Grimoire: The Tangled Shore

"If the Awoken lie upon the edge of Light and Dark, then the Shore is the edge of that edge. - C.C. LaGrange, Earthborn historian of the Reef"

The constant give-and-take of the Nine prompted the Reef to passionately protect any and all territories that they claimed; the Reef Wars were the first significant test of that zeal. The Eliksni Confederation War and the subsequent Second Cataclysm soundly defeated that fervor, leaving cold pragmatism in its place; with so many asteroids and space stations ravaged by the Fallen and the Hive, with so many Awoken killed, the iron grip of the Royal Armada went slack by necessity. Into this void crept refugees, scoundrels, thieves, and deserters of all stripes.

From stray creatures let loose by the Nine, to disobedient denizens of House Zeruel, to wily escapees from the former Prison of Elders, to Separatists fleeing the ranks of those loyal to Ghaul or Caiatl or Calus, to the run-of-the-mill Reefborn dissident; even certain crazy types from Earth decided to chance their luck in the Tangled Shore. A motley crew they could be called, and a testimony of the types it takes to survive in the wastelands at the edge of the Reef.

Latched together by gravity tethers and thick cables, this massive field of shattered rock and wreckage and ruin is home to all sorts of unsavory fellows, where the only law is outlaw, where the only justice is found at the tip of a blade or the barrel of a gun. That the Shore remains untamed is a testament to how ornery its current tenants are...or to how reasonable certain occupants are with the powers that be, for the right price.

In the end, however, the Shore is not a place to tread lightly. To walk without kin to watch your back, or to enter with an unfamiliar weapon, is to invite death.

xxxx

/18 Days after the Warmind Attack on the Fatherworld/

"We're almost there."

Shin Malphur, polishing the barrel of the Last Word, nodded at his Ghost. "Good."

(He pointedly ignored the sight of various replicas of Jaren Ward's hand cannon, gathered in an unceremonious pile. "It seems there's been a large influx of these things coming out of Engrams recently," remarked the Awoken scrapper and information broker. The high buildings of the Reborn City loomed, lending this alleyway stall an air of claustrophobia. "Not quite cheap enough to warrant dismantling into Glimmer, but not quite rare enough to merit usage in battle compared to other weapons. Certain things carry a semblance of prestige, see?" The Awoken looked up with glittering purple eyes, gray skin laden with gun oil and grease. "So, what kind of info are ya lookin' for?")

Susan's petals titled, her single eye looking worryingly at him. "You're stepping into unfamiliar ground."

"I know."

"Alone."

"I got you, don't I?"

"You know what I mean."

(He once asked Jaren 'why': why did he take Palamon's mortal hunters on some expeditions and not others? "Simple," murmured the Lone Gunman, his eyes peering through the canopy at a fallow deer with impressive antlers. "If treading into new territory, never go alone. You'd be surprised what another set of eyes can do for you.")

The Gunslinger huffed, briefly glancing out the cockpit of his Nanophoenix jumpship, at the shimmering blues and oranges of warped spacetime. "No one's ever truly alone."

"Don't get philosophical with me, mister." When he didn't answer, his Ghost sighed with irritation. "Jaren didn't sacrifice himself so you could go off half-cocked with a death wish."

"If it were death I wished for, that would be an easy thing to get."

(As the Separatist Behemoth thundered off into the distance - crushing and stomping the landscape, giving rise to the term by which this horrific attack would be known - he was quietly reborn amidst the rubble of Palamon. The words of his Ghost were ignored, overpowered by the silence of the dead, and the scream that ripped its way past his lips.)

"...we're about to drop out of warp."

Shin's focus returned as his jumpship slowed, and his view was overtaken by the vaguely celestial mists of the Reef: filtered radiance and hazy star-fog that seemed to run through the Asteroid Belt, where Light and Darkness had mingled at the Collapse. With quiet precision, he brought his jumpship down towards a tethered asteroid at the farthest border of the Tangled Shore...or, at least, the border according to the information broker he had spoken to.

(The scrapper pointed out the hand cannon hanging off of his hip. "That particular replica looks pretty good...got a unique look to it. How much you want for it?" His stony silence was all the purple-eyed Awoken needed. "Fair enough, thought I'd ask. Anyhow, if want more details about the attack on the Fatherworld...you gotta look for someone with less savory connections. And as far as the Reef is concerned...that role is filled by a particular Fallen. Or Eliksni. Either-or.")

He set his jumpship down into a little crevice, activating the passive SIVA defensive fields before hopping out, helmet covering the entirety of his face. "...pretty quiet, so far."

"Knowing you, it won't be for long," said Susan with a sigh, as she quietly merged with his body in a flicker of Light.

The Gunslinger privately agreed, as he slowly took strides in the low gravity...only to briefly pause as two sources of Light tickled his senses. "What...?" He turned around, watching two jumpships drop out of warp above; as they slowly descended to park away from his Nanophoenix, he caught various details: an Echo-class with a color scheme of bronze and brass and purple and teal, and an Arrowhawk-class with a silvery hull and purple streamers of all things affixed to its thick wings. "...hmm."

'Ooh, I know those ships! '

The Gunslinger grimaced as each jumpship's pilots stepped out; even from this far, their profiles were unmistakable. A Warlock in yellow and black with a canine-shaped helm of gold, and an Exo Titan with a vertical visor of purple, bearing a distinctive crest that served to make its wearer a bigger target: just the way the man liked it. "You followed me," he said.

"Indeed," answered Osiris, the former Vanguard Commander. "A tip from Cayde-7. He seemed concerned about one of his more gung-ho Hunters."

Figures.

