Bite-Sized Backstory

Welcome to Bite-Sized Backstory! Ragashingo created these installments to help people wrap their heads around the backstory of Destiny, as told through the Grimoire. If you follow the original links, you'll find discussion on our forum that might illuminate still-murky points, but if you just want a convenient place to read all of these in one place, this is it!

Bite-sized Backstory 36: The Fallen Houses
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 14 Oct 2018

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With two crushing defeats, one at Twilight Gap at the hands of The Last City and another at Cybele at the hands of the Awoken, the Eliksni found themselves being driven back once again. Since the Dark Age they had raided and pillaged the scattered settlements and cities of Earth mostly unchecked. But now, the Awoken had set up colonies and industry and a military presence within the Reef, and the Last Safe City beneath the Traveler had built great walls and was defended by seemingly unkillable Guardians. It's around this point that our Ghost finds us on the outskirts of the Cosmodrome and from then on things go from bad to worse for the various Fallen Houses:

The House of Devils:

The Fallen will continue to claw at the walls of our City, unless we strike them down. Beneath the ruins of the Cosmodrome, in the shadow of an old colony ship, we've located the House of Devils' Lair - and the High Servitor feeding them their strength. We must destroy this machine god...and send their souls screaming back to hell.

The House of Devils will go on to become one of our greatest rivals in the story of Destiny. In fact, when we first encounter them, they are on the verge of making a major discovery. They have been looting and studying the remains of our Golden Age in the Cosmodrome for decades and have finally found something they think can change their fortunes.

Our first clue to what the Devils found is the Guardian jump ship we find crashed in the Cosmodrome. They are one of the first to report on strange signals coming from Old Russia. Later, after we escape to the Tower and return to the Cosmodrome, we discover that the Devils have been trying to steal data from some source buried within the old spaceport. We hear old Russian opera. Our Ghost stops the Devil's data taps. And by the time we reactivate the large communications array we are sure we have found the Warmind Rasputin! Without our help, the Fallen might have been able to compromise the Warmind's systems and possibly gain control of the powerful Warsats orbiting overhead.

But that's not all the Devils found... Their attempts to locate and crack Rasputin saw them discover perhaps an even bigger prize: SIVA. When we killed Sepiks Prime, we greatly hobbled the House of Devils. Without their large High Servitor to process and distribute live sustaining Ether, the house would have scattered. But with the discovery of SIVA, radical factions of the House of Devils including Archon Priest Aksis and the Devil Spicers take over and force the Eliksni house down a path of abandoning Ether in exchange for relying on SIVA for sustenance and survival. For a time, the House of Devils becomes powerful enough to even threaten The City, but with the destruction of the SIVA replication chamber and the deaths of Aksis and Vosik, their newfound power is ripped away from them.

House of Winter

After the Eliksni's collective defeat at Twilight Gap, the House of Winter retreated back to Venus where their Kell, Draksis, ruled over his house from a hidden position near the ruins of the Ishtar Collective. Draksis became notorious for his raids on human settlements while his house sought out new knowledge among the Vex and Human ruins near the Ishtar Sink. Eventually, after rising to the attention of the Vanguard (Cayde-6 once sent one of his Hunters to Venus to the Cinders to search for Winter's Kell...), our Guardian finds Draksis' Ketch and puts an end to him. Seeing as the House of Winter had already lost its Prime Servitor, this was something of a fatal blow to the Eliksni on Venus.

House of Exiles

The House of Exiles was not formally an Eliksni house. It had no Prime Servitor and no Kell. Mostly, it was a collection of Eliksni who had either been banished from their own houses but who had been separated from their house but who had refused to lay down and die. Like all of the Eliksni, the Exiles keep their distance from the other Houses. Seeing as Earth, Venus, and Mars were already occupied (with Mars being somewhat closed off to the Eliksni thanks to the heavy Cabal presence) the Exiles took refuge on Earth's Moon... near the Hive. The Hellmouth was not exactly the safest place... but with Crota's initial and eventual ultimate defeat, the Hive there were not the threat they had once been.

The House of Exiles is most notable for harboring the Eliksni mercenary Taniks. But beyond that, and a few suicidally daring raids down into the Hellmouth, we don't ever hear much from the House of Exiles.

House of Wolves

After several years of conflict, the House of Wolves eventually knelt down to Mara Sov and her Awoken. With the help of Variks, the House of Wolves worked and fought alongside the Awoken for a time. Many Wolves did in fact truly regard Mara Sov as their new Kell and followed her orders with honest devotion. It was only when Skolas returned proclaiming himself to be the Kell of Kells and seemingly having the power to defy the Awoken that the House of Wolves rebelled. That rebellion was short lived, of course, as a vengeful Mara Sov sought the aid of the Guardians of The City. Within a short period of time... months at most... Skolas had been defeated and recaptured. He would eventually meet his end at the hand of some group of Guardians as nothing more than a mere play thing in Variks' Prison of Elders.

