Bite-sized Backstory 36: The Fallen Houses
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 14 Oct 2018
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
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.
Bite-sized Backstory 38: Brother, Mother, and Alice Li
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sat, 27 Oct 2018
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.
Bite-sized Backstory 39: SKYSHOCK
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Mon, 5 Nov 2018
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:
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...
Bite-sized Backstory 40: The Awakening of the Awoken
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 18 Nov 2018
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!
Bite-sized Backstory 41: Nine Verdicts
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
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.
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.
Bite-sized Backstory 42: The Theodicy War
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Tue, 1 Jan 2019
After the Awoken have their great council, they set out to truly explore and understand their new world. Some travel the land making maps and discoveries as the go. Others build ships and chart the oceans and coastlines. And others turn their eyes to that sky that it so full of starts it is milk white in some places. Meanwhile, Alis Li works to help the Awoken rediscover things like proper agriculture and the advanced technologies found aboard the Shipspire.
It's an interesting situation the Awoken are in. Very advanced Golden Age technology exists within the Shipspire, but it seems pretty clear there isn't a manual laying around telling them how to reproduce those technologies, so in large part they are starting at the beginning and rediscovering things year after year, decade after decade. Some Awoken, notably the 891, seem to have inklings and memories of how things work, so the Awoken aren't totally in the dark in terms of technology and invention like human civilization originally was. They probably advance far faster than humanity did the first time, but it must still take decades or centuries.
Eventually though, the Awoken start to build cities. Some Awoken, like Alis Li want to continue to advance their technologies and knowledge. But there are other Awoken who enjoy their lives of adventure and freedom in the forests and on the seas. They don't want to work in cities. They probably care less about achieving new things and advancing the state of the art. These Awoken slowly form into tribes that live outside the cities. We're not looking at civilization vs savages by any means, but there is at least some split between the interests and priorities of the Awoken as a whole. Interestingly, Mara and her brother and mother live among the tribes. Mara, specifically lives alone on some distant mountain top. She has her reasons, and we'll get to them, but for the moment, no one really knows why she wishes to be so far removed from the rest of the Awoken.
Another part of the division between these two groups of Awoken are two different ideas relating to how the Awoken were created:
In the tribes of the forests and the sea, there was the belief that the Awoken had been made out of a friction between contesting forces and that one day this conflict would need to be resolved. These were the Eccaleists who preached that Awoken owed a debt to the cosmos.
In the cities, however, they lived by the Seventh Verdict under their Queen, and they said the Awoken had been created by cosmic gift and carried neither responsibility nor eschaton. These were the Sanguine, who preached that the Awoken were as stable as an atom of carbon.
Recall, that the Seventh Verdict was:
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.
So, we have a group that believes the Awoken owe a debt and a second group who believe that they do not. If that was the only disagreement, things would have likely been fine. There was no immediate proof for either side, after all.
But then an Awoken woman with a radical idea comes to power and popularity within the tribes. This woman, who called herself "the Diasyrm" was one of the 891 Awoken who still remembered some of her Golden Age past. A Diasyrm is a figure of speech expressing disparagement or ridicule. This Diasyrm begins preaching that since Queen Alis Li was the first to awaken, it is therefore Alis Li who took it upon herself to shape the formless power that the Awoken existed as after the clash of Light and Darkness. And, that in shaping the Awoken into a human-like form, even one that is effectively immortal when not counting things like injuries or accidents, she forced them down a path that included things like pain, hardship, suffering, and evil.
The 891 who remember something of the past are an important and well regarded group among the Awoken. And while this new idea is highly controversial, it is coming from one of the 891 so it has more power and prestige than it would have otherwise had. The accusation is not just that the Awoken sometimes have to deal with things like pain or injury in their day to day lives, it's that they have to worry about such concepts at all. There is possibly another layer here where the Diasyrm isn't just saying that Alis Li did this to the Awoken, but that she choose to do it, or that she did it on purpose without giving anyone else a choice.
The outlying tribes get roused up by this. They want to know why Alis Li betrayed them. Why she took it upon herself to prevent them from being gods. At the same time, the peoples of the city are deeply offended at the idea that their Queen, who has lead them impeccably for hundreds of years, would have done something so vile as purposely create a world that included things like pain, suffering and death.
This strong disagreement between the two sides eventually leads to a large scale civil war! This war is termed the Theodicy War, as theodicy is, basically, the attempt to find some explanation or defense as to why there is evil in the world if the world was created by an all powerful god who is good. That is sorta what this war is, the Awoken in the cities defending their ruler against the accusations of those in the forests and seas.
(Theodicy is a complex and interesting subject... and not one I'm going to dip into... if you want to know more you should probably start with the Wikipedia Article.)
For something like fifty years, the Eccaleists who oppose Alis Li, and the Sanguine who support her are locked in battle. Given that the Awoken are still rediscovering much of the technology they lost, it seems likely that this is more of a ground war fought with fairly primitive weapons. There are still some high tech weapons left on the Shipspire, but probably not a lot. In fact, we are told that the war was fought "by spear and bow, by knife and scalpel, by old machine and new invention." And that Alis Li reserved high tech weapons for a select few Paladins who answered to her.
There's another part here. Outside of this war or accidental injury, the Awoken are immortal. Killing each other is seen as a terrible thing. Each death means a life that would have gone on forever is cut off. There's even a little poem about it:
To end a world with a shot or pin eternity on a blade; to see your sisters lost to rot and their undone works decayed.
But not even understanding the tragedy of killing a fellow immortal does much to stop the killing. What it does do is affect those who do the killing and those who lose friends or loved ones to the war. There's a great line that says: "An immortal's grief and murder-guilt, left untended, will never fade." So, this war isn't just reducing the number of Awoken, it is doing great harm to those that are left behind. In part, the war continues because the war started. Grudges and feuds and the need for revenge become significant factors in the war's continuation.
At fifty years and counting, this Theodicy War shows no sign of ending. Alis Li is not some cruel ruler who demands that her side kill the other. If anything, this is a war that is breaking her heart, but is one where her influence is not nearly enough to get either side to stop. But... Alis knows someone who probably does have that kind of influence and power. And so, she sends one of her few VTOL aircraft to pluck Mara Sov from the mountain she lives on. The conversation that ensues, and the promises that are made, and the actions and ideas that end the Theodicy War are all very interesting...
...or they will be. Next time. :)
Bite-sized Backstory 43: Mara's Third Way
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sat, 5 Jan 2019
Queen Alis Li and the ever enigmatic Mara Sov stand together a kilometer off the ground on a wooden deck the Awoken have built to reach up to one of the Shipspire's airlocks. They are both watching a somber funeral ceremony taking place on the lake far below. Bodies of Awoken killed in the ongoing Theodicy War are being sent out into the lake and set ablaze while friends and loved ones sing songs of grief on the shoreline. For Alis Li, this ceremony is all the sadder because one of the 891 is among the dead, and because the one that killed her did so with a Matter Laser, a weapon that only Alis' own Paladins should have. It seems very possible that one of her most trusted warriors has defected to the Diasyrm.
Alis expresses her deep frustration to Mara. She says that things were not supposed to go this way. She explains that she still has the original Amrita Charter, and that it indicated they were to explore new worlds. That they were never supposed to lose their original bodies, or become gods, or gain new immortal bodies that shine with starlight. To Alis, this whole war is pointless and wrong and based on bad conclusions that should have never been possible to make. She's also saying that she never even should have had the power to make a world or decide on the form the Awoken would take.