'Woo! I take back everything I've ever said about him.'

Saint-14, as was fairly typical, got straight to the point. "We may be willing exiles from the City, but recent events warrant our full attention. We're coming with you."

"...well, you're here already." Shin Malphur turned around, his ragged cloak fluttering in the astral winds of the Shore. "Do you know why I'm here?"

"Well, judging by what Cayde told us, you're seeking leads on the Separatists," answered Osiris. As the Warlock quietly observed their surroundings, he said, "Out of what we currently know, it would seem logical that they're the ones responsible for the Warmind attack, correct?"

The Gunslinger huffed, swiftly moving along the barren surface of the asteroid. "You speak as if you think it will turn out differently. Did Panoptes tell you so?"

The former Warlock Vanguard shrugged. "The Pax's simulations seem to support your belief, although I personally think we're lacking context in some regard. After all, it's a rather big universe out there."

Shin glanced over his shoulder at the man who had been the Vanguard Commander for over two hundred years, eyes narrow with suspicion. "...comes with experience, I take it." After all, the man had voluntarily chosen exile due to keeping the former Speaker's many secrets. Course, there were also all sorts of rumors about where exactly Osiris had disappeared to for all those years between his exile and the War of Unification...but that could be pondered later. "What do you suspect?"

"...I personally doubt that the Separatists had the means to deceive the MAGI so thoroughly. Not without assistance, that is."

"You think they're stupid?"

"Now, when have I ever said that?"

"Seps used to be part of the Cabal Empire. You don't maintain an interstellar war machine by being stupid." And that included getting help; he just had to find out from where.

"...we're being watched." Saint-14's words prompted Shin to return his focus to their surroundings; the further they advanced, the more ramshackle habitation pods could be seen, of Eliksni make. The crystalline edges of Ramielim could be seen, ready to fire at a moment's notice...but they were wary. Cautious. "Do you know exactly where we're going, Malphur?"

The Hunter sighed as they slowly walked through a small crevice, which widened into a larger canyon surrounded by hole-riddled ridges. "Location ain't the thing. It's apparently more about who than where." His right hand slowly gripped the handle of the Last Word, letting Solar Light simmer through familiar contours. "...speaking of who...we know you're watching!" he yelled, increasing his voice. "You might as well show yourselves."

"...hah...the thief speaks boldly..." Those words accompanied the emergence of multiple Zeruelim, their deathly skull heads clacking and jawing. As their humanoid bodies of dark haze shifted into myriad blades, a hulking Zeruelus emerged from the largest hole, towering over all of his brethren. Stubby gray legs supported a body rippling with muscle, while arms the shape of ribbons prepared to lash out at a moment's notice. "Such fools, to tread upon my territory!"

Osiris chuckled, gesturing quietly at the various Eliksni that surrounded them. "I was not aware that the Tangled Shore was owned by anyone."

"I strongly suggest you stand down," growled Shin Malphur. "All I'm lookin' for is the location of a certain Baron...one with a rather fitting title, by certain accounts."

"We owe your kind no favors," snarled the Zeruelus. "We reject the False Progenitor that dared to usurp Zeruel's mantle!"

"...if I recall correctly, didn't Zeruel endow Asuka-3 authority over your House?" pointedly said Osiris.

The various deserters of House Zeruel snarled and hissed, prompting the fireteam's lone Titan to step forward with a grunt. "I'll handle them," said Saint-14, his form shimmering with Void Light.

The Zeruelus snorted, arms splitting apart into multiple fine blades. "Arrogant wretch! KILL-!"

Saint-14's violet aura snapped into defined forms: twin shields, affixed to his arms. With a mighty roar, the Bright Crusader tossed the two discuses, which bounced and rebounded off of the various Zeruelim. The lesser Eliksni hissed and shouted with dismay, as most were disintegrated on the spot, while those who managed to focus their A.T. Fields were stunned by the sheer flux of devouring energy. With unerring precision, the two projectiles narrowed down upon the Zeruelus, whose body flickered with orange light. A screeching noise akin to grinding glass erupted as the Void shields smashed into the elder Eliksni's A.T. Field, unable to break through. "The Light of my Soul is beyond your stolen power-!"

With a sharp sound, a tether of Void Light erupted from Saint-14's right hand, lashing out at the Zeruelus; the purple shields responded by smashing together, binding the Zeruelus between themselves as the tether connected and held fast. With one swift move, the twin discs and tether had combined to form a Void ball-and-chain, with the Zeruelus serving as the ball for the chain. Roaring mightily, the Exo Titan heaved with his arms, smashing the Zeruelus into the canyon walls with frenzied abandon. Each blow caused an eruption of Void energy, prompting the Zeruelim that had survived to flee for their lives.

"...huh. Interesting move," admitted Shin Malphur.

"Saint-14 decided on the rather unimaginative name of Morning Star," explained Osiris.

"There's worse names."

"True."

SMASH!

The Zeruelus crashed into the ground at their feet with a mighty heave, A.T. Field finally giving out after such a thorough thrashing. Shin Malphur quietly took the opportunity presented, withdrawing his hand cannon and pressing it up against the deathly mask that was the elder Eliksni's face. "That's the Shore's only law, ain't it? Strength, and kill or be killed, right?" He pressed harder. "So by the authority invested in me by that same law...I want you to tell me where I can find the one they call the Spider." He let a flicker of Solar Light enter his hand cannon, causing its barrel to glow. "Now."

xxxx

/The Spider's Safehouse/

"Hah...what a shame, what shame. Truly." The Fallen known as the Spider gazed down at the rather ratty-looking Psion, who appeared rather fearful. Perhaps it had something to do with the Sachielim, Shamshelim, and Zeruelus aiming shock pistols and arc spears at their diminutive frame...along with their body's own natural weaponry. "You had such promise, Dadaz."