The House of Wolves did not die immediately, however. Its remnants somehow managed to hide among the sprawling Cabal fortifications on Mars. They even rebuilt their Prime Servitor, Orbiks Prime, and for a short time where a thorn in the side of the Awoken and Cabal alike... until a Guardian discovered their hidden base of operations and lay wasted to Orbiks Prime once more.

House of Kings

The Kings rarely lowered themselves to squabble in Eliksni politics or power grabs. They regarded themselves as rulers... and the other Eliksni houses seemed to have a great deal of respect for them. Even when the house of Devils was at its height, it seldom interfered with the House of Kings. The Devils and Kings were even neighbors in the Cosmodrome yet somehow managed to stay out of each other's way.

In the end the House of Kings met with the Awoken Prince, Uldren Sov, and they alongside the House of Devils on Earth, the house of Winter on Venus, the House of Wolves on Mars, and the House of Exiles on Earth's Moon... left.

The Fallen are abandoning the Cosmodrome.

Hawk fly-overs confirm. The House of Devils forces are simply not there anymore. They've been disorganized for the last few years, but there's never been a shortage of ground troops whenever we staged a significant sortie.

Intel source GREENRAVEN was right. And, for the moment, it's worth assuming their report on the House of Exiles, House of Winter, and House of Wolves are also accurate. We're fact-checking against independent fireteam reports from the field.

The kid all the SRL fans talk about — Marcus? He was in one of the fireteams out at the Cosmodrome. He pulled me aside, and said it to me straight: the Fallen Houses are gone. The siege is broken. The stalemate we've had with the Eliksni for what, a hundred years? It's over. We won.

Commander, I'm not even sure they're flying the banners anymore. The teams found huge mounds of burnt cloth and armor, ceremonial piles, in several of the most hardcore Fallen holdouts.

What's changed? Where have the Fallen gone? Why have they burned their banners?

That final question was posed by a Guardian named Sloane... who we eventually meet on Titan. So what did change? In short, Prince Uldren and the Scorn.

But that's a story for a later time. We'll check back in on the Eliksni in a bit, but for now we are mostly caught up to the start of Forsaken. There are still some finer points to explore such as what the Devils were trying to accomplish with SIVA or the grand significance of Skolas trying to force his way into the fabled position of Kell of Kells, but I'd like to visit those too at a later date.

Why the little rush past some interesting stuff? Well... because with Forsaken's release, Bungie's writing team has delivered the largest and most far reaching selection of lore since the Book of Sorrows detailed the rise of the three brave sisters who eventually spawned the terrifying Hive. Because of that, I am thrilled and excited to begin detailing:


Bite-sized Backstory 37: Yang Liwei
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Thu, 18 Oct 2018

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The Awoken have been a strange puzzle ever since we first visited the Reef back in Destiny 1. We met the Awoken Queen and her brother, but we didn't even learn their names until Petra Venj called upon the Guardians of The City to hunt down Skolas in the House of Wolves expansion. For all of Destiny 1, the Awoken were a culture and a power whose extent was frustratingly difficult to discern. Did they have cities? Or a military? Or Guardian-like powers? Even when we arrived at the Vestian Outpost, we didn't learn all that much about the Awoken.

Our best look at the Awoken, until now, was their response to the House of Wolves during the Reef Wars as seen in the book The Maraid. But even then, we didn't learn a lot. Queen Mara Sov was shown to be uniquely powerful and able to destroy a Fallen fleet seemingly singlehandedly. The Awoken were revealed to have cities and stations like Amethyst that the Fallen attacked and in some cases destroyed. And that's roughly all we've known about the Awoken... until now.

The history of the Awoken is laid out for us across multiple in-game books that you'll earn piece by piece while playing Forsaken. The first of these books is Marasenna. Like before, I'm going to attempt to walk you through the contents of these books, like I did for the Book of Sorrows, but I highly encourage anyone following along with me to read the full text of these book chapters as we get to them. They are well written and mysterious and half the experience and fun of this is reading this history as it was written.

So... where to start? How about with Mara Sov? Almost from the beginning, we learn that Mara did not start out as a Queen or ruler. Instead, when we first meet her, she is a nineteen year old young woman of no particular race or ancestry serving as an Auturge 3rd Class on the Golden Age colony ship Yang Liwei which is named after the first Chinese astronaut to be sent into space. An Auturge is something of a troubleshooting mechanic whose job it is to fix problems as they spring up on the ship as it makes its way out of our solar system.

