Wren slid into the hot water of the bathhouse with a sigh. Steam drifted toward the ceiling and Wren leaned her head back against the side of the pool to watch it rise. Sisre waded into the water, stretching her arms high until she finally glided forward to swim in a half circle before joining Wren at the edge.
"It's been way too long since we've done this," she said, massaging her neck. "I slept so weird last night. I can't even turn my head all the way to the left."
"I didn't sleep."
"Seriously? I couldn't be a Hunter. You guys don't sleep enough."
"I'm hoping this helps."
"What were you up to yesterday? Koro was looking for you but he said you weren't in your den."
"I was there most of the night. He probably missed me. What did he want?"
"I don't know. Something about dumplings. So," Sisre said with a sly grin. "We skipped right on over what you were doing yesterday. Could it be that you slipped off with our roguish Vanguard again?"
"I wouldn't put it like that…"
Sisre giggled, trying to keep quiet in the otherwise peaceful bath house. "I'm sure you wouldn't. So were you with Cayde or not?"
Wren shook her head and tried not to smile. Something about the way Sisre talked about it made her want to laugh but she managed to hold in all but the hint of a grin. "Ok, fine. I was. We went back to Kingstone Port for that loot I was promised."
"Get anything good?"
"A bunch of glimmer. It more than made up for what I had to give to Flak. Frankly, I was surprised the "treasure" even existed at all."
"Because it was Cayde with a map. With his luck, it was just as likely to be a prank or a setup or something."
"That's true." Sisre floated on her back. "Did you have fun?"
Wren rubbed her shoulder. "I… no, not really."
Sisre must have heard the change in Wren's tone because she was back at her side in an instant, chartreuse eyes searching Wren's face.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
In a way, she didn't. What had happened had scarred her in a way and admitting as much made her feel weak. Still, she did want to tell someone about it and who better than Sisre?
"The treasure map led to a cache in Kingstone Port that belonged to Emelie's den. Most of it was useless junk, but there was a box in the bottom with something inside called an Elder Cipher. Cayde didn't have time to explain what it was because as soon as we saw the thing Fallen were all around us. We were swarmed by them and ended up having to flee through a Darkness Zone."
"I don't think I've ever heard of an Elder Cipher before. Apparently, it's important."
"I guess so because the Fallen were relentless."
"We tried to get away on our Sparrows but a Captain shot me off of mine and he… he ripped my arm off. I felt so helpless and Cayde had to fight them off." The taste of the words left a bitter taste on her tongue, but as ashamed as she was about what happened, she couldn't pretend it didn't.
"I'm so sorry, Wren."
"It's okay just… I feel like I'm starting back at square one."
"What do you mean?"
"I've tried so hard to prove myself to Cayde and the other Hunters that I'm capable and I can take care of myself. To have Cayde have to step in and protect me like that? It's humiliating."
"Hey now," Sisre said, swimming to stand in front of Wren. "We all need help sometimes. Don't you remember when you first met Rorick and me? We had to go in and save him. He didn't feel weak because of that, it happens sometimes. And I'm sure Cayde doesn't think less of you for it either. You've done so much, you really need to be kinder to yourself."
Wren nodded but deep down she was still ashamed. There wasn't much about the situation she could remember with clarity. Flashes remained of the Captain tearing her arm from her body, bright Solar light, then Cayde standing over her. She bits and pieces of him leaning over her as he took her to safety, the way the pain faded to warmth until she lost consciousness, then slipping into death.
That had been different than before. Death. She felt no pain, but her arm was gone there and she was bleeding into the water. She made no attempt to sit up or look for him in that place. His voice came from somewhere above, assuring her that she would be alright, while a heaviness settled over her. The pressure was relaxing, soothing.
The next thing she remembered clearly was waking up. She could feel Kiran pulling her from the warmth and safety of that place back into her body where the panic of what had happened still lingered. She'd tried to fight Cayde, that much was clear, but he held her until she was calm. In that moment of raw emotion she'd clung to him, but that was something she wouldn't admit to doing. Hopefully he'd never bring it up. She'd broken down to him and the damage had been done, no matter what Sisre said. He'd have doubt in his mind to her capabilities.
A lady in a sheer white gown passed them, kneeling in silence to offer them drinks, which they took with quiet thanks. At least this would help melt away the tension.
Wren sipped and rested her head on the edge of the pool, making shapes in her mind from the steam as it drifted away.
"So, what do you want to do tomorrow?" Sisre asked. "Feel like spending some of Emelie's glimmer?"