The Psion muttered, "Otzot has always taken point of pride in being unique among my kind. The same comes with being a Hidden, apparently; once she found out I was trying to ingratiate myself into Ikora Rey's ranks, she ratted me out-!"

The Spider's chortle interrupted Dadaz's pleas. "See, I'm a sensible individual; I was prepared to give you tasks that were more suited to you, but you were the one who offered such high expectations. You stepped up to the plate...yet couldn't swing the bat." He sighed with amusement. "Earthling catchphrases are so delightfully quirky, aren't they?"

"But-!"

"I already have plenty of Psions working for me, who are more cognizant of what they can and cannot do; those who know themselves make more fitting subordinates, don't you think?" The Spider leaned back in his chair, slightly disappointed by how fearful the tiny humanoid was being. "And if you don't know yourself, you'll only bring more trouble for me-"

BANG.

The door further down his safehouse's corridor was smashed open, prompting his guards to turn with immediate wariness. The Spider, however...well, he had already felt those three Lights, hot and heavy, full of intent. "Speaking of trouble..." With a small gesture, he warned his subordinates to stand down. "We'll finish our discussion after this, Dadaz..." The small Psion nervously stood to the side, gazing at the trio slowly walking in...along with their prisoner. "Ah, has Zalkriks been running his mouth again? How disappointing..." The Zeruelus in question was tossed onto the floor, body marred by Void burns and bruises. "...good help is so hard to find, truly!" Still, he focused on the interloping trio of Guardians that had decided to make themselves. "Well...welcome to my parlor, said the Spider to the fly." He chuckled with amusement. "I believe that's how the saying goes...and what a delightful one it is."

xxxx

Shin Malphur gazed upon the face of the Spider, and found himself...oddly disappointed.

'Well, you can't say that it doesn't fit,' mentally piped in Susan.

The Spider was, indeed, a Mataraelus; a bigger one than others he had seen, true, but still just a Mataraelus. His deep green exoskeleton was mottled and bumpy, eight legs curled up onto a large chair suspended in the air by thick cables and wires. Various shelves surrounded the chair, lined with trinkets and knick-knacks of dubious value...including the shells of dead Ghosts. One such shell was being fiddled with by two of those legs; certain robotic appendages appeared to have been grafted around the pincers, giving the Mataraelus even more digits to work with. A very hands-on kind of fellow, thought Shin, trying not to feel a sense of sacrilege as the Spider held the dead Ghost.

"A rather obvious title, isn't it?" remarked Osiris, looking rather unperturbed by the potential enemies surrounding them. "And a little...on-the-nose."

The Spider snorted. "From your perspective, perhaps! But your homeworld's spiders are so...versatile. And they have such variety! From tarantulas, whose mere sight sends shivers down the spines of men, yet are rather harmless...to tiny little black widows and brown recluses, whose venom can kill, in the right dosage...such a species is perfectly fitting for one like myself. After all, I can be deadly to those who cross me...but I find working partnerships to be so much more equitable." The Mataraelus's six orange eyes narrowed down. "So...what brings you to my Shore?"

Saint-14 glared at the dead Ghost in the Spider's hands, then at the several other shells sitting in various spots. "...how many Guardians have died by your hands?"

The Mataraelus huffed. "What a vulgar question," he hissed. "I've dealt with quite a few 'Guardians' over the years who didn't listen to reason...or didn't take a sensible deal. I warned them about the consequences of snooping around my business without permission. Can I be blamed for keeping my end of the bargain?" The Titan's clenched fist prompted the Spider's guards to bristle; the large Mataraelus merely chuckled. "Ah, don't be so crass! Your kind have killed many Fallen, while the Fallen of many a House have killed yours in return. That I've engaged in that same bloodshed should not surprise you...hence why you should be even more eager to work with me!"

'At least it hasn't devolved into a gunfight...yet.'

"...still refer to yourself as a Fallen, hm?" murmured Shin.

"Is it truly a surprise? Even if the Houses wear the title of 'Eliksni' with pride, we are still very much fallen from our former glories. To bear the name 'Eliksni' speaks of...a false sort of pride, one not yet earned." Two of the Spider's legs twitched in a manner that evoked a shrug. "I would much rather prefer things that are more...attainable."

Osiris calmly nodded. "A very pragmatic sort. I can see why the Reef have yet to take you out."

"Ha!" laughed the Spider. "The Queen and I have an understanding of sorts; the amount of manpower that would be required to fully subjugate the Shore isn't worth the trouble. As it stands, this wasteland is rife with a multitude of factions that all compete with one another over territory, contraband, resources...to have even one of the Alliance's members focus their attention on us would unite all of the scum and degenerates together. Not the sort of thing anyone is eager for, after the war against Umun'arath."

"Which brings me to why we're here." Shin calmly raised an empty hand, palm open. "I heard from a certain Awoken information broker that you might know about what the remaining Separatists are up to."

"Dear Andruch Quhl, hmm?" Shin's silence elicited a sinister chuckle. "Did you not think that someone with links to my network would inform me of your impending arrival? Give and take is part of the deal...and a matter of simple propriety!"

"...hmph. Figured it as a possibility. It's why I'm armed."

The Spider narrowed his eyes. "Don't insult my intelligence. You Lightmongers are armed to the teeth no matter where you go."

'He's not wrong.'