The other thing we very quickly find out about Mara Sov, is that she has a streak of independence the likes of which we have only rarely seen in Destiny. For one thing, instead of following the normal chain of command, where an Auturge 3rd Class usually reports to Auturge 2nd Class to find out their work assignments, Mara just shows up at areas of the ship that have malfunctioned and fixes things before leaving, usually without even talking to anyone. A ship like the Yang Liwei need to be run with tight organization, but Mara is apparently skilled enough to subvert all that regulation and do her own thing. Her actions eventually take on an almost magical quality. Something breaks, she appears, it is soon fixed without fuss or red tape, and then she is gone. We're told that Mara enjoys this hushed awe that her actions cause amount the population of the Yang Liwei. But being mysterious is the least of her boldness...

Our first glimpse of her is not fixing a pipe or patching a circuit. Instead, we find her in a skin-tight environment suit sitting on the outer hull of the Yang Liwei looking down towards the ship's main engines at its rear. Apparently, she prefers to live out there. Outside the ship. In space. We're told that she stays outside because she wants to taste the blueshift of the surrounding starlight as the Yang Liwei accelerates out of our solar system.

In this instance, though, Mara does even more daring than that. She doesn't just cling to the hull of the colony ship. Instead, during a period when the ship has halted its acceleration to perform another long check of its engines, she kicks off the hull and drifts ahead, away from the Yang Liwei's large forward umbrella-like shield with only a thin tether wire to keep her from drifting away completely. She doesn't just drift a few meters, or even a few hundred. Instead she drifts ten kilometers ahead of the ship. It must have taken hours for her to coast that far after simply kicking herself forward. It must have been breathtaking to watch the colony ship, which so large that it is described as its own traveling fleet, slowly shrink into the black of space. It might have still been visible, far in the distance, but Mara would have also been surrounded by the stars... and when she was, she did something even more incredible. And terrifying!

Mara activates the controls on her suit that order the external cytogel layer to pull completely away and retract into storage mode! Though she was wearing an undersuit, the cytogel was the only thing actually separating her from the vacuum of space! The effects of vacuum exposure begin immediately. The moisture on her skin boils. Her face begins to discolor and turn a sickly blue due to a lack of oxygen. Her body begins to swell due to an imbalance of internal and external pressure. Out there, among the stars, Mara is letting herself die. And she records it all, every view, every gasp, and every little sensation down to the neural level on her sensorium... before reengaging her protective suit, returning her size and color and breathing to normal. Those sensorium recordings, she knows, will fetch a high price once she makes her way back inside the ship.

Interestingly, as Destiny players, we hear of sensorium recordings within Forsaken, too. When we rescue one of the Techeuns from The Corrupted strike, she sometimes says it would be impossible to describe the experience of being Taken without the use of a full sensorium.

I imagine it only takes Mara a pull or two on her thin tether to start her long drift back to the Yang Liwei. Once she does gets back inside, we'll get the chance to meet some of the other key people in her life.

Chapters Referenced:
Brephos I
Brephos II
(Brephos means something along the lines of an unborn or newborn child...)

Bite-sized Backstory 38: Brother, Mother, and Alice Li
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sat, 27 Oct 2018

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As Mara heads inside, we get to learn a little more about her and those around her. For Mara, we learn that she was previously some sort of Extra Vehicular Activity tech near Jupiter. It was, in fact, a shocking experience on one of her maintenance EVAs that caused her to insist that she and her family leave the solar system. Mara and an unnamed man were outside in their space suits repairing a radiator fin of maybe a spaceship or space colony when something whipped in at high speed and smashed straight through the man's faceplate. It would later be determined that his death was a tragic accident. Somewhere else in the solar system there was a cargo spill, and a frozen rabbit embryo made what must have been a months or years long journey around the sun to cross through the point the man's face was occupying.

We're told that Mara has always been good at figuring out the meanings behind things, a skill that she prefers to keep somewhat secret, and she saw this accident as an omen that she, and humanity, were vulnerable as long as they just stayed in our solar system. So, somehow, Mara persuaded her mother Osana and her brother Uldwyn that they should join Project Amrita: the launch of a soon to be departing colony ship. Note that Amrita means immortality, and in Hinduism it is a drink similar to the Ambrosia of the Geek gods.