Wren smirked. "That sounds good."
"Anywhere in particular you want to go?"
"A bookstore I think."
"I have the perfect place. Discover a love for reading, huh?"
"Maybe." She took a long sip, staring into the distance. "Sisre?"
"What does "dripping heat mean?"
Sisre choked on her drink. "W-what?"
"I can't remember word for word but it was something like, "he pressed his fingers into her dripping heat"," Wren said.
Sisre grasped her glass in both hands and forced a smile. "Wren, honey… where did you hear that?"
"I didn't hear it anywhere. I read it in a book."
"Who's… where did you find it?"
"In Cayde's toolbox. Why? What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing," Sisre said through gritted teeth, downing her drink in one gulp. "Nothing at all."
Cayde tinkered with his Sparrow, whistling listlessly to himself through the din around him. The yelling, cussing, laughing, clanking mess of a hanger was background noise to him anymore. He pulled a mass of burned wiring away and dropped it to the floor. Damage from the Fallen that Zavala and Ikora were still deciding how to handle. Not that he cared either way.
That wasn't quite the truth… he did care. That Captain was dead, but his whole House needed to be in the ground before Cayde would be satisfied. He paused a moment, tapping pliers against the metal plating of his Sparrow before going back to work.
His head swiveled toward the angry voice calling out to him. Sisre stormed toward him in full armor and his eyes went wide. Uh oh. He took a step back and tried to plaster on his most charming smile.
"Hey, Sisre…. Uh, how's it going?"
"Don't you start that with me. What the hell are you doing letting Wren read that filth you keep around here?"
"I didn't know she'd get into my toolbox!"
"You're going to corrupt her and I swear," she said, poking his chest, her face mere inches from his. "If you lay so much as a finger on her, I will make you regret it. Understand?"
Cayde put his hands up defensively. "Woah, now it was only a book. I think you're overreacting a bit."
He heard a mechanic nearby say, "If he dies, I get his Sparrow" and he knew he'd messed up.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way," he sputtered, driven back by the fire in her eyes. "I completely forgot I had that in there and I really didn't think she'd go looking around in there. Honest."
Sisre seemed to chew on that idea for a minute and took a deep breath. "Wren is still really young for a Guardian. I know she'll learn about this stuff eventually, but I don't want her getting taken advantage of by anyone."
"I would never take advantage of her. Or anyone. C'mon, Sis, you know me better than that."
She sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. "Yeah. Yeah, I know. I just…"
"I know. Trust me, I get it but—"
"Sisre, Cayde! Zavala and Ikora are looking for ya'll," Holliday called out from across the bay.
"Duty calls," he chuckled nervously.
"I swear, if she comes back to me and asks me to explain one more line from that smut you read, I'm going to backhand your head clean off like Shaxx did Fellwinter."
"Ah, ahaha, right, I'm readin' ya loud and clear."
Cayde let Sisre walk ahead of him, slightly afraid of her being at his back. Most of Cerulean was waiting for them, except for Wren and Flak. That didn't sit will with him. Wren might have dismissed his questions about Flak and the dagger incident, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was bad blood between them.
When Wren did arrive, she was alone and Cayde's shoulders relaxed. She shot sideways glance in his direction and he gave her a little thumbs up. Cerulean stood around chatting among themselves while they waited for Flak but after several minutes and no word from him, Cayde lost his patience.
"Maybe we should just assume he's not in the Tower," he said. "Probably out doing… Hunter things." And making me look bad, he thought. "Go ahead without him."
Zavala's mouth drew into a hard line but he relented and gave a short nod. "Very well. While trying to decide what to do about the Fallen in the Kingstone Port area, we received a message from the Reef. The House of Wolves has betrayed Mara Sov and she wants them hunted down. I'm sending this team in two directions. Three of you, Beorn, Franz, and Wren, will go to the Reef to speak with Petra Venj, the Queen's Wrath. Rorick and Sisre will investigate the Kingstone Port area."
"My scouts tell me the Fallen are still really thick around that area," Cayde explained. "There are reports of an Elder Cipher in that area and I want to know if it's still in that area."
Sisre and Wren exchanged a glance that made Cayde wonder if Wren had told her Titan friend what had happened in Kingstone. If she had, he'd be surprised. The fact that she was willing to meet him at all in such a public place as the hanger had been surprising enough. But to tell her friends about it?
"It's settled then," Zavala said and Cayde snapped back to the moment. "I want you three to leave immediately. Relations between the City and the Reef have been on unstable ground for a long time so behave yourselves and show them the best Guardians for the job."