"But I'll ignore that slight, for the sake of something that would be of service to...the both of us. You want information about the Separatists? I have something better...but it'll cost you...and nothing so mundane as Glimmer, either." The Spider leaned back, his arachnoid mandibles clattering with anticipation. "You see, I have a brother who's somewhat less...agreeable, than yours truly. Siviks, is his name...and he seems to have gotten it in his head to ally with a Barons of various talents. Barons that used to offer tribute to ME, in return for...more agreeable business practices. But it seems they've forgotten whose Law runs this Shore...and they've judged whatever tech Siviks is bringing to the table to be worth the risk."

Saint-14 snorted. "So you want us to kill your brother and these Barons? Is that it?"

"Don't act so disappointed, Bright Crusader. In the end, my brother is far more outwardly antagonistic than I am...and if the Queen were here, she would certainly say that the devil you know is preferable to the devil you don't." He lightly laughed, satisfied with himself. "Such a true saying, that one is..."

"Do you have an idea of where we might find them?" asked Osiris.

"I can provide you some reconnaissance, but any overt moves on my part would only cause them to scatter. Best to end the problem in one fell swoop, before they become too...popular." He calmly grabbed a holo-projector from one of the shelves with one limb and a data tablet with another, connecting the two. As he tapped away on the tablet, images of various Fallen showed. "Yaviks, of Bardiel. Pirrha, of Ramiel. Kaniks, of Sachiel. Araskes, of Israfel. Reksis Vahn, of Zeruel. Hiraks, of Arael. Elykris, of Iruel. And, last but certainly not least, their 'leader'...Siviks, of Matarael. Kill them, and I shall provide the lead you're looking for." With an expectant gaze, the Spider leaned towards them, folding two of his hands together. "So...do we have a deal?"

A few of those names were recognizable, and not in a good way. In the end, scum was scum; killing them would be no skin off his back. "Deal," answered Shin Malphur.

xxxx

/The Hollowed Lair, the Tangled Shore/

Within a large facility - based off of Eliksni design elements, complete with ether tanks and atmospheric converters, one of many that existed throughout the Tangled Shore - hanging underneath one of the larger asteroids, certain Barons convened and schemed.

Elykris swarmed about the strange tank - made of what appeared to be frosty glass, bearing odd attachments on the top - with curiosity, the Iruelus's clusters of nanites floating over the arcane technology with a sense of trepidation. "And these have been spotted throughout the Outer Planets?" she inquired, with a distinctly feminine tone...or, at least as feminine as a swarm of organic nanomachines could be.

Siviks chittered, his various limbs bolstered with more robotics and cybernetic protrusions than most Mataraelus. All in all, it was either a sign of his recklessness, or his cussedness, to keep moving despite getting his limbs shot off regularly. "Hee hee...indeed it is! A strange supplier, a strange offer, but one with a sense of animosity against the current order! This much, I could sense."

Araskes, an Israfelus - bearing a humanoid body with hunched shoulders and green and orange coloration, its most significant difference from an Israfelim being that the body bore two blank faces of gray bone, bearing only two circular eye holes each - hung upside down from a large pipe, fiddling with a web mine. Her voice seemed to alternate between two different voices seamlessly. "And you're sure this will give us an edge?"

"Of course it will!"

Reksis Vahn, a Zeruelus with two Scorch Cannons affixed to his shoulders, snorted. "Wasteful. Time would be better spent destroying the Spider's Servitors; becoming the Shore's only supplier of ether would be...more practical."

"Yes, yes, yes!" cackled Kaniks, a lanky Sachielus with spindly limbs and way too Shock Grenades affixed to his person. "Would be more fun as well, hee hee!" Just for the heck of it, the green humanoid tossed a Shock Grenade against a wall bearing multiple Arc burns; the charge built, and with a shattering sound, it blew up. "Yeehahahahahaha!"

"And you wonder why Taniks kicked you out of House Sachiel so long ago," burbled Yaviks, a Bardielus fiddling with what appeared to be two Walker tanks; as gooey tendrils interfaced with the inner electronics, the spiky bones protruding from the floating blob of blue mold twitched. "...hmph. Going to need to organize another raid for Arc cores. Running low."

Siviks snorted at Reksis and Kaniks's suggestion, ignoring the Bardielus's maintenance. "Small thinking. Expected thinking. My brother would not be caught off guard by such things. What is needed is a game changer! And oh, if this thing works..."

Hiraks, an Araelus bearing a number of Hive artifacts bound to his abstract avian form, stared blankly at the glass tank that Siviks had brought. "Carries familiar taint. Hums with a familiar song. Hurts the mind...in a good way, mind you," mentally droned the telepathic Fallen.

"I would expect so, if what the thief told me about this was accurate!" said Siviks.

"You obtained this thing from a filthy thief?" said Reksis with an unmoving scowl, sounding out his displeasure.

"Ah, but this was a thief of a different sort, one with an eye for chaos and anarchy and the unexpected!" confidently asserted the Mataraelus. "All we'll need now is a field test..."

High above the towering room, gazing out through a number of transparent windows, a Ramielus - floating blue crystals arranged into form evoking long-distance rifles and telescopes - chimed with a musical sound, warning with trumpets and horns. "I spy Spider recon," said Pirrha. "...and they're gone again. Retreated the moment they saw me." The crystals briefly reconfigured and shifted, evoking emotional states of suspicion and wariness. "I recommend we change safe houses soon. Your brother might try something."

Siviks chortled. "Ha! It would require too much firepower to subjugate us here. Too many Fallen to fight through, too much of a risk, for a cautious one like him." The Mataraelus sneered with glee as the tank finished powering up, glowing a pale black within.

