19

"Wren, wake up," Kiran said, nudging her shoulder.

"Hm? Kiran? What time is it?"

"About two in the morning. Remember when we got that mysterious message?"

Wren rubbed her eyes but was reluctant to open them. She'd collapsed in bed without closing the curtains and the light from the City casting a soft golden glow over her ceiling. "Yeah. No one believed me."

"Well I was able to track down the origin of the message."

"What?" she sat up. "Is that what you've been doing?"

"Ghosts don't exactly sleep, you know," he chuckled. "Sorry I woke you up so early, I was just excited. We can go in the morning. Get back to sleep."

"No way," Wren said, throwing back her covers. "I want to get to the bottom of that call. It's already been so long. I wonder if she'll still be there… wherever there is."

"Venus. She must have some pretty powerful equipment to get a signal from that far. Are you sure you don't want to wait for morning?"

"For what?" Wren pulled on her boots and strapped them tight around her calves. "My fireteam doesn't believe me. And I don't feel like dealing with Flak."

"Still in a bad mood from Cayde?" Kiran floated in front of her, forcing her to look at him.

"I just don't understand and at the moment, I don't care. If he wants to run off, let him. I don't like the way people look at us when I'm with him anyway. I'm better off solo." Wren fixed the clasps on her gauntlets and side-eyed the cloak Cayde had given her out of the cache they'd found the day before.

Kiran's light flickered back and forth, following her gaze but he didn't say another word on the subject. His shell rotated slowly from side to side. Wren didn't need to hear him to get the point, but what was there to do? Cayde was weird. She wasn't going to chase him again, not for anything. Besides, what did she hope to get out of being around him anyway? Gossip? She was getting plenty of that and frankly, she didn't like it.

With a huff she threw the cloak over her shoulders and pulled the cowl up before leaving her little room without a second glance. The Tower was dead quiet this time of day. The darkest part of morning was coming but the City lights still shone as if half of its inhabitants were bedded down for the night.

Wren stared over the City for a short time, thinking of the Hunter's lairs that were likely still crawling with life. She'd not been to one yet, but she'd heard of them. Someday she'd get in good enough with a Hunter to be invited into one, but she was still too green for that. Green and unsocial.

A few stray starships cruised in and out of the hanger and some Guardians walked past her in the Courtyard headed toward their rooms but none of them gave Wren a passing glance. She could come and go as she pleased and it gave her a little rush.

"Are you ready?" Kiran asked.

"One quick stop by the Vault and I'm good to go," she said as she accessed a terminal. "Do you have exact coordinates or are we flying blind?"

"It's not exact by any means, but we're not trying to search an entire planet either. I traced it back to the Shattered Coast. Even if she's gone, maybe she left something behind we can follow."

"Or she's had her fun and is gone forever. We missed out."

"Are you going to tell Cayde you're leaving the Tower?"

"Wren dropped the Better Devils in its holster. "You can't be serious. Do Hunters usually tell him when they come and go?"

"Well, no, not exactly. I mean—"

"Then no. I'm not telling him anything. Now let's get going. I'm ready to see something other than the damn Moon." She headed toward the hanger. One way or another, she'd get some answers about this mysterious stranger.

They dropped into the Shattered Coast during a storm, breaking through thunderheads to see the ruins of a city below. Lightning flashed across the horizon as they flew over a cliff where a massive angel statue stood overlooking a sea of hazy rust-colored water.

"This colony was built by the Ishtar Collective," Kiran said as they flew over the angel. Wren stared down at her chipped and broken form until she completely passed below them. "I thought this was all lost after the Collapse. It's incredible. The Collective used to study ruins that predated humans. I wonder if any of their libraries are still intact."

They found a nice landing zone just outside of the city and hid the craft among some boulders. Wren hopped down onto the surface of Venus and scanned her surroundings. She was hoping for something different than what she saw. There was vegetation, which was absent on the Moon, and a few pools of oddly colored water, but it was still a desolate wasteland.

"Be glad the air in your helmet is filtered," Kiran said. "The smell of sulfur around here would gag you."

"Summon up the Sparrow. Let's find this stranger."

"Ah, see, that's a problem. Since no one's been here in a long time, I can't transmat the Sparrow and I can't get a lay of the land. We'll have to go to the old outpost and see what we can find. Just head back into the city and keep your guard up."

Kiran flashed and disappeared while Wren readied the Better Devils. She trotted down the path toward the city, taking in what little there was to see. White and gray colored dirt was a base under the strange lichens and moss. Bits and pieces of machinery, cache crates, and other various items littered the ground. The toe of her boot caught something, and the object skittered across the ground.