Inside the Yang Liwei, Mara first comes across her younger brother, Uldwyn, Mara watches from the crowd as her brother and a bulked up woman woman from Gravity Ops have something of a zero-g cage match in some equipment storage area. Mara's appearance delights Uldwyn... leaving him open for a devastating uppercut to the face. He goes tumbling. The larger woman who had her genes altered to bulk up her muscles pushes off the wall sending them both for a devastating impact on the floor a good ways below. We're told that Uldwyn doesn't have a chance against this woman, and that he knew that before he entered the fight, but that he likes to measure himself by his bravery and by seeing just how bad of a loss he can survive.

On their way down, Uldwyn manages to shift around and put the larger woman in a choke hold. He successfully chokes her unconscious... but there's nothing he can do about their momentum. They smack into the floor, with Uldwyn on the bottom. Uldwyn loses. But he's still delighted to see his sister back inside. One of my faviorite bits of the story is where the woman rolls off of Uldwyn and says, "oh hi mara."

Uldwyn and Mara sort of talk past each other, each not openly answering each others questions. We're told that Mara likes it that way. She likes knowing her brother well enough that they can communicate in half answers that mean so much more coming from each other than they would mean coming from anyone else. Ultimately, Mara asks Uldwyn to distribute her sensorium captures in exchange for more parts to continue her little roaming repair mission. Uldwyn agrees. He likes the hustle and bustle of it all, but he warns Mara that their mother is going to die of worry if she keeps pushing so far off the ship like she just did.

We cut to Mara and her mother Osana walking rapidly down one of the Yang Liwei's corridors. We find that Mara and her mother have something of a special mother-daughter relationship, in that they, for the most part, don't have one. Some time ago, several years before when Mara was young, Mara insisted that her mother treat her like an adult. And Osana agreed, but with the stipulation that if she was going to treat Mara like an adult she wouldn't be able to protect her like a mother would a daughter. And that she would live her own life and make her own choices as more of a friend than a mother. I like this relationship between Osana and Mara because it shows an independence on both sides. But even though they have apparently lived their lives somewhat independently, Mara and Osana still do the mother daughter thing every once in a while. Like now, where Osana is dragging Mara to face Alice Li, the captain of the Yang Liwei.

Mara, for her part think that her mother only exists to embarrass her. Osana, however, is hauling her daughter to off to see the ship's captain because Mara will be punished by the ship's Behavior department sooner or later. So, Osana is using someone else to talk some sense into her daughter, but you can also see the love there, that Osana is protecting Mara while still maintaining the independence they both agreed on. At one point, Mara tries to shift some of the blame to Uldwyn. It's only here that Osana involves herself directly. She spins on Mara as they stride down the hall and chastises her daughter. Not for her daring activities outside the ship or for breaking regulations in her ongoing unordered repairs, but for pretending that she doesn't hold sway over people like her brother or those who are in awe of her skill and activities. Mara is sure she can come up with a clever retort, but before she does, she and her mother arrive at Captain Alice Li's wardroom.

The position of Captain, we're told, is something Mara would like for herself someday. But right now? That's not who she is. Fortunately, Captain Li is more understanding that Mara thought she would be. She starts by offering Mara tea from an old tea set that was made some hundreds of years ago, before the Traveler arrived in our solar system. This tea set will be important later. (Seriously.) I laughed though, because Captain Li mixes her tea with milk from the "Cow Thing" on this ship's bio deck. Apparently the Yang Liwei is large enough to have one or more bioengineered creatures that aren't exactly cows.

Once all three have their tea, Osana explains the situation to Captain Li. She says that her daughter has, through her actions, set herself up as something of a minor divinity among the ship's crew. There's a great line where Osana says that Mara has become such a big celebrity that people have started drawing fan art of her! We come to find out that Alice Li knows about everything and has even bought and experienced some of Mara's death defying sensorium captures. But that doesn't mean Captain Li is a Mara fangirl. She challenges Mara, saying that Mara has to understand her emotional place among the crew of the Yang Liwei. She explains that if Mara were to die on one of her spacewalks she would harm not just herself, but the ship as a whole. The key line, which is also seriously important, is:

What people make of you, what they create of you—even without your consent—becomes a kind of responsibility.

This takes Mara aback. Makes her, if only for a moment, reconsider her actions and the little cult of fans she has been building up around herself. It's not like Mara is going to stop, but Captain Li was unexpectedly insightful and at least gives Mara something new to think about.