Alis then all but accuses Mara of starting the war. She asks if Mara saw the Diasrym on her mountaintop and gave her the idea that the Awoken had been denied godhood. Mara responds that she did not have to provide that idea. In a half answer, Mara explains that Alis Li did that herself. That by being too honest and too open, Alis provided others with too much to use against her. Mara quotes one of Alis Li's old writings back at her as proof:
We were born when a great ship fell into a pearl of shattered space. I awoke first, and in my awakening I collapsed the potential of the void into a form I understood...
"Who can read that truth and not hear arrogance?" Mara asks. In part, Mara is saying that Alis should have kept her creation of the Awoken more secret to prevent a war of ideas like this from happening. But, also, unspoken but implied, is Mara's answer that yes, she helped start this war, but that she was not its only causes and that no, she did not personally instill the ideas that the Diasyrm used to start the war.
"Why do you love lies so much?" Alis asks Mara next.
"Not lies. Secrets." Mara answers. She explains that one truth can be seen many different ways. That those subtruths all fight for attention and often the most controversial and inflammatory subtruth, instead of the truest of those subtruths, wins the fight. Mara suggests that it is perhaps better to keep some secrets to prevent this war of subtruths.
Finally, Queen Alis Li asks the question she summoned Mara for. She asks what she will have to provide Mara for her and her mother's help in ending the war.
Mara smiles graciously and bows her head. "Nothing but a future boon."
Some time later, Osana, Mara's mother, and Uldren, her brother, enter the Diasyrm's camp. Osana has become a famed negotiator having settled many disputes over land and property. And Uldren's skill and beauty and the ever present eagle-crow on his shoulder make him just as famed in other ways.
Osana gives the Diasyrm's followers an offer:
"I come from Mara," said Osana, "whose heart has frozen in her chest. If you will end the killing, she will tell you any secret that you desire."
Uldren comes saying something else:
"Mara remembers how the Queen led us here out of chaos and saved us from the twin blindness of darkness and light. Mara knows what the Queen keeps secret. Mara has seen the strife in our souls, the clash from which we were made. We could not ever have been gods with this flaw in us! Rather, we were made from this schism. For as all life is born from energy gradient, as life in the World Before was born from the gradient between hot proton-rich ventwater and cold seawater, we were born of the shadowline at the edge of Light and Dark. We are tremors in that fault. Forever will that schism lead us.
These two ideas are both important, but they are aimed at accomplishing two very different things. Both are needed to end the Theodicy War.
Uldren's words are meant to undo the rage that the Eccaleists feel towards Alis Li for denying them godhood. In essence, Mara, through Uldren, is saying that the Awoken never had the chance for godhood. That their birth in the contest between Light and Darkness left them wonderfully but hopelessly flawed. It is that flaw that makes them as special as they are, but also that this flaw would have never let them be gods.
The Eccaleists take to this idea and spread it far and wide. Now, instead of Alis Li having gravely wronged them by taking it on herself to choose a physical life over godhood, they see that she only did what she could and what was necessary because godhood was not even an option. With their point of view shifted, there is no longer any reason for them to fight.
Osana's words were meant more specifically for the Diasyrm who is just as heartbroken over the war as Alis Li, but who also wanted to know the real truth. Osana meets with the Diasyrm in private and tells her that there is no simple weregild, no payment, that can make amends for the war, and that instead she would need to devote the rest of her immortality to serving life and enriching others.
We don't really know what the Diasyrm did after that, though. We do know that she craved the secret knowledge that Mara had promised, and that she went to Mara's mountaintop to obtain it. But then she vanished and:
If she was ever known again, it was not by the name Diasyrm.
And so, the war ends since the Eccaleists now have no leader and all the movement's followers now adhere to Mara's third way: That the Awoken were not destined for godhood, but also that the Awoken were not some cosmic gift free to simply learn and explore. Instead, they now believe that they are a beautiful but flawed creation meant for something more.
Two other interesting things happen immediately after the war:
First, Queen Alis Li leads the Awoken into a new age of peace and progress, but then she steps down as she still feels the guilt of the war.
Second, Mara has a very interesting meeting with her mother and brother in the woods near her mountain. Uldren has come into the forest to allow his latest eagle-crow to find its own place to die, and Osana has come along with him to confirm her suspicions about Mara's role in the Theodicy War. The three of them meet at a camp in the woods and Mara cooks for them as they talk.
On one level, Mara is happy to see her family again. She is so very proud of her brother for finally accepting that his prized hunting birds will each grow old and die while he remains the same. It has taken him a long time to do so.
On another level, Mara is guarded. Especially when Osana starts talking about Mara's role in the war. At one point she explains to Uldren why she tagged along. Uldren sorta again asks why Osana is even with them and Osana says:
It's your sister about to admit she's behind it all. Aren't you, Mara?
Hearing these exact set of words cause Mara to very nearly freeze up in shock. The key here is the two words "it all." Mara worries that her mother has figured out her deepest, darkest secret! But then, her mother continues, explaining to Uldren:
"The Eccaleists are her creation," her mother tells her brother. "The Diasyrm was her pawn. She allowed the Theodicy War because she was afraid we'd be too comfortable here—also so Queen Alis would need her help politically. Mara couldn't afford to be the most radical dissident. She had to seem moderate for her beliefs to thrive. Isn't that right, Mara?"
Mara again has to stay guarded, but this time she has to prevent herself from letting out a slumping sigh of relief that no, her mother has not somehow guessed her worst, most precious secret. That's not to say that Osana isn't correct in everything she said, she is, it's just that Mara has something much more important that she wishes to keep from her mother.
Uldren, though, senses all of this so he asks a critical question. He asks why Mara has descended from her mountain and decided to live in the woods like a hermit or heretic. He understood her love of charting the stars but doesn't understand why she stopped and came down.
Mara gives him the most direct answer she has given anyone in quite a while. Though, in her true fashion, it is not a direct answer but an answer designed to let him and only him know her true answer.
"I remember the day I was born," she says. "Do you, Brother?"
He does. He remembers himself being pulled apart as he chased after Mara on her 50km long tether far ahead of him and the Yang Liwei. And, in thinking back to their pasts before the Light and Darkness clashed around them, Uldren comes to realize exactly what it is that Mara is doing, and exactly what her deep, dark secret really is. And he hides it from even his mother.
Eventually, we will talk about Mara's secret directly. At some point in the future she will reveal it directly and fully to someone without hiding behind oblique mysteries. I will say, though, that the necessary information is already all there at this point if you'd like to guess.
As their meal ends, Mara stands and tell her family it's time for them all to go. She has new stars to chart, she says. And new heresies to tend to, she thinks. And, along the way, she hopes to help her brother find a new eagle-crow.
What has really happened here with the Theodicy War and with the new, interesting peace that Mara provoked, is that Mara has completed one step in a grand plan and now she is about to start on another. Mara knows very well that there is power in remove and safety from the belittling politics of temporal power, which reveal the mighty as unforgivably ordinary and petty. But this new step will require her to go to the city and live among the people she avoided for so long.
Oh, and charting stars really will play a big role in the next stage of Mara's plan.
Bite-sized Backstory 44: Sjur Eido
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Mon, 7 Jan 2019
In the years following Queen Alis Li's abdication, the position of Queen still existed, but it became a much more ceremonial role. Where Alis Li had ruled a large majority of the Awoken population, the role of Queen now shrinks to become little more than a guide for the Awoken's artistic and spiritual needs. In the place of a singular Queen, the Awoken people turn to a large group of scholars known as the Gensym Scribes. Officially, these scribes trace their lineage to Kelda Wadj, the Allteacher (who will come up again eventually), but really you should think of them more as a bunch of Asher Mirs each controlling her or his own little areas of interest. We are told that they are:
...scholars who sent their knights on mad quests to test the consistence of reality.
