, covering where the eyes would be. "A great presence, hunted by an ancient enemy." Breaking up the monotony of his robes were intricate lines weaved in gold, and a wide red stripe that stretched from the neck to the bottom hem. "A presence that has gone silent." His voice lacked the subtle twang of an Exo's. "A presence whose Light still shines through the Ghosts." At the edge of his white gloves, he saw human skin, not bearing the colors of an Awoken. "And here you are, standing; another example of the Light that it bestowed upon the people of Earth." The voice was muffled by the mask, yet there was no disguising the self-confident sense of absolute authority. "So tell me...why do you believe you are here?"

Shinji Ikari blinked, suddenly intimidated by the Speaker. "Um..." His hand began to unconsciously clench. "...I was...hoping...you could tell me."

The Speaker nodded, as though he expected this answer. "You wouldn't be the first Guardian to ask me that question. Seeking answers as to why they were chosen, why they were brought back. After all, this world is...unpleasant. And frightening, in many ways."

Shinji nodded; he certainly identified with that viewpoint. "...why is the world like this?" The young Hunter gestured around him. "And Osiris...he talked like he knew who I was."

"Ah. Osiris. A very...motivated individual. Driven by curiosity, by the desire to understand."

"Just...do you know what happened? Asuka, Cayde...to hear them describe you...you're important!"

"Only by virtue of the office." He tapped the side of his mask. "Everything that I was...my past, my name...all of it was given up, upon attaining this position. It is a duty that I don't take lightly."

"..."

"But to answer your question?" The Speaker turned, slowly walking towards the deck that encircled his Observatory. Shinji slowly followed, listening to the Speaker as he began to weave a tale. "Many of our records were lost, and few exist who had any personal experience with our world before the Collapse. Speculation on what happened is outpaced only by speculation on the nature of the Traveler, or the nature of the Darkness." The Speaker's Ghost slowly floated besides him, its front bearing very pronounced ridges, and its shell painted a a very bloody shade of orange.

(It was his first time in the Entry Plug, and the orange fluid enveloped him. It tasted like blood; they said it was breathable; henceforth, he thought of it as breathing blood, and it was always a macabre thought.)

"We've only been able to piece together a faint picture of the Cataclysm, using the few items that seem constant." The Speaker's Ghost emitted a blue stream of light, manifesting a hazy holographic image of the Earth. "The Traveler had been among us for a short time, before different groups sought to use its Light for their own purposes. That lack of unity, and the immense ambition of those involved...it awoke something within our world."

"The Ahamkara," said Shinji, out of subconscious reflex.

(The wyrms emerged, granting wishes of power and intrigue. Those they deceived became mere thralls, avatars of destruction.)

"Many fled our world, following the Traveler. Many more remained behind, to fight the dragons. But by the time the Hunt came to an end, and the last of the Ahamkara were extinguished..." The image of Earth was suddenly shrouded, as though gripped by tendrils of emptiness. "...the Darkness had come. The exact nature of the Darkness, when it stormed through the Solar System...we can only make educated guesses as to its form. All we know is that, in the midst of performing a great action with paracausal effects, the Traveler was crippled, and rendered silent. And yet its work was completed: the Darkness relented, and was pushed back. And from that event, the Ghosts were born." With a wink of static, the holographic image faded, and the Speaker's Ghost turned about, quietly observing Shinji. "In the centuries that have elapsed since then, more and more Guardians have emerged, and we have all struggled together, to survive. Remnants of those who serve the Darkness have consistently tried to snuff us out...and it has always been a concern that it would return in its fullness to finish what it began."

Shinji was quiet. Mulling it over, he tried to find the words. "...so...what now? What am I supposed to do?"

"There are many ways to serve, Guardian. Be it as protector, or killer; provider, or destroyer...it depends on what you want. Only so long as you serve. Otherwise...it would be a waste of a Ghost, and a waste of a second life."

(The distant figure shrugged off his cries of protest, callous and unfeeling. "If you're going to pilot, do it now. If not, then leave.")