Li then asks about Uldwyn, noting that he has been to medical far more than any of the other unsanctioned, underground fighters. It seems that Captain Li keeps a good close track of what happens on her ship. She mentions that she does so because she is keeping an eye out for curious personalities that might be better suited to not go into cryo while the Yang Liwei makes its long journey to its destination among the stars. What that probably means is that the Yang Liwei is not a sleeper ship that runs on auto pilot, but more of a generation ship where at least some part of the population remains awake during the ship's journey. And Alice Li has tagged Mara and maybe the rest of her family as some of the ones she thinks are well suited to that kind of life. Perhaps Mara is destined to become Captain one day after all...

...except she is not going to get the chance to rise to that rank. Because something, some unknown vessel, is tracking the Yang Liwei.

Chapters Referenced:
Brephos I
Brephos II
Brephos III
(Brephos means something along the lines of an unborn or newborn child...)

Bite-sized Backstory 39: SKYSHOCK
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Mon, 5 Nov 2018

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After her meeting with Alice Li, Mara likely returns to her normal routine. She makes timely, unscheduled repairs. She disappears for days at a time as she basks in the starlight shining on the Yang Liwei's outer hull. And she continues to perform spectacular, death defying acts so she can spread those sensations among the colony ship's crew. I get the sense that nothing and no one onboard the Yang Liwei could make Mara do something she did not want to do... though, perhaps Captain Li's observations of her actions and their consequences have lead Mara to tone down things just a bit? We'll never know, because some days or weeks later, something is detected shadowing the Yang Liwei as it continues its acceleration out of the Sol System.

The Yang Liwei detects another ship of some kind stalking it from 12.5 light minutes ahead. To put that in perspective, the Earth is only about 8.32 light minutes from the sun, so this ship is very far away at first. Over and over again, across an eighteen hour period, the Yang Liwei requests the other vessel identify itself, but the distant contact remains silent as it slips in and out of detection. Finally, Captain Li has had enough. She cuts power to her ship's engines and orders the launch a distributed antenna swarm. This is an antenna made of many different drones that broadcast from multiple points at the same time. She intents to scare whoever is approaching them with a big, blinding "fusion powered" radar snapshot. Perhaps the Yang Liwei cut power to its engines to divert more power to what would essentially be a powerful "sonar ping" in space.

As an aside, its interesting that the Yang Liwei doesn't identify itself as "Yang Liwei" but instead uses the callsign "Exodus Green". This is pretty cool since we've heard about a few other Exodus colony ships during the course of Destiny:

  • Exodus Black, the colony ship we know best, suffered massive, physics defying navigational errors (probably as the Darkness attacked) and crashed on the planetoid Nessus in the outer solar system.
  • Exodus Red was preparing to launch when the Darkness attacked. Its AI sent repeating distress calls as it mused about its role and the likelihood of its impending destruction.
  • Exodus Blue attempted to launch but was either shot down directly or, perhaps more likely, it too was unable to navigate when the Darkness attacked and, like the Exodus Black, it simply crashed. (This was a Destiny 1 Crucible map.)

But before all the preparations can be made for the launch of their sensor drone swarm, the Yang Liwei's communication officer relays some deeply unsettling news. The officer has picked up a transmission consisting of a tight beam of faster than light neutrinos focused solely on the Yang Liwei. It's a message from Rasputin declaring a CARRHAE WHITE state of emergency. If we dig back into some of Destiny's earliest lore we quickly find Ghost Fragment: Darkness. This is a report from Rasputin as he declares CARRHAE WHITE and takes command of Humanity's defenses. Reading through that report from Rasputin is a bit tricky, but there's a pair of old posts by INSANEdrive and myself that sheds some insight on what was going on. And, indeed, our speculations from more that four years ago are now proven right, as the comm operator tells Captain Li that Rasputin has declared a SKYSHOCK event meaning that Rasputin detected a hostile race arriving from outside our solar system, that the entire system is now under Warmind control, and that the Yang Liwei is being conscripted into a military role!

It turns out that Rasputin has ordered the Yang Liwei to do an about face and run its engines at full power until they explode. Rasputin's plan is for the Yang Liwei to coast back into the solar system and use its big kinetic weapons as ultra long range artillery. Apparently previous Exodus colony ships had mysteriously vanished on their outward journey so, as the newest, largest, and most advanced colony ship yet, the Yang Liwei was outfitted with heavy weapons to defend itself in case anyone (anything?) tried to attack it. Now those weapons have become a small part of Rasputin's plan to defend the solar system.

Captain Li orders that the distributed antenna swarm they were launching be scaled up and for telescope drones be added to the mix. Telescopes would have had a tough time getting a visual image of a silent, unknown ship millions of miles away, but will be very useful to see what is happening back at the planets of our solar system. Soon, the Yang Liwei's various sensors and telescopes give them a distant view of humanity's battle against the Darkness. And it's not going well. At all. Humanity, at the height of its Golden Age, is losing. Badly. The last sightings of the Traveler show it to be at Earth... and there are high-yield weapon discharges all over the place.