"What's that?" she asked as she knelt to pick it up. The object was metal and fit in the palm of her hand. There were buttons with simple shapes on them. A triangle on its side, parallel bars, a square, and a few others that had been worn away.

"I'm not sure but it might be important. Keep it. We'll ask Master Rahool when we get back to the Tower."

Wren tucked the object away and continued until she was closing in on buildings on the outskirts of the city. Movement among the rusted cars between them froze Wren in her tracks. Fallen. Not many of them. Just a few Dregs and a Shank or two. Nothing a well-placed grenade couldn't handle.

She kept low and snuck around the left side. When she was behind the closest wall she tossed a rock over their heads where it bounced off the hood of an old car. The Fallen turned to investigate and Wren tossed a Solar grenade into the middle of them, ducking to avoid the blast herself.

The pitiful creatures cried out, then fell silent, only a couple of them surviving the initial blast. She hopped up onto the roof of a van and with two shots finished off the last of the Dregs. Blood spattered the rusted sides of the cars and the grass on the edges of the blast radius still burned in small clumps before burning out.

Grass grew thicker as she neared the coastline they'd flown over earlier. Toward the cliff was the remnants of a building on a piece of land that looked as if it could crumble away to the sea any moment. Another group of patrolling Fallen were on guard.

"That's where we're headed," Kiran said. "They must have seen us fly in."

"Of course they did," Wren grumbled. "Where's Sisre with her sniper rifle when you need her?"

"Uh, still asleep in her bed at the Tower. You know, where you should be."

"I can handle some Fallen."

Wren made short work of the few Vandals and Dregs that had been patrolling the area, despite pieces of the patch of land falling into the waters below in great clumps.

"Hurry up and link to the system so we can get off this rock," Kiran said before scanning the terminal. "There. We have access to the Sparrow now and I have a better idea of where we're headed."

"Is she still here?"

"No idea. But I'm getting a lot of info on something called the Vex. Oh… they're machines. War machines. Intelligent, ruthless, oh, and they teleport. That's… fantastic."

"I'll admit, I don't like the sound of that."

"We can always come back later with a full fireteam and—"

"And admit I couldn't do it on my own? Not a chance. Are we in a darkness zone?"

"No, not currently."

"Then I'm not backing down. Let's go.

"Of course," she replied. Kiran sighed and sank a little. "Are you going to use your Sparrow?"

"No. I'm glad I have the option, but with all these Fallen around and whatever the Vex are, I think the Sparrow would draw too much attention."

"Head toward the statue. I'm getting some activity near there. Not sure what it is though…"

Wren wove through piles of junk cars, keeping the angel statue in sight as she drew closer. It was much larger up close and, in a way, sort of spooky. The Fallen didn't seem to mind. They stood on high alert on the lowest tier of a set of steps that led into a building a few dozen yards away from the statue. She checked her ammo and edged closer.

"Let me guess. We're headed there."

"You got it."

It wasn't hard to get to. The Fallen were picked off easily, except for a Vandal with particularly good aim who clipped Wren's shoulder mid dodge. Blood oozed from the wound and Wren cursed at the chunk that was now missing from her armor. Kiran healed her but the armor was still damaged. She'd have to replace it soon. Very soon.

Wren ascended the last flight of stairs, the shadow of the building falling over her. The front doors were missing and what used to be an atrium was now covered in dirt to the point that grass and other vegetation had begun to grow in the small space.

The left side of the floor had given way. Pale blue light glowed from within and Wren followed. Rebar stuck out of the cement that was once the floor and lichen dripped over the entrance. She sloshed through water that had flooded into the area under the building.

"I hope this water's okay to walk in," she said."

"I think it's alright. Is it leaking into your armor?"

"No. Not yet. This place looks unstable."

Broken cement pillars and exposed rebar made Wren uncomfortable. She looked up to see the ceiling looked to be in good enough shape. There weren't many cracks overhead. She'd have to hope that was good enough.

"What's that crackling noise?" she asked as she turned a corner to see bolts of electricity arced along the walls. "Oh wow. At least it's not touching the water."

"Shhh, I'm picking up Vex activity up there."

Wren reloaded her weapon and kept low as she approached the hole leading back out of the underground space. A tower of white fractal light ahead caught her attention. She eased into the room but didn't see any enemies.

"I don't understand. Where are the Vex?"

"I'm not sure. But this is the place the original message came from."

"Looks like a library." Wren stood a few feet from the column of light and observed her surroundings. Another angel statue occupied the space in the middle of the room. Second story galleries were nearly pitch dark. Wren assumed the shelves were continued up there. Piles of junk were neatly stacked here there out of the walking path.