Shinji gulped. "Um..."

"You don't have to worry, Speaker!" interjected Shinji's Ghost. "I know I made the right choice. We'll definitely do our part for the City!"

"...I have every confidence that you will," said the Speaker.

"But, how? Where would I even start?"

"Trust in your Ghost, Guardian," answered the Speaker. "It has access to all of the Tower's public records. Seek the advice of your fellow Guardians. And, most of all...find a reason to fight."

"...okay..." Another heavy burden. Another unwanted responsibility. "...I think...my Ghost would have been better off with someone else. To stay dead...it would've been more peaceful."

His Ghost looked alarmed. "Shinji!"

The Speaker did not reassure him, nor did he contradict him. Rather...he chuckled. It was an unpleasant sound. "You will come to understand the death is not the refuge it once was." He gestured all around him, with a grandiose sweep of the arm. "Old concepts and old groups, resurrected to serve the purposes of the present day, as you have no doubt seen with Seele, Wille, and Nerv. Humans, Exos, and Awoken, resurrected to fight in a cosmic war. And those who remain silent, and still, asleep forevermore...they may yet find themselves plucked away by an uncaring force, fed to the belly of beasts from across the stars."

...what?!

His Ghost, despite being physically present, spoke directly to his mind. 'Sounds like the Hive. Very unpleasant. I'll...I'll tell you later.'

"But I have a distinct feeling that you will somehow find a way, Guardian." The Speaker turned away, slowly ascending the stairs. "The Vanguard Quartermaster will direct you to your lodgings. As for what you do from there? Well, as I said...that's all up to you."

Shinji watched the Speaker's retreating back, and felt a distinct sense of anguish, gnawing away at his gut. He didn't know why. But he knew that the conversation was over, and so he turned away.

xxxx

The Speaker briefly looked over his shoulder, watching the young boy depart. The new Guardian's Ghost looked meaningfully at him before turning to follow her new charge.

'I had forgotten that he had been so young.'

The Speaker smirked underneath his mask. It took her long enough to find him.

'It was never a guarantee.'

Given the nature of Eva, it was bound to happen eventually, even if she was beginning to lose hope.

'Are we going to proceed?'

Once Eris Morn returns from scouting Old Japan? Of course. When she inevitably discovers the remnants of Hakone, her desire for vengeance will not allow her to leave it alone.

His Ghost turned, staring at him. '...what if the boy decides to do his own research? To try and determine who you were? Even I could tell that he was subconsciously remembering you.'

His Ghost's words prompted the Speaker to chuckle. And that is the beauty of it, Fuyutsuki; all he would find are old references to a clean-shaven Warlock named Rokubungi: a desperate man with too much time on his hands.

At long last, after much revisions and alterations...the Scenario would continue.

xxxx

Hours later, in a small room within the Tower, Shinji Ikari stared at an unfamiliar ceiling. The Vanguard offered free room and board to Guardians, always willing to provide a place to rest for the weary and the wounded. However, the multitude of rooms were almost never occupied on a full-time basis; Guardians moved in and out, never staying still for long. It gave the lodgings an aura of busy loneliness.

He stared absentmindedly, lying quietly on a single cot. All told...this place was much less welcoming than his old home.

("...tadaima," he said nervously. The woman's smile was beautiful, and she replied "Okaerinasai!" He actually thought she might have been sincere.)

"...what am I going to do?"

His Ghost, resting on the pillow by his head, floated into his field of vision. "Well, there's a lot that we can do!"

"...we?"

"Of course! I am your Ghost, after all. Where you go, I go."

"...why?"

"Because you're my Guardian. Because you're you. Nothing more, and nothing less."

"...huh." It was...a little bit touching. A stray thought came to mind. "...do you have a name? I know that Asuka called hers Mari."

"My name is whatever you want it to be."

"..."

"Well?"

"...um...how about, whatever you want it to be? That's my choice."

"Oh! Well. Hmm..." His Ghost's stars rotated wildly, as though the drone was in deep thought. "...I'm not sure why, but I've always been fond of the name Yui."