As all this happens, Captain Li makes an important decision. Instead of following Rasputin's orders without question, she decides to put the Yang Liwei's next course of action to a vote. They can either follow orders, turn around, and dive into what looks to be an unwinnable battle that will lead to the extinction of the human race, or they can run for the stars and hope to carry on somewhere else.

Outside the ship, Mara and her brother go on another spacewalk. They push off and drift down the length of the ship as they talk. Well... mostly its Uldwyn doing the talking. Ultimately, he concludes that they should run. That they don't owe the rest of humanity their lives or dreams. Mara, however, seems to want to go back. She's heavily conflicted, its not an easy decision for her, but she feels like a coward running away. She barely says anything at all as she heads back inside the ship, but Uldwyn can tell what her vote will be.

In the meantime, the ghost-like contact that had been shadowing the Yang Liwei has decided to make itself known and has begun to bear down. Somehow, without warning, the Yang Liwei is utterly cut off from the rest of humanity as the space around it is enveloped in a terrifying darkness. The colony ship and its crew experience strange distortions of time and space. The guidance computers can't make any sense of what is going on. The Yang Liwei's navigation thrusters fire almost at random as they try to steer a ship that can't sense up from down. The crew are also experiencing very worrying effects. They can feel themselves being stretched and compressed by weird gravity waves whose origin they can only guess at. But this is not just an odd weapon being fired at them or some effect the phantom ship is accidentally having on them... No, it's something much worse:

Alice Li has the distinct sense that something ancient and malevolent is operating upon them: a trillion-fingered hand reaching in to caress the very atoms of their being, setting protons a-spin, strumming nerves like guitar strings. A tongue with ten billion slithering forks tasting the surface of their brains. The sense of imminent doom crescendos. She knows, absolutely and utterly, that what is about to happen to her and to her crew is far worse than death. The darkness knows them now. The thing that has come to kill Humanity has their taste.

It's here that Alice Li does the only thing she can think of. She tries to broadcast a plea of neutrality to the ship/thing attacking them. It's not even clear that the Yang Liwei can broadcast into the darkness surrounding it, but they try to tell the approaching ship that they left Humanity and the Traveler and they don't wish any part of the conflict that is going on behind them. Nothing changes. The gravity distortions continue to get worse. So, with what is to be her final act, Mara goes back outside the Yang Liwei. She wishes to die in starlight... but there are no stars to be seen...

Chapters Referenced:
Cosmogyre I
Cosmogyre II
Cosmogyre III

Bite-sized Backstory 40: The Awakening of the Awoken
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 18 Nov 2018

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Physics no longer work quite right outside the Yang Liwei, where Mara Sov went to die. When Mara pushes off the ship's hull the strange, life threatening gravity waves being produced by the mysterious alien ship push and pull on her, yanking her first one way and then the other. She pushed off with some 50km of super thin tether, but her progress away from the ship is uneven. Eventually, though, Mara does drift some distance into the darkness, away from the Yang Liwei, only to feel vibration on the line connecting her back to the ship. It is Uldwyn coming after her. Their suit radios don't function while trapped within the darkened space, but since Uldwyn has come out and attached himself to the same tether as his sister, they can communicate through the tether's hardwired circuits.

Like Captain Li, Mara has some sense that the surrounding Darkness is not indifferent:

Mara's tether trembles with Uldwyn's progress. She holds it in one hand and reaches out with the other, gripping the emptiness, feeling how the tides of broken space pull at her fingertips. She senses that the nothingness around her is not indifferent; that it is aware of all purposes, and that its own purpose encompasses them. It is infinitely hostile because it must be.

Over the hardwired com link, Mara can hear Captain Li attempting to broadcast a statement of neutrality, but we don't even know if the other ship hear it. Then, all of a sudden, a beam of Light pierces the Darkness. Far back at Earth, the Traveler has done whatever it did to save us from the Darkness. But it did more than that, it also focused a beam of its Light all the way out to the Yang Liwei! Similar to the Darkness, Mara senses that the Light too seems to have a purpose:

It sings. It chatters. It speaks in a voice older than suns. She feels that she could Fourier the voice for a century and never decompose it into its parts. It is awesome and appalling and piercingly true.