"Let's see what that conflux is for," Kiran said, materializing in front of the light column. He began his scan and Wren kept her guard up for enemies. Birds fluttered around overhead but they were the only sound or movement in the room. "This is interesting. A conflux of non-baryonic streams going... where?"

"I have no idea what that means."

The birds scattered, cawing loudly as they tried to escape the room. Dark fog materialized toward the other side of the library, white electricity crackling in the darkness. The light grew s bright, Wren had to shield her eyes.

"It's the Vex!" Kiran said, vanishing in a flask. "Find cover!"

Wren ran back and slid over the top of a long counter at the back of the room an instant before a group of robots emerged from the black fog. A single, glowing red eye in the middle of their heads drew Wren's attention first, followed but the swirling white light in their bellies. Their joints popped into place as they raised their guns and began to fire in her direction.

A barrage of Solar energy pelted into the counter, splintering the wood and passing through like a knife through hot butter in the sections where the wood had deteriorated. Wren peered through a hole in the counter where a sizable chunk had been destroyed and fired at the hoard of Vex. She took aim at the glowing red light and in two shots removed the head of one of the robots.

"Uh oh," Kiran said. "I think you made it angry."

The Vex's body sparked with electricity but it didn't drop to the floor. Instead, it quickened its pace and fired its weapon randomly, dealing damage to its comrades as it charged toward her. The others were advancing at an alarming rate and if she didn't make a move, she'd be stuck behind the counter.

Wren scrambled onto the end of the counter and jumped toward the gallery above. With the help of her armor she was able to leap high enough to grab the railing. The Vex adjusted their aim and destroyed that part of the railing an instant after she cleared it and ran for cover in the darkness.

The upper gallery extended all the way to the back of the room and a staircase led along the left wall down to the main floor, roughly even with the middle area where the angel stood, watching the battle with cold eyes. The Vex continued to fire on her despite not being able to see her as they headed toward the stairs.

A couple of them teleported to the upper gallery and Wren threw a knife at one as she fell back. The blade shattered the white core of its body, spilling a strange, glowing liquid to the floor. As it did, the red light faded and the Vex dropped where it stood.

"Hit it in the white thing!" Kiran said.

"I got it!"

She could see their lights as they began to ascend the stairs and she threw a grenade down into their midst as she ducked behind a column. The other Vex that had teleported to the gallery was edging ever closer and she could see the same lights and mist over the railing on the floor below. More of them were coming. She leaned around the corner and shot out the Vex's stomach but more had accumulated on the gallery, a few of them severely damaged from the grenade.

"I don't know if I brought enough ammo," she admitted, doing her best to take aim at their milky cores while evading their Solar rounds.

"I told you we should have let someone know where we were going. I told you we needed Cerulean to back us up. I told you to tell—"

"I swear if you say Cayde one more time." She leaned out and dropped a few more Vex but there were still too many. "Can you tell me anything else about these things? A better way to beat them maybe?"

"Yeah uh, these are called Goblins. They seem to be the weakest of the Vex."

"Oh, that's comforting."

"Well you said you wanted to do this yourself!"

"I killed Hive Princes; I can kill these damn things too."

"Fine, fine! But watch out for Hobgoblins. They're the snipers of the bunch."

As if on cue a bolt of Solar energy flew by her and slammed into the bookshelf, charring the bindings of the age-worn books.

"I can call for backup. I can have Cerulean here in no time," Kiran offered.

"If I do that, I'll never live it down." Wren leaned around and opened fire on the Goblins that were blocking her path on the gallery. She ran over the fallen bodies, careful not to trip on the shredded metal of their limbs. The stairway was clear now and she was able to peek around to see a Hobgoblin on the opposite gallery. It took aim and fired, landing close to her head. "I don't know if I have the range for this," she said, gritting her teeth as she fired at the Hobgoblin. Two body shots and the Vex took a knee and a shield raised around it.

"Hurry! Get closer so when its shield drops you can kill it!"

Wren ran across the gallery but there was only so close she could get. Sparks flew from the damaged body of the Hobgoblin as its shield dropped and it raised but up on two feet. Wren took the shot and landed it, felling the Hobgoblin.

"Throw a grenade down there," Kiran said as the same dark fog from before settled below them. "Kill them as they spawn in."

Wren did as he said and most of the Vex fell before they could get their feet properly on the ground. She reloaded again and fired into the rest of them until nothing was left but a pile of scrap and that strange white liquid.

"I don't mean to distract you but uh… you should look at that. It's a Minotaur."