Zavala dismissed them and Cayde moved to wish Wren luck, but Rorick stopped him, drawing his attention to the map on the table of Kingstone. Cayde stared over his shoulder to Wren's back as she walked away. He clenched his jaw and set to work advising Rorick and Sisre.
Wren recognized the name as soon as it was spoken. The Queen's guards brought them into the Reef by escort as they had before, and Wren toyed with the purple stone up until she was docked and then she pushed it down the front of her armor. What kind of person would Petra be? For some reason, Wren was nervous to find out.
Beorn took point and Wren gladly stepped down from that, occupying herself with the sights of the Vestian Outpost. There wasn't much to it though she hadn't expected anything as complex at the Tower. A few vendors stood around speaking with Awoken or with the few Guardians who dared to make business here.
It was Petra Venj that caught Wren's eye before she had time to truly take in the sights. She was beautiful. Her skin was pale ashen gray with a hint of blue undertone. Her armor was black and gold and fuchsia; strong, sleek, and precise. Blazing red hair swept neatly into a bun and a fringe of bangs covered the eyepatch that covered her left eye. The right one shone bright blue, accentuated by black eye liner and tracked Wren as she approached.
Petra held her head up and put her hands on his hips when the Guardian's ascended the few stairs to her platform where a curved monitor scrolled information behind her. She seemed genuinely glad to see them but there was still a cautious look in her eye.
"Welcome Guardians," she beamed. "I can't wait to work with you. I'm Petra Venj, the Queen's Wrath. And you are?"
"Beorn. This is Franz and Wren of Fireteam Cerulean."
"Ah," Petra nodded. "The Tower sent some of their best." Her gaze fixed once more on Wren and a hint of a smile curved the corners of her pink lips. "And I've heard a lot about you specifically. Beyond your little incident with Uldren Sov, I've heard of you and your team's accomplishments. You really have Cayde… impressed."
Franz giggled and nudged Wren's elbow which earned him a warning glare. Had they not needed to be on their best behavior she would have gut checked him.
Petra didn't linger on the topic, instead moving directly into why they were there.
"The House of Wolves is lead by a Fallen called Skolas. He is the last of their Kells and seeks to regain and expand the power of his House. To do so, he'll need to kill the leaders of the House of Winter and take command of their troops. We need to stop him before he can take over too many Houses.
"I'll need one of your Ghosts to feed me telemetries so I can see what's going on and guide you to where you need to be. Are you alright being my eyes, Wren? I'd like to see how the killer of Crota handles herself."
Wren's guts twisted but she couldn't deny Petra's request. She consented and Kiran appeared to introduce himself. He floated out a few feet to meet Petra and Wren tensed.
"I'm Kiran," he said with a little dip and she smiled at him.
"What a sweet name. It's nice to meet you, Kiran. Well, if you're ready to go I won't keep you. I'll send coordinates to a drop point to your Ghosts and you can proceed from there. Also, Variks will be patching in to translate Fallen, if we need him. He won't be speaking on the comms unless necessary." She motioned toward a nearby stall where a Fallen with a missing arm rearranged items in his area. A metal arm replaced the one that was gone and Wren rubbed her shoulder absently.
"We're prepared to go," Beorn said. "Lets go hunt some Wolves."
Petra waved her hand to allow their dismissal and she gave an approving nod to Wren before they left. They were quiet the rest of the way to their ships and even on the escorted trip away from the Reef. The guards broke off about halfway through, showing some of their growing trust in the Guardians wandering into their territory, but Wren dared not speak to her fireteam about how awkward the encounter was for fear that Petra was already listening.
What had really caught her off guard was hearing that Cayde had talked about her to someone else. Somehow it had slipped past Wren that he had a life outside of being a Vanguard and taking her on random adventures. He had friends. Petra obviously being one of them. But what had he said? Probably making bets behind her back. Or bragging about her accomplishments in ridiculously exaggerated stories. That made her grin and shake her head.
Cerulean landed on the darker side of Venus, the typical oranges, yellows, and green awash in deep purple shadows. The landing zone itself was difficult to get to, being at the end of a canyon that spanned only a couple of Sparrow lengths in width.
A few Fallen Pikes were unattended nearby and before Wren could suggest taking them, Petra beat her to the punch.
"Go ahead," she said. "They come with mines but I'm not sure how to deploy them."
This prompted Franz to push every button on the Pike until a mine bounced off the floor of the canyon then off the walls and exploded, rocking the steep walls and sending debris raining down on them.