These two powerful forces battle it out around the Yang Liwei. Close to earth it seems fair to say the Traver and the Light... won. Or at least, the Traveler was successful in completely dispelling the Darkness that had attacked humanity. But as far out as the Yang Liwei is, the neither the Light nor the Darkness have an advantage. Instead, these two powerful forces struggle and the area of space around the Yang Liwei is completely overwhelmed. Near the Yang Liwei, space itself gives way and a strange black hole is formed by the overabundance of the two energies competing with one another.

Mara has always been good at figuring things out. Somehow she knows that this isn't the end. Uldwyn is yelling for her to pull back, but Mara does the opposite. And this next part is one of the most important things in all of Destiny's lore:

She fires the detach command into the tether.

Gravity seizes her. She falls forward in space and time, into the future, into the mystery. Yang Liwei is behind her. Uldwyn is behind her. She wants to be the first.

But, strangely, out of the 40,000+ passengers and crew of the Yang Liwei, it is not Mara that thinks the next thoughts. It is Alice Li. She is formless and it takes time and effort for her to define herself, beginning with her name. Through a thought process of cuts and infinities, Alice Li redefines herself as Alis Li. With that done she moves on to defining reality for herself. She remembers the Amrita Charter and that she was to be an explorer. She lets this thought and memory help her create a new, fantastic world:

I am Alis Li, the power that seeks new worlds. I have a crew. I had... a ship. I wanted to bring them to a place like—

(A paradise world: twin-ringed, impossible beauty, and a sky milk-bright with stars. She makes it real with a thought, and in that thought she falls herself, undoes her transient divinity, binds herself and all those after her into the law. The omniscient cannot explore. The omnipotent cannot struggle. She refuses that God-trap.)


This is how Alice Li awakens.

Next, second, we see Mara go through a similar process of defining her own name and then defining her physical self, but when Mara awakens, Alis Li is already there, standing over her. From all appearances, it seems Mara's efforts to be first did not succeed. Alis leads Mara outside the building they are in and shows her the world she created with her own thoughts:

It is a world that grows, a world that thrives. The stone is rich with veins of platinum, and Mara tastes tingling inclusions of transuranic elements in a fingertip of earth. Silver rivers flow in fractal deltas to lakes as still and bright as coolant pools. Acres of forests all woven at the root into a single tree. There is life of such variety and energy that each new crawling thing they see must be its own species. Or species do not mean anything at all here, and all that lives may intermingle.

Interestingly, the Yang Liwei is here in this new world. It is resting, partly embedded into a mountain, but it is intact and accessable. Alis leads Mara inside and when Mara asks about the others, there should be thousands of others, Alis tells her that they have to make them real. Then, Alis wonders out loud why Mara was the second to awaken from among the thousands of people aboard the Yang Liwei.

"Why were you the second? Why you in particular?"

"I don't know," Mara lies. It is the first lie ever told, the first secret kept.

I love these two pages where Alis and Mara define themselves back into existence. Not only because we get to see how the Awoken awakened, but because the writing itself is so beautiful. I'd quote both pages in their entirety if I though our board would let a post be that long. I very strongly encourage anyone that is interested in this stuff to read Ecstasiate I and Ecstasiate II. Not for the lore, but for the way that the first two Awoken defined themselves by cutting and shaping their own names. It is something very different from all the rest of Destiny's lore.

Next time, we'll begin explore who the Awoken are as a people once the rest of them return from the formless existence that the conflict between the Light and the Darkness left them in. But, there's also something secret that Mara knows and Alis Li does not. The question "Why you in particular?" has an actual answer, but it will be some time before we get to it.

Still, the more immediate stuff coming up is fascinating and important not just for the Awoken, but ultimately for the rest of the Destiny universe as well. The origin and Awakening of Mara Sov is just the beginning!

Chapters Referenced:
Cosmogyre IV
Ecstasiate I
Ecstasiate II

Bite-sized Backstory 41: Nine Verdicts
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 25 Nov 2018

Click to Read

After Alis Li takes Mara on a tour of their new world, the two work together to begin calling the rest of the Awoken back from the void:

Two became four, and the four called out, and so the four became eight. In this manner, conjured forth by their doubling, the sleepers did awaken. In time the awoken spilled across the face of the world, and their number was forty thousand eight hundred ninety one. They drank of the sweet rain, and they ate of the fruit of the forest, and the starlight pooled as clear oil on their skin. First of their tongues was Speech, and the first of their hunting weapons was the bow.

We also learn some specifics about the Yan Liwei. The colony ship carried a total of 40,891 crew and colonists. An interesting thing happened when the ship fell into the blackhole created by the opposing powers of Light and Darkness. 40,000 of the ship's compliment don't remember anything about their past lives seemingly because they were in cryosleep when the Traveler rescued the Yang Liwei. But the other 891 do remember at least some of where they came from. These 891 seem to be treated as just a little bit more special.