If you need any more proof that this group is maybe just a bit nuts (brilliant, but nuts) read their praise of the Distributary...
It is sweet-watered, and there are no poisons upon it. The temper of the climate is even. Great broad-pawed cats stalk the shallow glades, and brilliant blue flamingos promenade upon the flats. The air is thick and warm, suited for flight, and the wind tastes of forest. No dawn has ever been as glorious as the salt glade dawn, and no dusk has ever moved women to weep as deeply as sunset in the Chriseiads. Corsairs sport upon the open seas, and where they waylay freighters rather than each other, they give rumor and assistance to their prey in proportion to the quality of the chase. Beloved are the stories of young lads and lasses who leap across to the corsair ship for a life of adventure! Beloved also are the terraced farms of the Andalayas, mountains so mighty and so dense with radioactives that they subside year by year into the crust. Most beloved are the fissioneers, who vaulted us to power on a world without petrochemicals. May they forgive the many stories of horror we have told in their memory. May they in particular forgive the lurid stories of the molten lead reactor, and the twelve who were impaled to the ceiling by their control rods, and the Core That Stalked.
Yeah... Now, we know where Asher's rantings all throughout Destiny 2 came from. It's also amusing that the Io destination armor set that Asher gives out is called Gensym Knight armor. :)
So now, instead of a Queen, the Awoken now have a bunch of brilliant but egotistical scientists calling the shots. And, for the most part, the Gensym Scribes take on the Sanguine position that the Distributary and the Awoken themselves are a gift from the universe. It seems at least one of the two views that caused the Theodicy War is still around a good while after the war itself concluded.
But, the Gensym Scribes are not the only holdovers from the Theodicy War. Previously, we saw the Awoken learn that when both you and your enemy are effectively immortal, it is all too easy to hold onto past grievances. Now, in this new age of peace, we see this play itself out again when a tall, physically powerful Awoken woman enters the courts of one of the Gensym Scribes. This warrior is furious and grief stricken, and she is armed with a longbow so large that it can only be strung if she twines it around her body and uses her whole mass to bend it. She calls out:
I am Sjur Eido, and I accuse Mara of the ancient murder of my lady the Diasyrm. In my saddle, I have a weapon with only one death remaining. Take me to Mara, and I will deliver it.
The scribes are mortified. Sjur is one of former Queen Alis Li's Paladins. She is a legendary warrior from the old days and it is clear that she means business. But... well, Mara is Mara. A public feud between the two could kick off a new Awoken civil war, and that cannot be allowed. So, after consulting and debating with each other (the Awoken are now at a technological level at or near our modern day, so this debate is almost certainly accomplished by digital means) they decide to give Sjur Eido all the information they can about Mara's whereabouts and activities... which probably isn't a lot.
We come to learn that Mara and Uldren are out traveling the world. They've started talking to people and are collecting old rumors and portents. It seems likely that they aren't staying in one place long, and it's probably pretty tough to pin them down. Just as there are some Sanguine adherents left, there are also some who used to be Eccaleists. This group seem to think that Mara is gathering up information and favors in order to bring about a day of reckoning where the Awoken will finally be able to finally fulfill their ultimate purpose.
But then, after many decades of the Gensym Scribes running things, Queen Nguya Pin suddenly reverses course and makes moves to retake the power that the position of Queen once held. This isn't an out of the blue decision or a random power grab. Instead, it looks to be a political maneuver by someone else as the queen only does this after being visited by a mysterious woman who hides her identity behind a mask and under a hood. Nguya Pin doesn't just one day start giving commands as a spoiled tyrant. Instead, she shocks the Awoken world when she out and out declares that she is now an Eccaleists, and that she plans to lead the Awoken back to the stars so they can figure out exactly what kind of debt they owe for their salvation.
As mentioned above, the Awoken of this age have advanced to the at least to the point of having aircraft and nuclear reactors and ocean going vessels and modern cities. And coffee. Coffee is mentioned specifically. Now, thanks to Nguya Pin, a large portion of the Awoken people devote themselves to mastering the space age. The Queen mollifies the Gensym Scribes, whom she just usurped, by providing them with ample funding and her grand court facilities as a place of research and development. The previously bickering scribes delight at getting all the resources and recognition they could ever want. Soon, they are all working together towards the common goal of spaceflight.
This is an exciting new age for the Awoken. One where it feels like they are finally on a path to fulfilling their destiny... and then, Sjur Eido shows up at the Queen's court in secret. You see, Sjur realizes that out of all the Awoken on the Distributary, only Mara could convince Sanguine Queen Nguya Pin to become an Eccaleists. Over the next few days, Sjur determines that the true identity of the masked and hooded figure is, indeed, Mara Sov. Eventually Sjur finds Mara and follows her back to her laboratory intending to kill her. But, when she finally gets the chance, she doesn't attack.
Sjur is frozen as she watches, perhaps from some distance across a crowded room, as the timeless, elegant, knowledgeable, and beautiful Mara Sov works to perfect some sort of advanced sensor meant to detect gravity waves. Sjur struggles against herself. She carries with her centuries of anger and grief, but the person she was determined to kill is simply too regal and too awesomely splendid to murder. With her heart about to burst at the contradiction, Sjur throws down her Maltech laser in dramatic fashion to make her presence known and then issues a dangerous challenge:
Mara Sov! I cannot live while you live, but I cannot bear to kill you. I challenge you to a duel to the agony. I will fight your most beloved companion to the death and leave you forever maimed or else die in the attempt.
For some reason, Mara agrees to this challenge. Why? Well, we already know that she at least had some role in birthing the Eccaleists movement. We certainly know that she ended it. And while we don't know if she really did kill the Diasyrm or not, surely Mara feels a good deal of responsibility for the Theodicy War, even if it was a part of her plan. So, in her stead, Mara orders her brother Uldren to fight for her. And she does so without any sign of hesitation. We're told that there is a ruthlessness about Mara now that maybe she didn't possess before. Maybe because she is getting nearer to her goal and is not about to let anyone get in her way?
Uldren, being Uldren, gladly carries out his sister's wishes. And, in true melodramatic fashion, he responds to Sjur in this manner:
We cannot put it all upon a single fight. Too much would be left to chance. Such an old grudge deserves to be tested well. I propose we fight with blade, with rifle, and with fifth-generation air superiority fighters.
Heh. This mix of haughtiness and timelessness and out of left field advanced technology is almost the perfect encapsulation of the Awoken as a whole!
Sjur agrees to Uldren's terms, but before they can even prepare for their first match, the entire Distributary begins to figuratively fall apart!
Household turned against household, sister against brother, wife against wife. The whole world clenched her fists.
There's a bunch of things happening at once, all of them bad:
Finally, as the entire Awoken world holds it breath, Uldren Sov and Sjur Eido face each other. Depending on who wins, the Awoken might again crumble into civil war and Mara's might be forced to flee her homeward with her plans in ruins...
...so, of course, we'll cover the contest between these two champions next time.
Bite-sized Backstory 45: The Hunter and the Soldier
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sat, 19 Jan 2019
With the world watching, Uldren Sov and Sjur Eido take their places for their first potentially deadly contest. Somehow or other, it has been decided that their blade duel will take place near one of Queen Nguya Pin's nuclear reactors. The actual stage for this fight is to be a netting made of woody lianas vines woven into a sort of rope that is suspended some distance above a pool of heavy water that is likely being used as part of the reactor's fission or fusion process.