Hiraks immediately shivered. "Ooh...such an exquisite aura it produces..." he mentally whispered.

The four triangular nodes on the side of the tank began glowing, open and ready to receive...something special. "Now, we only need to find some volunteers," said Siviks.

xxxx

Outside the Hollowed Lair, an Iruelim quickly vacated the premises, retreating through the tiny crevice in the underside of the asteroid above. The swarm of nanomachines followed the twists and turns, which slowly expanded into a the end of a cave that opened out over two kilometers elsewhere; within that cave, two Mataraelim were waiting beside three particular Guardians. "They are still there."

"Were you spotted?" inquired one of the Mataraelim, bearing armor plates with various spikes - colored turquoise and teal and blue - that marked their association with the Spider.

"By Pirrha, unfortunately. That Ramielus has surprisingly acute vision for a conglomeration of crystals."

"So...what does this imply about our infiltration?" inquired Osiris.

"You wouldn't have been able to use my path anyway; too large. I did observe several dozen other Fallen guarding the outside: mostly Israfelim, Zeruelim, Mataraelim, and Ramielim. Unfortunately, there is only one way into their lair that I've been able to ascertain; based on their past movements, they likely have a short-range teleporter that would take them to a different part of this particular asteroid, in a more discreet location. Any assault would be easily spotted."

Shin Malphur sighed. "Well, it's not like 'guns blazing' is an unfamiliar tactic for us."

"True, but I don't think it's one we necessarily must take." Saint-14 glanced over towards his old friend. "Osiris; how much assistance do you think we could garner?"

"Enough," cryptically said the Warlock, fiddling with a bracer made of blocky brass affixed to his left arm. "Your recon has been enough help; let your employer know that we'll take it from here."

xxxx

/Several Minutes Later/

"The Legionnaires hiding away at Sorik's Cut will be perfect," said Siviks. "After all, nobody will miss them."

"Doesn't our group have a ceasefire in place with their commander?" inquired Elykris. "Edru'us won't take kindly to any abductions of his soldiers."

The Mataraelus sneered. "Heh...we've been meaning to kill that Centurion lout anyway. Now-"

Hiraks suddenly went still, loosing a sharp trill that ran through their minds like an arrow of white noise. "I sense a dimensional flux?" Lo and behold, near the edge of the cavernous chamber, a cloud of heavy fog and angular lines of non-baryonic matter began to manifest. "Vex intruders?"

"Open fire the moment they appear," snarled Siviks. An orb of light started coalescing, signifying an impending intrusion upon their reality. There was a flash-

KABOOM!

Shrapnel, Arc beams, explosives, Walker ordnance, and lasers smashed into the chronospatial cloud in an immense burst of energy. As the dust cleared, the shimmering energy of a Ward of Dawn could be seen. "Ah...so we have some plucky thieves who want to try their luck..." growled Reksis Vahn, his ribbon-like arms unfolding into myriad blades.

"And not just any!" exclaimed Kaniks, peering excitedly at the three Guardians standing within the dome of Void energy. "Osiris, Saint-14, and Shin Malphur...ooh, their heads will make a pretty pretty gift, heeheeheeheehahahahaa!"

"I don't think so," muttered Shin Malphur, hand hovering over the holster of his hand cannon.

Yaviks huffed, loosing a breathy burble. "I've already sent the signal for reinforcements. You picked an awfully elaborate way to pick suicide."

The former Vanguard Commander shook his head, the very motion evoking a wry grin. "Honestly..."

xxxx

/Meanwhile, outside the Hollowed Lair/

Without warning, came the particular clouds that signified Vex arrivals. But these were not typical Vex, oh no. "What are the Pax doing here?!" exclaimed a Zeruelim, lashing out with shadowy limbs at his first opponent.

Said opponent being a Minotaur with plasma chainsaws for hands. "UNCLE OSIRIS ASKED US IF WE WOULD LIKE TO PLAY!" exclaimed the one known as Foolproof. In the background, Siviks's band of Fallen were surrounded on all sides by Pax of various capacities...a good deal of which were further empowered with SIVA. "ME AND MY FRIENDS SAID YES!" cheerfully chirped the innocently girlish death machine. "I HOPE YOU HAVE AS MUCH FUN AS WE WILL!"

xxxx

"...I have a feeling we won't have to worry about unwanted interruptions," knowingly said Osiris.

High above from his perch, Pirrha rotated about with movement that evoked irritation. "...the Pax have established a line between the lair and our forces," he chimed, observing the havoc occurring outside through the window.

"Well then!" exclaimed Araskes, her twin faces rotating in place. With a casual flick of her arms, a dozen web mines were thrown, encircling the Ward of Dawn. "We'll just have to kill you quickly."

"Tell me, wretched interlopers," sneered Siviks, six eyes peering malevolently at the trio of Guardians. "What brings you to our lair? Was it my deluded brother?"

"...let me just put it this way," growled Shin. "Soon, you'll be too dead to care." With those words, Osiris suddenly blinked away, out of sight and out of mind, out of existence itself it seemed.

Elykris buzzed angrily. "More Vex tech!"

Shin Malphur darted out from the Ward of Dawn to the rear, firing his hand cannon as he headed for the pylons standing along the right side of the circular room.

"Araskes, Kaniks, with me! The rest of you, kill the Titan and the Warlock!" commanded Siviks, firing dual shrapnel launchers as he pursued the Hunter, in league with the Israfelus and Sachielus. Pirrha, Elykris, and Hiraks split up to try and divine the location of Osiris, leaving Reksis Vahn and Yaviks to deal with Saint-14.