It's also kinda fun to see bows mentioned since the new bow class weapons played such a nice role in Destiny. They'll even come up in the Awoken's story in some fun, unexpected ways later.

So, after a time of branching out and exploring their new world, the Awoken, or at least their various leaders, come together for a great council to try and work some things out. There's a lot that comes out of this council:

First is a census. We know there are initially 40,891 Awoken, but now they classify themselves into three categories: 30,111 women, 10,295 men, and 485 other. We've always had very strong hints that the Awoken of the Reef were a matriarchal society. Recall that in the Reef, the Awoken were lead by a Queen. The liaison to the Guardians was Petra Venj. Most of the Paladins (the commanders of their military forces) were women. Now we begin to see why.

Second, we have three main speakers at the council. Alis Li speaks first saying:

We were granted this world by a covenant with high powers, and in that covenant, we yielded our claim to our history. We abandoned what came before, but in doing so, we cast off all our debts. Look forward! Let us explore this infant cosmos, and revel in its glories!

Next comes an Awoken named Owome An who represents the 40,000 who do not remember their past. She come at things from a different point of view:

We are alien here. We must climb up our worldline, back to the place from which we came. I call for a vote.

The third speaker, Mara Sov, did not actually speak in public. But, in private meetings organized by her brother, she offered up her own interpretation of things:

I think that we came here as safe harbor, and we cannot forever remain. I remember the danger was appalling. I remember we were born in death. I think we must gather ourselves carefully until the time is right.

From these three viewpoints you can kinda see how the council came up with its next nine verdicts. I'm going to list each one and offer a bit of commentary on a few of them as we go.

  • 1st, that the people were Awoken, and they were immortal.

    I wonder a bit how they figured out they were immortal. How long does it take to determine that you aren't aging?

  • 2nd, that this world was Tributary of another, but that it was forbidden to seek any way to rejoin the mother stream. For this reason, it would be called the Distributary, for that was the proper name for a river that branches from the mother and does not return.

    The name Distributary will come up in the future. Remember it.

  • 3rd, that the Awoken should multiply in wombs of flesh and machine, but only after the most careful forecast of population and ecology, and only under the supervision of those who knew the good technology; for each new child would be immortal.

    We see later that the Yang Liwei, which the Awoken now call the Shipspire, has the ability to brith and or possibly clone animals. Presumably, the Awoken also use the former starship's facilities early on to bolster their numbers more quickly than would have otherwise been possible.

  • 4th, that those wise in the good technology should be heralded and heeded, so that the eu-technology could be preserved. They would be eutechs.

    Is it the 891 that remembered the good technology? Or did the 40,000 retain knowledge of their jobs and advanced skills, just not their pasts? If one or the other of those is true it could have been an interesting mix up in the political power dynamic.

  • 5th, that the women should hold care and protection of the men and the others until more could be born. This is how we get a mostly female military and government in the Reef.

  • 6th, that the purpose of the Awoken should be to know and love the cosmos.

  • 7th, that the Awoken were created out of covenant with Light and Darkness, but the covenant was complete, and no further debt would ever be called, except the duty of the Second Verdict to remain on the Distributary.

    Sure sounds like Alis Li wrote this one, doesn't it?

  • 8th, that the Awoken were whole in themselves, and they existed in balance.

  • 9th, Ninth, that there would be no vote, but instead Alis Li would be recognized as Queen. Her first pronunciation was that there would be no secrets among Awoken.

The final ninth verdict was a critical one. It seems somewhat natural that Alis Li became Queen. She was the first to wake. She more or less created the planet the Awoken now live on. And she was, in her former life, a competent, insightful leader. But that part about secrets is also important, as we're told:

For Alis knew of the quiet council around Mara, and although she was neither jealous nor afraid, she remembered it carefully as a spark that might catch.

That spark does catch. And it leads to a civil war... that we'll cover next time. There's a lot going on with the Awoken politically and I want to make sure every bit gets the attention that it deserves. But until then, look back at what we've already learned! The origin and creation of the Awoken, one of Destiny's great mysteries, is now known to us!

Oh yeah, one more thing. There were Nine Verdicts and there is The Nine we keep hearing about. Any relation? I'm not sure. The Emissaries of The Nine seem Awoken-ish. And I saw a neat theory the other day that we'll get to eventually. But for now, at least, I don't believe there is any definitive proof linking these Nine Verdicts to The Nine.

Chapters Referenced:
Ecstasiate III

40: The Awakening of the Awoken