Uldren is dressed in a white armor chest piece on top of a black suit with tassels. I imagine it to be something between his "hunter armor" of Destiny 1 and his robes and poncho of Forsaken. Sjur, is said to be dressed in the contoured pressure armor of an Awoken paladin. Perhaps this is something similar to what the Awoken corsairs wear around the Vestian Outpost in D1?
Before they begin, Sjur pulls away the curtain from the viewing area that has been set up nearby and challenges Mara, asking if she is afraid.
"Are you afraid?" she whispered, half in hatred, half in admiration, all in awe. "Do you sweat? Does your breath come short?"
Mara pressed her hand to Sjur's faceplate and left no stain. She held Sjur's gauntlet to her heart so Sjur could feel her steady pulse and even breath. "You don't care about him?" Sjur pressed her. "It would mean nothing if I maimed him?"
"You ask the right questions," Mara said, "but of the wrong sibling."
I think this shows Mara's confidence in her brother. It also speaks to the way Uldren is willing to suffer any injury to keep his sister and her plans safe. One thing I wondered is if Mara would be willing to do the same. But really, that's a false question that places equal value on Mara and Uldren when they are not actual equals.
The battle begins and the two warriors dance about the wooded netting in the rapid steps and retreats classic to any good knife fight. Two are equally matched, or at least close enough to it that neither can win directly.
In order to try and force the issue, Uldren begins cutting away at sections of the netting. Sjur, in response, rushes Uldren more aggressively until finally both their plans come to fruition. Sjur slams into Uldren, and they both lose their footing and fall into the heavy water pool below. This first match is a tie.
(Just to note, heavy water is considered toxic because its heavier molecular weight does bad things to necessary bodily processes like cell division, but it is not radioactive and you could generally swim a pool of it with no ill effects as long as you didn't start drinking a lot of it.)
The next battle takes place in one of the Distributary's monsoon swept jungles. Instead of being a quick knife fight, this is a very long, drawn out battle fought with rifles, and stealth. Long, in this case, means that Uldren and Sjur stalk each other through the jungle over the course of six tense weeks. Remember, the entire Awoken world is still on edge, but day after day passes by with no word on a victor.
In this contest, one would think Uldren would have the clear advantage. He's the stealthier of the two. He's lived in the jungles for most of his time on the Distributary. He often uses birds of prey to help him in his hunts and in combat. But not only is Sjur not entire out of her element, the Eccaleists who she fought for in the Theodicy War had their camps outside the cities remember, she also understands the underlying natural systems of the jungle just as well as Uldren does. So, what this long, drawn out fight comes down to is who has the superior tactics. And, in this case, that turns out to be Sjur.
Where Uldren is at home in the jungle, and where he walks in silence and is careful not to leave any trail or trace, Sjur spends her time disturbing the animals and disrupting their habitats and killing the prey they usually feed on. Over time, the birds and predators that would have previously ignored Uldren's stealthy patrols or helped him identify Sjur's location now flee loudly from his presence or challenge him and force him away from the paths he knows best.
In the end, Sjur manages to pin Uldren against a lake and lands a shot on him as he attempts to cross it in order to get away from her. Sjur's shot might have even been deadly, but it sounds like she fired from an elevated position and her bullet impacted the water before hitting Uldren. Still, it's a victory, and she now leads the contest 2 to 1.
Between this contest and the next we perhaps see that Mara is not as cold and uncaring as she first appeared.
"Your life is at stake," Mara warned her brother. "Lose this final match, and you will—"
"Am I simple?" he snarled at her. The wound pained him terribly, but he would not risk more than a little analgesic. "Leave me my work, Sister, or you leave me nothing at all."
Uldren does not appreciate her meddling. I think he knows what he is doing and he want her to continue to trust him to do it.
The next contest takes place in the skies and is to be fought over long distances with advanced jet fighters. Sjur chooses a nimble fighter and outfits it with all-aspect, close range, heat seeking missiles. Uldren, however chooses a Dart, one of the Awoken's oldest, most primitive fighter jets. It is slow, has bad targeting, and can only be equipped with poor weapons. The key here though is that Uldren confirms with Sjur that they are allowed to equip their fighters with any weapon they ever sported while in active service.
Sjur Eido told him that one of the Gensym Scribes would provide the aircraft and requested weapons from her personal deterrent stockpile. "Very well," Uldren sniffed. "And we will have access to all the weapons these airframes can equip?"
"Of course," Sjur said. "Those we cannot obtain can be replaced by training simulators." She was certain Uldren's wound would cripple him.
The two expert pilots take off and check in with air controllers and finally turn to start this final fight some 100 kilometers apart. Sjur is sure she has already won. Her fighter is newer, move advanced, more nimble, and better armed. Plus, she isn't suffering from a painful gunshot wound. She knows that if she flies low above hills and treetops the primitive radar in Uldren's Dart might not even be able to properly detect her. But then, Uldren wins with nothing more than a call over their shared radio.
Fox three. Kill. Engagement over.
Sjur is not impressed. She is still in the air, flying towards him. Everything is fine. She think's he's trying to toy with her in some way... but then her instrument panel indicates that she has indeed lost this final match. Uldren's trick here is that he confirmed that they could use simulated weapons if the real versions were not available... and that the Awoken had long since dismantled all their nuclear weapons, including the unguided, air to air nuclear missiles that Darts once flew with back in their prime. Uldren nuked her and everything for kilometers around her with one of these simulated missiles! Sjur never even had a chance.
Back on the tarmac, Sjur throws herself on Mara's mercy. Her goal had been kill someone Mara loved and leave Mara as devastated as she had been when the Diasyrm had vanished, but instead she ended up tying Uldren 2 to 2 in the three round challenge that he lead her into. We're never told directly, but I suspect that maybe that was his or, rather, Mara's plan all along.
Mara does indeed show Sjur mercy:
"Rise, Sjur Eido," said Mara. "Let us take the stars together."
With Sjur at her side side, Mara now has another powerful warrior in her service, but, as we'll see next time, Sjur is worth a good deal more to Mara, both in a political sense, and in ways far more personal.
Bite-sized Backstory 46: Per Audacia Ad Astra
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Tue, 22 Jan 2019
In the years after Uldren's victory over Sjur, the Awoken have returned to working on their ambitious dream of space flight. And this time, instead of living on a distant mountain top or remaining hidden in the woods, Mara Sov is out in the open, at the forefront of it all. And Sjur and Uldren are there with her.
In Uldren, Mara had an enforcer who could win battles and put down opposition with his skill, his determination, and even with his good looks.
In Sjur, Mara gained two things:
As Mara watches the launch she has a curious thought as she considers the beauty and powerful of the rocket soaring into the sky:
The Awoken could have been angels. Instead, they are flesh.
That's pretty interesting considering Mara now leads the political movement that believes the Awoken could have never been gods.
Once the launch concludes, something else interesting happens. Queen Nguya Pin abdicates the throne. She's not stupid. She knows Mara has been the real leader of the Awoken for many many years. She went along with Mara for the sake of the Awoken people and the sake of the monarchy, but now she has had enough of Mara's manipulations. She basically tells Mara off and ends her little tirade with... not a threat exactly, but with the intention of getting to the bottom of why Mara has done all the things she has done.
I am going to find Alis Li, wherever she's gone, and ask her all my questions about you. I'm very interested to know the answers.
Mara, who can easily afford to be gracious, tells Nguya that she has been a wonderful queen, and that no one could replace her. At the same time, of course, Mara is already considering influencing things so that someone named Devna Tel will become the next queen. Devna Tel apparently is at odds with the Gensym Scribes, something that Mara still finds very useful.