The web mines promptly exploded, surrounding the Ward of Dawn in a thorough net of heavy Arc energy...yet Saint-14 was not perturbed. With a determined grunt, the Ward of Dawn suddenly levitated, revealing itself as a sphere of Void energy and not a dome...

"...what in Bardiel's name...?" burbled Yaviks.

...which Saint-14 then charged into with his shoulder, treating it less like a defensive shield and more like a rolling ball of devouring Void energy. The Titan roared as he ran in place, causing the sphere to rampage towards Reksis.

Snarling, the Zeruelus summoned his A.T. Field, blocking the Void sphere-

SMASH!

-but momentum carried through regardless, as Saint-14 barreled over Reksis en route to the dual Walkers that Yaviks commanded. The Bardielus loosed a wet snarl, as twin cannons fired at the ground-

KABOOM!

-causing a mighty explosion that finally seemed to deplete the Titan's Ward of Dawn, but not before the burst of energy redirected the Exo into the air. With ease and grace, Saint-14 withdrew a glistening shotgun, bearing elements of his very likeness, and charged into close range with the spider-tanks right as he landed.

And lo, the battle began in earnest.

xxxx

Above the pylons and ledges of the cylindrical room ascended Pirrha, Elykris, and Hiraks. The Ramielus shifted into a configuration resembling several telescopes facing in various directions, while the Iruelus commandeered a multitude of Shanks, enhancing their inherent capabilities. The Araelus, meanwhile, seemed to shimmer with pulses of light. "...I'm trying to sense the Warlock's location," mentally hummed Hiraks. "I despise Vex technology."

"Does it not carry echoes similar to the Hive realms?" inquired Elykris, her ten Shanks buzzing irritably at the lack of any targets.

"Whatever alterations he's made to them, they aren't as sharp or noticeable-"

A golden silhouette of Osiris suddenly blinked into existence behind Pirrha. The crystalline Fallen roared with the sound of blaring tubas, shocked by the Guardian's sudden emergence; his A.T. Field flickered brightly as a shining blade smashed into him, propelling the Ramielus into the wall. The silhouette was destroyed by concentrated fire from Elykris's Shanks, dispersing with a burst of light-

"Another one!"

-right as another golden clone emerged in the midst of the Iruelus's drones, dropping Fusion Grenades. One was destroyed, eliciting a pained shriek from Elykris as the golden clone was blasted apart by a laser from Pirrha-

"Not this time!"

-but the attempted assault on Hiraks was anticipated at the last moment, the Araelus shifting in midair to dodge a doppelganger's blade. A burst of psychic energy blasted into the clone, breaking it apart-

"Above us!"

-when three other silhouettes flickered into existence in the piping running along the ceiling, firing down at them with bursts of ethereal bullets from golden scout rifles. "These wretched clones are annoying," groused Pirrha, taking cover as best as he could.

"...and only clones," mentally murmured Hiraks, before a flicker of alarm emanated from his thoughts. "Decoys!"

xxxx

Down below, Shin Malphur calmly spun and dodged, evading the explosives of Kaniks and the bladed strikes of Araskes. All the while, Siviks lobbed acid grenades around the Hunter, intending to narrow down his avenues of escape. "Run, wretched Lightmonger! Run, and-" There was a sudden impression of alarm and warning that roared across his mind-

FWOOSH!

-which is the only reason the Mataraelus leapt away in time, avoiding the downward thrust of Osiris's Dawnblade. "A close call, thief!" Siviks landed several meters away, shrapnel launchers armed and ready-

"Hey."

-and for some reason Shin Malphur was right in his face, hand cannon blossoming with fire. "When-?!"

BOOM.

And that was how Siviks ended up as a shadow against the wall, charred into ash and dust by three Golden Gun bullets fired so fast that they sounded as one shot. "Thanks for the distraction, Osiris."

"My pleasure," remarked the former Vanguard Commander, his radiant form turning towards Kaniks and Araskes.

The Sachielus simply laughed with glee. "Heeheehahaha! Impressive fire! Me like!"

The Israfelus was far more practical. "...I believe a tactical retreat is called for."

The death of Siviks signaled an almost-immediate change in the Barons' tactics. "Yaviks! Cue Onslaught Maneuver!"

"BAH! You owe me after this!" screeched the Bardielus, detaching from the twin Walkers right as their inner workings overclocked and began to go crazy. Cannons fired and missiles launched and spare Shanks emerged, intent on causing as much destruction and carnage as possible. The stark aggression forced Saint-14 to actually back away, finally giving Reksis Vahn some breathing room to counterattack.

Osiris swung his Dawnblade, unleashing fiery discs that destroyed ordnance before it could get close; Shin Malphur peered through the increasing smoke and steam, watching cautiously as the Fallen began to gather neat the back of the chamber. "Oh no you-"

SMACK!

And that's when a flying Titan smashed into him, barrelling the Gunslinger backwards. "A lucky shot," growled Saint-14, his breastplate bearing a decent cut in it.

Alas, at least the Zeruelus had come off much worse than he, bearing massive bruises and Void burns. One ribbon-arm hung limply by mere threads. "You'll get yours one day, wretch!"

"The portal's open. Stay close," mentally warned Hiraks. The Araelus hovered in front of a flickering portal of black and green, tinged by flames and starlight.

"A Hive portal," warned Osiris. "Quick, we have to-!"

Then the two modified Walkers actually jumped forward, their heads shining brightly with a brilliant charge-!

KABOOM!

Ah. Death. By Fallen Walker.

Though, death by explosion was a new one.

Then again, Jaren had sometimes warned him about times where unsuspecting Guardians had been killed by a Walker blowing up. Usually new ones.