"Whoops." He chuckled and gave Beorn an innocent shrug but the Exo wasn't having any of it. "I'll just… not. Yeah. Well, the red button is for the mines. Incase… incase you were wondering. Or whatever."
Beorn heaved a sigh and took off on the Pike. They kept single file as they pushed the Pikes to their limits through the narrow pass, around sharp turns, over gaps, through a short tunnel, then out into an open area where a Fallen Walker stood half hidden behind jagged boulders that littered the space. House of Wolves banners draped over torn Winter banners.
"The Wolves have control over the House of Winter's artillery," Petra said. "Take it down!"
The area was swarming with Dregs but Wren saw no sign of anything larger. No Vandals or Captains, not even a Servitor. The only other Fallen she could see were the Shanks that emerged from the sides of the Walker which hadn't noticed them yet.
Franz headed far left, hugging the canyon wall until he could freely launch bouncing mines into the masses of Dregs while being under cover of giant boulders, safe from the Walker's cannon.
"Aim for the legs," Petra instructed. "If you can break off the shielding, it'll start to overheat and expose a core that's its true weak spot."
Wren tried to aim the mines at the Walker, but they were too erratic and most of them bounced away off rocks, totally missing their target. A laser shone from the cannon, shifting as the weapon rotated toward Wren and she had to move to the side to get out of the way of a powerful Solar blast that obliterated a smaller boulder that had been behind where she'd been.
"These mines are too unpredictable," Beorn said, then dismounted his Pike which was promptly blown up by the Walker.
Wren thought it a waste to not try to use the mines on the Pikes, as they were generally useful, so she circled back, gave herself plenty of space, then gunned the Pike to as fast as she could get it to go before jerking it hard to the right, launching the nose up to get wedged between two boulders. There she could fire the mines and lob them directly into the side of the Walker without them bouncing in every direction.
A few of them hit the legs and Beorn focused on the one with the most damage until the shielding exploded. Smoke billowed from the Walker as it shuddered and dropped to the ground. Its head detached, extending away and exposing a mass of red-hot metal and wiring.
"There it is!" Beorn said, moving toward the Walker.
Wren leapt over the nose of the Pike and onto the back of the Walker, side by side with Beorn, and focused on shooting the exposed core. Bullets burrowed their way into the hot core, melting with the heat until at last the head began to retract and a shock of Arc energy pulsed through the Guardians, sending them sprawling into boulders.
The wind was knocked from Wren's lungs when her back slammed into a rock, her helmet bouncing from the hard surface before he hit the ground. She struggled to catch her breath, scrambling for safety before the Solar round from the Walker's cannon could blow her to pieces.
"Now that… that hurt," Beorn said, rubbing his chest.
"You two aren't done yet?" Franz said, running back without his Pike. "Jeeze, do I have to do everything around here?"
"Shut up. Wren, is your super ready?"
"Good. Franz and I will take out another leg and I want you to get some shots off into that thing."
"Okay. Just keep your distance. That shock wave insane."
"You got it," Franz said.
The pair of them touched helmets, then ran out toward the Walker. Wren climbed back up onto the trapped Pike and resumed firing mines until there was nothing left to shoot but Beorn gave her the signal that the Walker was down. She boosted high over the boulders and the Pike and let the Solar energy of the Golden Gun flood her. The rounds ripped into the Walker's core, sending molten metal in every direction.
This time the shock wave didn't catch her as it had before. She barely lost her footing but the Walker was done for. It trembled and rattled before exploding and collapsing in a mass of ruined metal and smoke. Arc energy sparked along its surface, but it was down for good.
"Last week I was delivering court messaged," Petra said. "Today we're delivering explosions. I love field work! Get after those Wolves, Guardian!"
Franz openly laughed at Petra's excitement and Wren couldn't help but smile herself. Petra fell in so easily with them, it was obvious why she was friends with Cayde.
The Guardians mounted their Sparrows and continued to follow the path through the canyon, through narrows where they had to slow, a scouting party of Dregs, and one High Servitor that was oddly alone. They dismounted when they reached a door and Kiran spoke up.
"I'm detecting a stasis field," he said, and the other two Ghosts acknowledged it as well.
"Skolas was in a pod for years," Petra explained. "It might be him. Keep moving."
They approached the door and it slid open, revealing a scene they weren't prepared for. Skolas stood upon a platform overlooking a group of Fallen. He yelled and raised his arms high, the curved horns on his cloak arching toward the sky.