Later, Mara meets up with Sjur and they fly off to some new destination to continue Mara's work. Here we learn that Mara is exceedingly lonely despite the fact that she is approaching the completion of another one of her long term goals. For instance, Mara can't help but think back to her mother who she probably has not seen in decades. Sjur notices Mara's forlorn expression, and at first attempts to console Mara, but she quickly changes the subject, knowing Mara well enough now to know that she will not talk about her feelings.
But this time, Mara does something unexpected. Instead of stewing alone in silence, she moves over and, with a glance, she makes room for Sjur to sit beside her.
"Don't say anything," Mara warns her. "Not a word." And so they pass the flight in silence, but not alone.
For the next thirty years, Mara and her followers listen to all the instruments Mara has had built on the ground and record massive amounts of data from all the satellites she has placed in the sky. The Awoken people know this. They know that Mara is studying and cataloging. Maybe there's even an announcement or discovery made every few years from the companies and scientists that Mara ultimately has control over, but for the most part, nothing is said, and the Awoken of the Distributary are left to wait and wonder until one day Mara schedules herself for a worldwide televised broadcast to detail her findings.
What Mara has found, really what she has always known but has now used science to prove, has drastic implications for the Awoken. It may, will, also have some major implications going forward past the main story of Forsaken. This is one of those pivotal moments in Destiny's lore that changes things forever, so instead of summarizing Mara's broadcast or commenting on it line by line, I'd like to present it to you all here in its entirety:
Mara looks into the camera and lets the fire in her eyes speak.
They are waiting on her, the Distributary's millions, her Awoken people. She has stoked their curiosity with thirty years of painstaking analysis. When they look up at the night sky, they see the stars of her observatories among the crowded bands of habitats, the spindly orbital factories, towering elevator counterweights, the burning roads of matter streams.
"Let me tell you of our world," she says.
There are the facts of tectonics and atmosphere, of water and climate: the parameters of the sun that feeds them. "No infants died last year. No child went unfed. No youth came of age illiterate, no one suffered illness who might have been treated. We have long surpassed the eutech gathered from Shipspire; yet we have grown carefully and cleanly. We have eluded pollution, eradicated plague, and chosen peace. No maltech weapon has been discharged in centuries. Our atomic weapons were dismantled before they could ever be used. We are our own triumph."
She has elected not to use graphics or theater. She would rather they remember her face.
"You know yourselves," she says. "Let me tell you of your cosmos. We live in a spatially infinite, isotropic universe 12.1 billion years old. Its metallicity is ideal for life and for the spread of technological civilizations. In time, the distance between all points in the universe will contract to zero, and the cosmos will collapse into a singularity, to be reborn in fire. There will be no end to eternity here."
She pauses. She waits. The whole world is out there, begging for the answer to the question.
"Our world is a gift. And we must refuse it."
They are Awoken. They love secrets. They will wait for her to explain.
"We have detected a pattern that was imprinted into our universe by its ancestor: a fingerprint of the initial conditions into which existence was born. From this information, we have confirmed the most primordial of Awoken myths. Our universe is a subset of another. We live within a singularity, a knot in space-time, that orbits a star in another world.
"Conventional relativity would suggest that time outside an event horizon passes quickly compared to a clock within, but our universe has a peculiar relationship with its mother. Thousands of years have passed for us on the Distributary. Outside? Centuries, at most. We are a swift eddy in a slow river.
"These ideas may not surprise you after centuries of theorizing and philosophy. But we have decrypted new data from the cosmic microwave and neutrino background signals. We have discovered voices... the voices of distress calls. They tell a story of bravery, of war, and of desperate loss.
"We were not always immortal. We did not earn this utopia by covenant with any cosmic power, or by attaining an enlightened moral condition. We are refugees. We fled from an apocalyptic clash between our ancestors' civilization and an invading power." She lowers her eyes. "The signals we have retrieved tell us that our ancestors were on the edge of defeat. Perhaps extinction."
"It is time that we accept our debt. The Distributary is a refuge, not a birthright; a base to rebuild our strength, not a garden to tend. I ask you, Awoken, to join me in the hardest and most worthy task a people has ever faced. We must leave our heaven, return to the world of our ancestors, and take up the works they abandoned. If some of them survive, we must offer aid. If they have enemies, we must share our strength. We must go back to the war we fled and face our enemies there."
She lets them dangle a moment before she drives it home. "We have also determined that our birthright, our immortality, is tied to the fundamental traits of this universe. Once we leave, we will begin to age again. In time, we will all die.
"Will you join me, Awoken? Will you answer my call? All I offer you is hardship and death. All I ask is everything you can offer. But you will see an older starlight. You will walk in a deeper dark than this world has ever known."
Out of all the Destiny lore there is, I think this piece come the closest to hitting on that latin phrase Bungie used back before and during Destiny 1. Per Audacia Ad Astra means, roughly, "Through Boldness To The Stars". Wow.
There are a couple of key things to consider here:
That's all for now. We're almost at the end of this part of the Awoken's history, but there's still a little more to go. Next time, Mara will have a long chat with Alis Li where she reveals to the former queen that one all important secret that she has been hiding.
Bite-sized Backstory 47: The Best Thing I Can Think to Be
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 27 Jan 2019
"You're the devil," Alis Li whispers. "I remember... in one of the old tongues, Mara means death."
"You realize," Alis Li says, breathing hard, "that this is the worst thing ever done. Worse than stealing a few thousand people from heaven. Worse than that thing we fled, before we were Awoken—"
The words above, spoken by Alis Li to Mara Sov, are completely serious. Not a single one is rhetorical or played up. Alis Li is as furious and as serious about them as she has been about anything in either of her two lives. But how did we get here? It must have taken something extremely extraordinary to provoke the normally staid first queen of the Awoken to lash out with such hatred. Let's rewind just a bit and find out.
Things have been moving rapidly forward since Mara's broadcast. Undoubtedly, all of Mara's teams and companies and hosts of engineers and experts are now hard at work on the technologies and ships needed to leave the Distributary and its pocket universe. Given how much Mara put in personally to the development of new technologies back before Sjur confronted her, it seems likely that she would be right there working along side them. But on this particular day, Mara has taken leave of her work and journeyed with Sjur out to the beautiful Pearl Groves that contain the Sanctuary of Former Queens.
...she looks out across mazes of channel and tidal pond to the compounds of ancient silver-white stone beyond. Two-ton oysters glitter in the shallows, their shells jeweled with mineral inclusions. Seabirds peck and fret along narrow white beaches.
They touch down some two kilometers from the retreat, and, after ignoring a warning from Uldren to not go alone, Mara walks that distance through the heat, dressed in black no less, with nothing but a small parasol to shield her from the sun. Up in the sky, Mara thinks she can just make out the glittering specks of her hulls, advanced starships...
built under eutech supervision to the specifications of radically post-conscious AI that will one day fly between worlds.
This is the first we've heard of AIs that did not originate in Humanity's Golden Age or the Eliksni in the form of their Servitors. I wonder if anything became of them... (There's a chance this question is actually playing out in Forsaken's Dreaming City right now... and its answer might be: "yes!")
Finally, after walking for quite a while, Mara reaches the place Alis Li has been living for the past several hundred years ever since she gave up the position of Queen. From its description, it sounds like it might be the structure Mara first woke up in a few thousand years before. Alis and Mara sit down for tea served from that same tea service that Captain Alice Li of the Yang Liwei once used to serve tea to Mara and her mother a very long time ago.