Ah, there was Susan's familiar mote of Light-

"-wake up!"

Shin Malphur quickly got to his feet, hand cannon held up. The entire chamber had been reduced to a smoldering wreck, rife with smoke and shrapnel. The remnants of the two Walkers were scattered all over, with most of the pieces actually buried within the walls. Although his two teammates were also rising, they were all alone; of the other Barons, there was nothing to be found. "Damn it. They got away."

"Well, you can't win them all," reassured his Ghost, before she phased into his body.

"How interesting," murmured Osiris, quietly fiddling with the brass bracer on his arm. "I had noted that the Araelus Hiraks had a number of Hive relics on his person, but his study of their arcana must be specially advanced to open a portal."

Saint-14 sighed, irritated by the abrupt end of the battle. "My apologies. If I had been quicker to destroy those mechs-"

"There's no helping it, old friend," assuaged Osiris. "I suspect that the Spider will at least be satisfied with the death of Siviks." The Warlock quietly moved towards one of the few things that had appeared to survive the explosions: a cylindrical tank made of frosty glass. "Now, what to make of this, I wonder?"

The dark light within elicited an unsettling feeling within Shin's gut. "Nothing good, I'd wager." He briefly gazed at the radar on his helmet's HUD, and there were suddenly a lot of friendly signals approaching-

BOOM!

The door into the chamber was blasted open, and various walking machines entered. "WE HEARD AN EXPLOSION!" exclaimed a Minotaur with plasma chainsaws for hands. "WELL, THERE WERE LOTS OF EXPLOSIONS, BUT THAT WAS A REALLY BIG ONE! WE ARE HERE TO ASSIST!"

"Fret not, Foolproof," warmly said Osiris. "We're fine. But our enemies are no longer here."

The girlish Pax pumped her arms with excitement. "EXQUISITE! HAVE YOU VAPORIZED THEM?"

"...well, I suppose we vaporized one of them," truthfully answered Shin.

"WONDERFUL! I SHALL MAKE SURE THAT YOUR KILL COUNT GETS UPDATED!"

xxxx

/The Spider's Safehouse/

"Hmm...I do believe I'll have that framed," happily hissed the Spider, gazing at the projected image coming from Shin Malphur's Ghost. "Yes; I'll have one of my minions sketch it with charcoal...or perhaps a painting!"

Shin looked at Osiris and then at Saint-14, before saying, "we were unable to stop the other Barons before they fled through a Hive portal."

"Ah, yes...Hiraks's work, no doubt. It takes a particularly deranged sort to justify placing Hive bits all over your body. Even more so when your primary method of communicating with the word is entirely mental." The Mataraelus leaned forward, six eyes narrowing. "Although, I seem to recall that our deal was for all of the Barons' heads...so to speak. Bardielus can't really be said to have a head," he joked.

Saint-14 clenched his fist, an action that drew ire from the Spider's Fallen guards. "We took care of their 'leader'. And we also managed to clear out a great deal of their rank-and-file."

Thanks to the Pax, Shin thought quietly. The swift invasion of the Light-empowered Vex had taken down a great many Fallen that served the anti-Spider Barons.

'Think he'll mind?' mentally inquired Susan.

The Spider chortled. "Indeed. Your little cadre of...helpers...certainly cleared out a lot of the riffraff. In fact, I think I'll politely ignore their interference, in the interest of maintaining our new friendship; I believe when word spreads that all it took was three Lightmongers to scatter the Barons, I imagine that'll do a great deal to curtail their...popularity." The Mataraelus leaned back in his suspended chair. "Very well then! I'll provide you the information you need."

Good. "How did the Separatists hack into the MAGI?"

"Hah! I told you I'd provide you the information you need, not the information you seek."

Saint-14 bristled, mirroring Shin's irritation. "We're not in the mood for games."

"And I don't believe the Spider is, either," cautioned Osiris, peering curiously at the Mataraelus. "You told us you had something 'better', before we departed for the Barons' lair."

"Indeed! I would recommend listening to the Warlock," advised the Spider, staring gleefully at Shin. "Did you take note of a certain tank of...unusual design?"

"...we did," admitted the Gunslinger. In the end, the former Vanguard Commander had advised the Pax to take it with them back to their domain on Earth, for further study. Better there, than in the wilds of the Tangled Shore. "What is it?"

"A strange bit of technology, that Siviks acquired from an unknown supplier. But it's also one that's shown up in...unsuspecting places." With those words, one of the Spider's limbs rose, the mechanical digits at the tip flinging a green coin at them. Shin caught it in midair, holding it up to stare quietly at it; the emblem embossed on the token's surface was of a two-headed snake, coiled around itself to form a rough approximation of the letter 'S'. "The Separatists are pieces, being played by something strange and new...or, perhaps someone."

"Is that so?" asked Shin.

"These tokens have started showing up in the past few months at those confounded 'Trials' that Calus loves so much; some friendly murmurs speak of more...unusual prey than participants are accustomed to."

"Like what?" demanded Saint-14.

The Spider sneered. "Taken." That elicited silence from the three Guardians, which made the Mataraelus chitter with delight. "A fitting reaction! A dastardly relic of the Nine's, to arouse Taken into our realm...or, so some would say."

"You believe there's another party at play," commented Osiris, apparently drawing his own conclusions. Namely, that taking that tank had been a smart decision; no use in leaving something so foul lying around where anyone could fiddle with it.

"What I 'believe' is that someone is spreading the technology from these newer Trials around, and that they apparently have no issue handing out that power to someone as idiotic as Siviks. Such a character would delight in the sort of chaos that a Warmind attack on the Cabal would cause...wouldn't you agree?"