At first, he didn't see them and Beorn and Wren froze, unsure of how to proceed but Franz acted immediately, opening fire with his auto rifle into Skolas' back. The Captain jolted forward with the force of the shots, but he was mostly unfazed. He turned and pointed at them, then yelled something in his language before he vanished and the Fallen he was rallying charged the Guardians.
"What did he say?" Petra asked, her voice frantic.
"Yes yes," came Variks' voice, clicking and rattling like an insect who learned to speak. "In your tongue he says—"The Wolves stand strong. Cower before the Kell of Kells."
The Guardians fought through the group of Fallen and up a slope to the right. Wren caught a glimpse in the distance to their left of a massive red ship that took up much of the horizon through the sickly yellow atmosphere.
"Kell of Kells? Did he give himself a promotion?" Petra asked.
"It is a Fallen legend. Perhaps he thinks himself a prophet. Or he has gone quite mad," Variks clicked, sounding amused.
Wren couldn't get past his voice. It sent shivers down her spine, but she tried to distract herself by clearing Shanks as they floated over the top of the ridge and down on them. Mines littered the ground and Wren got caught in one, the blinding white light slowing her to a near crawl.
"Shoot the mine if you trigger it," Beorn explained, taking one out that he'd activated on purpose.
They continued up the slope, rounding a bend in a shallow canyon to see that they had arched closer to the ship from before. If they weren't careful, Skolas could escape. That pushed Wren onward to catch up with Franz who was running a little ahead of Beorn.
They fought all the way to a cave which was guarded by Vandals and a Stealth Captain that Wren didn't even see until it was on top of Franz, knocking him onto his back as they came around the corner. Its body was like water in the air, shimmering in the light and although she couldn't make out a definite shape, she didn't hesitate to draw and knife and plunge it into the Captain.
Franz flipped it off of him and the pair of them dropped the Captain while Beorn took care of the Vandals. Together they descended into the caves that the Fallen were guarding. So much trouble just to allow their Kell to escape. They sprinted through the caves, the sound of their boots echoing through the tunnels. Rorick would never have allowed them to make so much noise when pursuing an enemy but something about it gave Wren a rush. The Fallen would hear them thundering through the caves before they would emerge, guns blazing.
"You're getting close," Petra said. "The cryo-trace is getting stronger."
"Found him!" Beorn said as they came into an open area where the caves gave way to a gorge. A ship waited with Skolas being taken to safety.
The Guardians fired on the ship, but it was too late. It took off before they could do any significant damage.
"He's gone!" Petra said. "That Skiff has already broken orbit. That's fine. We'll track him down again. As a matter of fact, I think I'll join you. In the meantime, there are plenty of Wolves around. Clear them out."
Plenty was an understatement. They swarmed like the Hive, continuing to come from all sides until Wren, Beorn, and Franz were back-to-back with no room to move around the bodies of the Fallen. A flash of fire seared past them, the flames roaring as they slammed into an unlucky Dreg that was in the way. The smell of burning flesh hit Wren like a brick wall and her stomach knotted.
"What the hell is that?" Franz asked, jerking his head up to a Captain with a shoulder mounted rocket launcher.
"Scorch Cannon," Variks clicked. "Powerful, and very rare indeed."
"Oh, I want it," Franz said, his body swirling with Void energy as he used his super to destroy the Captain and any other Fallen in his vicinity.
"Great," Beorn sighed. "Better get back."
Wren took cover with him behind a boulder and just in time. Franz picked up the Scorch Cannon, lofted it to his shoulder and let the first round fly into a group of retreating Dregs. It seemed they were more concerned with the Cannon than they were with Guardians.
"Please don't ever let him have a rocket launcher," Wren said and Beorn shook his head. "What do we do now?"
"Wait for that thing to run out of ammo, I guess," Beorn said.
Franz turned the canyon into pure chaos until at last the Scorch Cannon ran dry and Wren carefully raised her head over the top of the boulder. He was obviously disappointed as he dropped the Cannon but he had successfully cleared out the final Fallen.
"I wish that could have lasted longer," he sighed.
"That was strange," Petra said. "For a moment I detected Vex energy in your area. But it's gone now."
"What's the next step?" Beorn asked.
"Head to the Cosmodrone and find a place to camp. By the time you get back to Earth it should be late afternoon. I'll meet you there. We'll leave first thing in the morning. I'll see you soon."
The comms went silent.
Beorn turned to them and slung his rifle over his back. "Well, I hope you two brought your tents."