The two sit and drink their tea and converse. It's not a friendly conversation, really, but Mara and Alis are at least respectful of each other. As they talk, we learn that Mara did indeed get Devna Tel elected as the new Queen, but also that Queen Tel took that authority and then decided not to support Mara's expedition back to earth.
Alis kinda rubs this in Mara's face. She sorta mocks Mara by pretending to be surprised that Queen Tel doesn't want thousands of Awoken ripped away from their home on the Distributary.
Mara argues that she isn't ripping anyone away because all of her people are volunteers. In reply, Alis reminds Mara of what her mother told her during that meeting on the Yang Liwei way back then: "....that it is one thing for you to have a particular power over people, but another thing entirely to deny that you are using it."
Mara snipes back, quoting Alis' own words back at her:
"You once told me," Mara counters, "that I had to consider the symbol people made out of me, and that if it were good, then I had to be that symbol for them. I had to perform as they required. I have done so. I have been the best thing I can think to be."
Is this the best thing you could think to be?
For a while, the two drink in silence. Then, finally, Alis gets to the important matters. She first asks about the Diasyrm and the Theodicy War and demands to know if Mara arranged it all. Mara admits she nurtured the Eccaleist and made sure she always had a group of Awoken who were not satisfied with the heaven they lived in so that she would have people willing to follow her back. But Mara denies that she arranged it all. Which we're told is a lie.
Alis, growing more furious, wants to know why Mara is asking so many to sacrifice so much. She wants to know why Mara is asking these people to die for a home that was doomed. She wants to know why Mara wants to go back and try to save Earth when 891 members of the Yang Liwei's crew voted to abandon it. Alis reminds Mara of the Amrita charter and how it directed them to explore new worlds and how it was that same charter that Alis used to shape the creation of the Awoken and the Distributary.
Mara agrees, that the first one to awaken was the one who got to set the rules. This satisfies Alis for a moment. She sort of releases her anger and sits back in her chair and asks why Mara really came out to see her.
"To ask you for that boon you owe me." Mara says.
Alis knew this must be coming. Certainly she suspected Mara would call in her favor after her worldwide broadcast. Alis speculates aloud, saying she is sure that Mara has come to her to ask her to endorse the expedition to earth. It all makes sense to Alis. Devna Tel turned Mara down, but if Mara can get Alis' backing, the backing of the first Awoken queen, well that would be far more powerful that having the support of the Awoken's newest queen. All in all, Alis is sure this is just more political gamesmanship from Mara. Except, Mara says no. The real reason she has come to see Alis Li is something Alis probably never expected.
"The boon I ask is your forgiveness."
Then she explains the truth. She tells Alis Li what she did: about the choice Alis Li would have made, if Mara had not made her own first. It's only an extension of what Alis has already deduced.
When she's finished, her ancient captain's jaw trembles. Her hands shake. A keen slips between her clamped teeth. The oldest woman in the world conjures up all the grief she has ever felt, and still it is not enough to match Mara's crime.
"You're the devil," Alis Li whispers. "I remember... in one of the old tongues, Mara means death. Oh, that's too perfect. That's too much."
She laughs for a while. Mara closes her eyes and waits.
"You realize," Alis Li says, breathing hard, "that this is the worst thing ever done. Worse than stealing a few thousand people from heaven. Worse than that thing we fled, before we were Awoken—"
"Please," Mara begs. "Please don't say that."
There it is! There is Mara's biggest darkest secret? Did you catch it? I'll highlight it again for you:
She tells Alis Li what she did: about the choice Alis Li would have made, if Mara had not made her own first.
Alis Li has lived for thousands of years thinking she was the first Awoken. She remembers defining her own name and her own existence. She remembers creating the Distributary and restoring herself to a physical body. She remembers being there when she pulled Mara back from the void. But now Mara is telling Alis that yes, she did make those choices. She did all of those things, but that she was only able to make those choices because Mara made her own choices first. That in reality, Mara was the first Awoken, and that she kept that fact secret from everyone, including Alis.
We've been leading up to this for a while. Think back to the times Mara has protected or revealed some important, unspoken secret:
So, what exactly is Mara asking forgiveness for? Well, now we know that it was Mara who set the very initial ground rules of existence for everyone, including Alis Li. She set it up so that Alis Li would remember the Amrita Charter and create a world and a people to the best of her ability. But, knowing that a creator who stole godhood away from the Awoken would be seen as evil by many, Mara hid that knowledge from everyone and instead arranged it so that Alis Li would be the one to take the blame. Mara manipulated Alis so that everyone, even Alis herself, believed that Alis was the one who allowed suffering and death into their perfect world. Mara even arranged a war among her peaceful planet of immortals to further her own agenda and she again set Alis up as the one to take the blame.
Maybe, in the end, it turns out that Mara did all this to help save Humanity and fight The Darkness, but what she did to Alis Li is one hell of a thing to ask forgiveness for. And, maybe rightly so, Alis does not forgive Mara. Not in the slightest!
Alis Li rises from her chair. "I'll support your fleet," she says. "I'll use every favor and connection I have to get your Hulls completed and through the gateway—and I will do it so that I can hasten your departure from this world. I will do it out of hate for you; I will do it so that every good and great thing we achieve here will ever after be denied to you, you snake. No forgiveness. Do you understand me? It is unforgivable. Go. Go!"
"I'd be very glad if you didn't tell my mother," Mara says.
Alis Li hurls the pitcher of blackberry tea over Mara, turns, and goes inside, leaving her to trudge, wet and sticky but unbowed, back to her ship. She leaves her tea-stained parasol on the deck, but when she remembers it and looks back, it is already gone.
So now there are two people who know Mara's secret. Her brother Uldren, and her sort of rival, former queen Alis Li. Uldren accepted the secret and its implications but has such faith in his sister that he buried it away from everyone. Alis Li called Mara the devil and promised to do everything in her power to send Mara far away where she will die.
But what about Sjur? She doesn't know. And she is someone who switched sides during the Theodicy War because she believed punishing Alis Li for denying the Awoken their godhood was more important than any other loyalty or responsibility she had to her Queen or her people. She fought and killed and was prepared to murder Mara or Uldren all for that belief. What will she do if she ever learns Mara's secret?
The answer is actually out there. We'll explore it eventually, but next time, we'll close out this first book of Awoken history and get a hint at what's to come.
Bite-sized Backstory 48: Departure
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sat, 1 Jun 2019
When we next see Mara Sov, she is far from former Queen Alis Li's retreat and far above the perfect Awoken world that has been her home for the past several thousand years. Mara, and all that have chosen to take up her call to return to earth, are aboard the massive starships Mara spent millennia working towards.
Embedded in her sensorium, all Mara has to do is think and the systems built into all the ships in her fleet respond to her whims. With nothing but a thought of the banyan trees far below her, Mara opens a channel to the rest of the fleet and starts a final systems check. This plays out much like our rocket launches of today, where Mara as the Flight Controller queries each team leader and gets a go or no go from them. FIDO (Flight Dynamics Officer), Guidance, INCO (Integrated Communications Officer), GEOD (ground tracking?), BIO (life support systems?), Sensors, and Weapons all report go for launch.
With everything ready, Mara takes one last look at the perfect world she is leading her people away from. Through the virtual, all encompassing point of view that the sensors and cameras of her sensorium provide her, Mara gazes back at the Distributary:
There it is. The world of her rebirth, shining water-blue and beautiful, wrapped like a gyroscope in its twin rings. World of laughing Corsairs, world of breathless forest hunts, world of mountains flickering with pale Cherenkov fire, world of sweet berry-stained lips and mathematical insight pure as a rhodium chime. She will never see it again.