"...that would be putting it mildly," murmured the Hunter; this little bit of information had opened a whole new avenue of investigation. Not was I hoping for. Alas, it was the hand they had been dealt. "I think we're done here."

"Your help has been most appreciated," said Osiris, graciously thanking the hefty Mataraelus.

"The Spider is always helpful to savvy business partners." He leaned forward, folding two of his limbs together with satisfaction. "Oh, and if you're ever in the need for more fruitful work...you'll know where to find me."

xxxx

/Diaviks Mine, the Tangled Shore/

The Hive portal roared, spewing forth the battle-worn Barons into the Diaviks Mine: built from a Ketch that had buried itself into an asteroid countless years ago during the Reef Wars, it had become a natural hideout amidst the Tangled Shore. Green flora sprawled throughout the etherious atmosphere within the entrapped vessel, alongside Ramielim crystals and Bardielim lichens. "Well, that went poorly," muttered Elykris, the swarm of nanites buzzing irritably. "We didn't even get the chance to test Siviks's new technology."

"If it was truly so spectacular, he would have deployed it," griped Araskes; the Israfelus was pirouetting in place to work off her frustration. "A wretched showing!"

Kaniks was pleased one way or another. "Big boom to end the bout! Effective explosions, delightful detonations! Yeeheehahahaha!" The Sachielus scrambled away from the group, sitting atop a pillar of Bardielim, much to the irritation of the sapient blue fungi.

Speaking of fungi, the sharp bones extending from Yaviks's gelatinous form quivered, a sign of her anger. "I spent so much time modding those Walkers. So many resources..."

"You'll just have to go on more raids to replenish your supplies," remarked Reksis Vahn.

"But that's not the point!"

The Zeruelus shrugged, flopping onto the floor out of exhaustion. "I managed to scratch the Bright Crusader, so my day's made."

"Such a high bar," snarked Araskes.

"Something to remember me by, when we inevitably encounter each other again." Reksis gazed at their comrades from Ramiel and Arael. "You two have been quiet."

Pirrha shifted rapidly, forming various crystalline weapons. "...this outpost was fully staffed when we were last here. Yet we've yet to be greeted?"

"...this place is brined with the thoughts of something strange. Something old." Hiraks's entire body twitched. "The psychic ambience of the Bardielim and Ramielim...they are content. Satisfied. Hopeful. A strange concoction..."

"And should they not be?"

The Barons swiftly took aim at the source of the voice; a cloaked biped stepped through a door, face hidden by a strange helm of burnished yellow, topped by two pairs of plates perpendicular to each other. "In the face of what I represent, what else is there to feel, but rapturous hope?" He pounded an arcane staff against the floor, its tip ending in a jagged blue gem; not a Ramielim formation, but rather an actual Arc Core of...antiquated design. "And here you are: mighty Barons, fleeing from those who have laid the Eliksni low. A shame."

"Who are you?" demanded Elykris.

"He feels...different," mentally muttered the Araelus. "I can't...interpret his thoughts? Impossible."

"We are all Fallen, from where we once were. Such is the conceit of your fellows, to take up our true name, and sully its former glory."

"Grandiose words. I'll pass," burbled Yaviks.

"We already got this song and dance from Siviks. I think we'll stick with more tried and true methods," retorted Araskes.

The stranger chuckled, raising a gloved hand - one with five fingers? Was it a human? - and slowly removing the helm-

The Barons all went still with shock. Even Kaniks. "Ooh. A surprise! Heehehee~"

"How can this be?" inquired Elykris.

"You wish to learn how?" inquired the unmasked stranger, red eyes staring stoically at them, his fair features grim with stern focus; long silver hair spilled down his back. Distinctive features of a Tabrix. And yet, this was not Variks; so how was a member of the House of Tabris standing before them?! "Then join my cause. Cease struggling in the muck and mire of this common life, and aim high for a grander purpose."

"...and what grander purpose do you have in mind?" inquired Hiraks.

The mysterious Tabrix smiled coldly. "Revolution."

xxxx

Grimoire: Ghost Fragment - The Janus Coin

"Polycephaly is not an atypical condition in some animals." - The Pahanin Errata

Lord Shaxx stared at the green coin with a measure of fascination. "Interesting. And you say this was a reward?"

"Not as such," replied Redrix-3. "Not like your Crucible tokens."

"Then what is it?" The icon on it was interesting: a double-headed snake, coiled in on itself to form the image of an 'S'.

"A taunt. A warning. Hell if I know."

"A challenge?" That would be quite intriguing.

"...possibly. It's a Trial unlike any of the others we've run across so far."

The Titan Vanguard focused intently at the Exo. "You're being very measured with your words."

"Part of the package of being a Loyalist. The big Emperor has eyes and ears that dive in deep."

Shaxx wondered just how much the Titan had sacrificed to make it this far. "Even now?"

"Can't say."

"...I see." He would have to advise the Consensus appropriately. Ikora especially; the Hidden that she had amongst Calus's ranks may not be as unaffected as they seemed. "And for the non-Loyalists that participate? Are they affected?"

"...not sure. But there are some Trials that don't get as much public attention. The participants that the Emperor favors? They get special perks. Special missions. Really confidential."

"...how interesting." Shaxx flipped the coin over, wondering about the thoughts and motivations that inspired such imagery. A two-headed snake: how untrustworthy such a creature would be. Yet someone felt it had been fitting to put on a token, signalling victory? Triumph? "I need more information."

"I'll do what I can, Commander."

"Never stop fighting, Guardian."

Redrix-3 chuckled. "I'm still here, aren't I?"