Shinji's eyes widened. "...oh..."

His Ghost seemed to blink, looking worryingly at him. "Is something wrong?"

"...n-no. It's...it's just..." He gulped, feeling that old lingering sense of loss. "...I...I think it was my mother's name."

"Oh!" The drone seemed shocked. "I'm so sorry! I can go with another name!"

"N-No! You don't have to!" Disappointing the little drone was rapidly becoming a preoccupation of his. It was probably because of how...unflinching her belief in him was. Not in Shinji, the Pilot, or Shinji, the Guardian...but just Shinji. "It's...it's okay. Yui...Yui is a good name."

The Drone's eye evoked the feeling of a smile. "I'm glad."

xxxx

Grimoire: Osiris

What drives a Warlock?

Ghosts choose those suited to war and heroism to be reborn, or so it has been said. By nature or circumstance they go to battle against the Darkness, and through this battle they learn how to use the Light. But Warlocks, by their nature, fight a second, internal war. This is the war to understand a universe of secrets— a world that expects Guardians to fight without full knowledge of what they are or what they might hope to achieve. It is a world that moves forward by sheer momentum, and any thought that goes against that grain is mercilessly crushed.

You were a mighty warrior. I watched you at Six Fronts, and heeded the call of Saint-14 to appoint you Vanguard Commander, even when the Concordat claimed to have records proving you were a Pre-Collapse experiment mis-incarnated as a human by an inept Ghost. Saint-14 assured me you were just a man without much patience for obfuscation. His words, meant to assuage, proved ultimately unnecessary: I knew what quiet desperation looked like.

I watched as you grew tired of strike missions and the grueling, unproductive sessions with the Cryptarchs. That was when I took you under my wing. I saw potential in you. Your curiosity was voracious— How much of a Guardian's personality and memories were true? How much had been fabricated by their Ghost? Did Guardians share particular personality traits— a willingness to yield to authority, a tendency to do anything anyone asked for the promise of uncertain reward, a blind knight-errant mentality? Had the Traveler manufactured all of us as living weapons?

I found your questions intriguing, and I voiced these thoughts. You lamented how others feared your ideas, frightened that your pursuits would break our unity when the City's position had grown so tenuous. Why divert attention away from the Traveler, our only hope, or so it has been said?

I reminded you of the virtue called prudence. Instead of dabbling in thanatonautics, I made sure you experimented with meticulous precision. I shared with you my personal knowledge of the Ahamkara, fully ensuring that you were aware of their intrinsic metaphysical dangers. I revealed to you the truth of the Nine, and why their servant Xur drew such fascination whenever he deigned to visit the City. Your more impertinent requests to seek what lies beyond the Reef were tempered with wisdom. Instead of splitting Guardians among ideological lines to pursue your visions, it was far more practical to use your leverage as the Vanguard Commander. After all, there are many Guardians who are enticed by the prospect of secrets and bounty: if you wish to learn of the legendary Vault of Glass, assign patrol missions to find Pre-Collapse technology on Venus, and let time and effort take care of the rest; if you wish to discover the location of the mythical MAGI, encourage more assaults against the Fallen that surround the City, gaining us more staging grounds for expeditions; if you wish to learn the exact nature of the Darkness, observe its effects on our very Light, in battle or otherwise.

Those who are of the old guard would consider these words heretical, or perhaps blasphemous. Such a ridiculous sentiment to hold in the face of Guardians who wanted a clear idea of why they were fighting, what they faced, and how they would ultimately win. Alas, passions are what they are, which is why it was important to remind you of the necessity of patience.

Eventually, you asked why I indulged you so, even if it went in the face of everything he thought that the Voice of the Traveler should be.

When I pulled off my mask, I showed a face that I had not revealed in nearly two hundred years. When I told you my name, you laughed, for now you knew why. But more importantly...you understood.

What drives a Warlock?

The same thing that drives everyone, when you get down to the essentials: hunger, insatiable, craving whatever will satisfy them.

And you hunger for knowledge.