And then, Mara thinks of her mother, and we learn that Osana decided not to go with her daughter on this new journey. For a moment, Mara finds herself caught up in the memory of the night her mother told her.
The two had shared a late night of drinks and conversation at Osana's ranch, but as the sun began to come up, Mara's mother broke the bad news. To Mara, it was like a nightmare come true. She never really considered carrying out her plan without her mother somewhere close by. When Mara asks why, her mother replies that Uldren isn't speaking to her anymore.
"Because I already told him I wasn't coming with you. I'm happy here."
"Mom," Mara says, with rising anger, "I'm happy here too. That's not the point—" A conversation that did not so much end as beat itself to an unsustainable emotional pulp, hours later. No catharsis. No closure.
And so, after what seems to have been a long, painful argument, Mara and her mother are left hanging and disconnected from one another as Mara sets off to fulfill her plan.
Back in the present, Sjur's urgent voice comes over the comms.
"Flight, Sensor," Sjur Eido calls. "I have anomalous starfield occlusions, bearing—"
"Intercept!" Mara shouts. "They're missiles!" It had to happen. Someone had to try to stop the departure, someone good and Paladin-pure who believes they are saving tens of thousands of Awoken from madness and doom.
Uldren, who is in charge of the fleet's weapons warns Mara that they won't be able to shoot down all the missiles. This forces Mara to make a painful choice. She orders Uldren to redirect their defensive fire to target the missiles aimed at the gateway that will take their ships back to our normal universe. It means that they will lose ship and hundreds if not thousands of brave Awoken who volunteered to go Mara's mission, but it is either that or have the gateway destroyed and the mission stopped before it can even start.
With her next thought, Mara sends a command to the fleet ordering all of her ships to abort from the planned countdown and skip directly to launch. Mara's fleet strains as it accelerates towards the gateway they built above the Distributary. Some of the ship are hit, damaged, maybe even destroyed, but the gateway remains undamaged by the attack.
We don't get to see the implications or consequences of this new wave of Awoken on Awoken violence. Someone decided to attack Mara Sov, the most powerful figure in Awoken society. They killed hundreds of their own kind and I can only imagine what sorts of justifications and accusations will play out back on the Distributary once Mara is gone. Maybe this attack is smoothed over and the Awoken in their pocket universe go on about their peaceful lives? Or, maybe this violent act shatters Awoken society once more and the Distributary descends into a new civil war? We just don't know.
Back on her ship, Mara braces against the hard acceleration. Her final thoughts, before her ship reenters the singularity that brought her to this strange hidden dimension, center on her mother. In response, her sensorium tries to open a channel to Osana, and the last thing Mara sees is the error:
No connection. No connection. No connection. Cannot connect to Osana.
And with that, Mara Sov and her Awoken are on their way back to our universe and our solar system. We'll catch back up with Mara, her brother Uldren, and the rest of her Awoken very soon in:
Bite-sized Backstory 49: The Long Unquiet Night
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sat, 8 Jun 2019
The transit through the portal back to our normal universe all but trashes the specialized ships Mara and her Awoken had designed for the voyage. The advanced materials making up their ships' hulls were stretched, and warped, and torn away by the passage through the micro singularity, not to mention the five ships that had suffered missile impacts and still survived the journey. Perhaps even worse, transitioning between realities devastated many of the Awoken's electronics. From AI's Mara's Awoken made it back to our solar system, yes, but they did not arrive with a powerful post-Golden Age fleet. Instead, they limped to our asteroid belt in search of resources and shelter.
The first ship they find is an old, Golden Age, AI controlled "habitat tender". That is, it's a forest ship! During our Golden Age, this ship went out, snagged a comet, then built a domed forest on its surface. It would have been the perfect starting point for the Awoken if its forest had not caught fire some time before. Still, the ship had reactor power and gravity and was even continuing to support life in the form of insects and rats. I love this section because it is a reference back to one of the more cryptic original Destiny 1 Grimoire Cards "Ghost Fragment: Awoken".
Soon, Uldren's scouting flights find a large collection, a Reef, of other ships that had tried to congregate together for survival during the Collapse. Mara orders that they strip what remained of the Awoken's battered Hulls in order to fix up this reef of still partially functional ghost ships. Once they restore gravity and power, the Awoken will be able to start building habitats and industry and start having children. Remember, the Awoken in our solar system number in the tens of thousands at most, and have no warships and few weapons. They do have some powerful personal and ship-based maltech weapons from the Distributary, but most of those are far to powerful to be used within the confines of delicate starships adrift in space.
Mara, being Mara, is serious about the whole thing, but Sjur is giddy. She's already thinking about forging bladed weapons since they don't have the spare resources to build firearms, and she is considering how to get ship to ship communications and sensors up and running without any spare fuel to launch satellites. It's then that she starts talking excitedly about launching things into orbit around their ships and asteroids and even the sun without using rockets or explosives.
Amusingly, Sjur's excitement is contagious and even gets Mara into the spirit of things. Even with serious work to be done, Mara can't help but think of the sight of her partner straining mightily against her bow and launching communication satellites off the surface of their ships. Sjur is having the same thoughts:
I'll be the first woman in the universe to place a comsat in heliocentric orbit with a longbow.
"You're absurd," Mara tells her, but even she is looking forward to exploring and rebuilding this new Reef with Sjur at her side. Somehow, even though Mara is outwardly calm, Sjur picks up on and comments on her excitement. Normally, this would just be a sign of two people knowing each other very well and picking up on subtle signs, but Mara responds with an odd question:
Sjur, can you hear what I'm thinking?
At first, Sjur begins to deny it. As special as the Awoken are, and as close as she and Mara have become, they cannot read each other's minds... but then, Sjur gasps mid-sentence and scolds Mara playfully for something that Mara apparently just thought at her. One can only imagine what could cause that sort of reaction in Sjur.
As the Awoken start the long work of making the Reef habitable, they also begin experiencing strange, almost life-like visions. Faces and images of people they know or knew appear to them as they work and as they sleep. Some of these seem so real that they even drape shrouds over their statues to prevent the real, physical works of art from being mistaken for visions. All the Awoken feel a strange new hum of energy in their bodies, as if they are connected to something new and different than they were before. And many of these vision concern Mara.
Around this time, two amazing discoveries are brought to Mara's attention:
The first comes from Kelda Wadj, the head of Mara's Techeuns. "We're all a bit magic now," she tells Mara. She and her fellow thinkers and scientists have found evidence that the Awoken now have a small but measurable amount of acausal power. This limited ability for the Awoken to violate the laws of physics seems to be tied to their thoughts and emotions. This slight acausality will eventually be the reason that the Awoken persist and remember each cycle of the Dreaming City when a normal human or alien would have been reset each time the city goes through its loops.
As usual, Mara seems to have some greater insight to this new power, but she says very little about it. Mara briefly mentions that this magic likely comes from the Traveler and possibly the Darkness or the mixing of the two, but she keeps whatever else she knows to herself. Kelda Wadj is more interested in how they will classify this new magic. Do they try to describe it in terms of physics? Do they just accept that it is space magic? But if this power can be influenced by thoughts, how exactly does one teach it or explain it? Kelda is like a scholar trying to decide how to explain the newest mystery they have fund.
At one point during their conversation, Kelda Wadj calls Mara "your majesty" to which Mara recoils. Mara says that she doesn't wish to be called that. She insist that the Awoken are now part of a democracy. Sjur, Kelda Wadj, and the others around her all roll their eyes. After all, it was Mara's multi-thousand year plan of cunning and ruthlessness and compassion that brought them all back to our solar system.But Mara still seems to seriously want to treat her fellow Awoken as equals. This will have some serious, disastrous implications within days or weeks. But first, the other amazing discovery barges into the room in the form of Mara's brother.