Wren looked toward the far end where a massive robot spawned. It was much larger than the Goblins that surrounded it.

"I can use Golden Gun for that," Wren said, reloading. "I only have two clips left and a few throwing knives."

"You really need a scout rifle or something."

"When we get back, I'll make sure I look into it." She lobbed a grenade at the feet of the Minotaur, blasting its legs and a few Goblins.

Mid-throw she was knocked to the ground by two shots that slammed into her chest plate. They didn't go completely through but she could feel the heat from the Solar rounds and the breath was knocked out of her. She rolled to the side and backed up toward a bookcase, hand clutching her chest.

"Are you alright?"

"I'll be fine," she panted, hands shaking despite her breathing returning to normal.

"I've got your back," Kiran reminded.

Wren crawled forward and knelt behind a column, looking around to shoot Goblins until she pulled the trigger and heard a dull click. No more ammo. She peered over to see the remaining few Goblins with the Minotaur in the middle. With a deep breath she leaped over the railing to drop to the floor below. She rolled out of the way, Solar energy searing holes in her new cloak.

A Goblin rushed her from the right side, and she plunged a knife in its face, knocking it back so she could finish it off with a well-placed throw. She let the Light fill her as she had before and unleashed the fiery hand canon of the Gunslinger. The Minotaur's chest split with the force of the first shot and the second ripped through its crit spot. The last shot removed the entire torso of a Hobgoblin and as the pieces fell to the floor, Wren realized they were finally in silence.

"Is… is that it?" Kiran asked.

Wren braced on her knees for a moment before standing to view the aftermath. She hid the shaking of her hands by adjusting her gauntlets, her heart pounding in her ears.

"I think so."

"Well fought."

The voice made Wren spin around, hand on her throwing knives.

"Relax, Guardian," the female Exo said, taking a few steps toward them.

"You're still here?" Kiran asked, flickering over Wren's shoulder.

"I knew you'd come eventually. But now we're running out of time." She came down the stairs to stand with them.

"Who are you?" Wren asked

"Have you been watching us?"

The Exo tilted her head. "It's complicated and I don't have time to explain." She looked away slightly, hand to her ear as if she was talking to someone else. "I will. I will. I know."

"What do you know?" Kiran asked.

"I wasn't talking to you, little light."

"I'm a Ghost."

She looked at him, then to Wren. "Many Guardians have tried to get here. Many fell. But you made it." She turned her head away. "Yes, I'm listening. I have them here with me."

Kiran floated around her head, glancing at Wren. "Who could she be talking to?"

"Understood," the Exo said, turning her attention back to Wren and gently pushing Kiran away. "You need my help."

"We do? For what?" Wren asked.

The Exo blinked and looked away, her pale gaze resting on the twitching form of a Goblin. "The Vex brought us here. An evil so dark, they despise other evil." She loomed over the Goblin, then knelt beside it.

"You're not a Guardian," Kiran said, and Wren's eyes shifted to him.

The Exo looked like a Guardian. She could have easily passed as a Hunter with her cloak and the weapon strapped to her back was taken care of but well worn.

"No," she replied. "I wasn't forged in the Light. But I believe that where our paths cross, the ground could break." With the last word she planted her foot in the Goblin's glowing white core and crushed it under her boot. "Do you know of the Black Garden?"

"I know of the legend," Kiran replied.

"These machines are born there," the Exo explained. "Go to the Garden, rip out it's heart, and the Traveler with begin to heal. They are our biggest threat."

"Where can we find it?" Wren asked.

The Exo shook her head and looked away. "No. My path is my own. I cannot help you."

"If we have to find the Garden, then we'll have to go see the Awoken," Kiran said, turning to her.

"Ah, yes. The Awoken," the Exo said. "Out there lingering between the light and the dark. You must choose a side, little light. Even if it's the wrong one." She looked away again, speaking on her comm to someone else. "Too late, returning. How many?" She turned her back to Wren and Kiran. "Hold your position and kill the engines. I don't want them to find you."

She took a few steps, drew her weapon, and disappeared in web of white light.

"Well, that was… weird," Kiran said.

"Where do we find the Awoken?'

"They live out at the edge of where the Darkness and Light meet. I'd rather stay here with the murderous robots," Kiran said flatly.

"Not a chance, little light," Wren smirked beneath her helmet. He didn't have to see it to catch it in her voice.

"Don't do that."

"I guess we should head back now?"

"Zavala would want to hear about this."

"If they believe us this time."

"Oh, they'll believe us once they see the networks are back up on Venus. And this time, we're bringing the whole fireteam."