Uldren has just returned from a scouting mission to Earth, and shockingly, he has a serious slash wound across he neck! But this is Uldren we're talking about. Stubborn and adventurous. He's holding a makeshift bandage of cytogel to his bleeding neck while grinning an excited grin.
"Aliens!" he rasped. "I found aliens, and one of them cut my throat!"
Bite-sized Backstory 50: The Plight of Earth
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Fri, 14 Jun 2019
All night, following Uldren's return, Mara isolated herself from her brother. From her advisors. From even Sjur. What Uldren's scouting mission had discovered was both inspiring and devastating, and it left Mara with a weighty decision to make. By morning, Mara had made up her mind, but now she had to tell her people. And it wasn't going to be easy.
Mara called together the elected representatives of her people to the Sacred Fire, one of the largest ships they had salvaged from the Golden Age reef. Set up in a large room with a holo projector, Mara and her brother present what they have found.
"We've found Humanity," she tells them. "We've found our ancestors."
Uldren snaps his fingers and a holographic recording from his ship lights up the room. The disorienting view plunges down through the clouds then skims the terrain until it comes across the beginnings of The City and, above it, the battered remains of the Traveler. The Awoken in the room gasp and marvel. This is something out of their fairy tale storybooks, out of their ancient history they weren't complete sure was real. And now it is real. But, for Mara, this thrilling scene is dangerous. She knows what her people will want to do, and she knows what she will have to tell them.
One of the Awoken in the gathered crowd, the historian Sila, voices that danger:
"What are we waiting for?" she calls. "That's everything we came to find! They need us, and that's where we belong!"
With a look from his sister, Uldren continues the playback from his fighter's cameras. From somewhere nearby, the trees rumble and a red-brown aircraft shaped like a fat, wingless, furiously angry dragonfly bursts from cover and climbs to intercept. It launches a swarm of missiles at Uldren and he has to pull a tight, high-g turn to evade.
"Those are Fallen," Uldren says. "They're a species of interstellar scavengers and subsistence pirates. They've been here for a long time, and they've sacked most of the large settlements that survived the original fall of Humanity. There may be more Fallen than there are Humans left on Earth." He lifts his chin to bare the pale scar across his throat. "I landed and went looking for prisoners. I was ready when he pulled two knives on me, but it turned out he had an extra set of arms."
Mara steps in to further emphasize the point. Not only are there likely more Fallen in the solar system than there are Humans, they aren't the only threat. Mara tells her people about the Cabal occupying Mars and about Mercury lost the to Vex, an enemy that Humanity had encountered back during its Golden Age.
Elisa speaks up again:
"So they need our help, don't they? We have to go to them! Our ships, our technology—we could make all the difference."
Now comes the part Mara struggled with. The part she had been dreading the previous night. She stands there and tells Elisa and the rest of her people "no." Mara explains to them that while it's true they could provide some assistance, that doing so would leave them vulnerable. It would allow the Fallen to track their ships back to the Reef. It would see their expedition destroyed before they could really accomplish their goal to save Humanity.
Elisa responds from the crowd once more:
"Mara, with all my respect, all my genuine gratitude for bringing us here," Esila sighs, "who died and made you Queen?"
Although she doesn't speak it, Mara knows the answer to that question. All of them died and made her queen. But, remember last time? Mara is not trying to be a queen to her Awoken. She is treating them like equals. She and her brother right now are standing before a crowd of elected representatives. And, right now, those representatives and the public opinion they represent are all trending against Mara.
After the conclusion of the gathering, Mara meets with her brother and Sjur in private. Sjur is busy patching up more of the wounds Uldren suffered during his scouting mission. She and Mara hold a conversation as she does so. Things are bad, Sjur confirms. Almost a full third of the Awoken have indicated they want to split off from the Reef and head to earth. And worse, among the highly influential Awoken that hail back to the 891 who were reborn remembering their past, that number rises to almost 80%.
What this all means is that Mara has a significant political problem. Maybe her first in the thousands of years that have passed since she awoke on the Distributary. If a third of her people split away, it will leave the Reef with a shortage of technical skills and will diminish their somewhat fragile gene pool. That alone would do great harm to Mara's mission. If, in heading to earth, her people alert the Fallen to their location, it could destroy everything. Sjur, certainly thinks that it will.
"I know," Sjur says, heavily. "That's when I'm going to die."
Mara, of course, declares that unacceptable, but Sjur figures her death is inevitable. And she predicts that it will be when the Fallen soon come for them. After all, she is the Queen's body guard. If she is going to die at all, it will be in a moment of great heroism. Mara objects, reminding Sjur that she has not taken the position of queen. But, to Sjur, Mara denying her own position is part of what is causing her so many political problems in the first place. And Sjur says so.
We don't get a real response from Mara on that political point, but to Sjur Mara responds:
You won't die. I won't allow it.
Bite-sized Backstory 51: The Mutiny
Originally posted on the DBO Forum, Sun, 23 Jun 2019
The Awoken's political troubles have finally come to a head. Those Awoken that had been threatening to leave in order help the people of earth actually carry out their threats. Despite the best efforts of Mara and Sjur, the first ship of those who wish to break away manages to depart the reef. Mara even tries to send a shutdown command to the ship in a similar way she had absolute control over the Hulls that took her people away from the Distributary, only to find out that it will not respond to her commands. It is one from Humanity's golden age, not one based on the Hulls Mara's people brought from the Distributary so her overrides have no power over it.
Once the first ship breaks away, Mara recognizes that the worst that can happen has happened, and that trying to prevent the other ships from leaving will just cause unnecessary deaths. So, Mara orders Sjur to broadcast to the other rioters that they will be allowed to leave peacefully as long as they go now. Again, we see some of the special magic possessed by the Awoken and by Mara in particular. Sjur replies that there is no need to tell them because she and all the rest of the Awoken heard Mara's proclamation directly!
We take a little look ahead here, a little extended look at what these Awoken accomplish after the split away from Mara's group. We're told that they go down to the earth with a level of technology and knowledge that save thousands of lives even in just the first year. These Awoken are seen almost like angels with their glowing skin and impossible tech and strong desire to help. For the first time in years or decades, the people of Earth are able to look up into the stars and know that there's more than just doom up there. Over the next few centuries these Awoken integrate into what's left of human society and over time their attachment to the Distributary and the Reef and Mara fade. But, we're told they always have a little connection to Mara, some little tie that they can still feel. I think there's still a bit of Awoken magic linking them back to Mara Sov.
This split of Mara's Awoken into two peoples has some immediate implications for the Reef. For one, Mara finally listens to the advice and criticism everyone around her has been dumping on her. She stops trying to treat her people as equals and finally takes her place as the Queen of the Awoken. Following the example set by Alis Li so many thousands of years ago, Mara designates the Techeuns, a group of scientists and thinkers, to explore the mysteries of the universe, and a group of Paladins who will lead the Awoken's security and defense.
And then the Fallen attack! A single Ketch spotted the earthbound Awoken and tracked their course back to the asteroid belt. The Reef spots the large warship coming and makes it's power known by gutting it in an instant using some of their limited supply of weapons they brought from the Distributary. But, it turns out that the Fallen are just a bit smarter than that. The Ketch didn't just fly in confident of a sure victory. Instead, its Baron pre-deployed all his dropships so even though his ketch is destroyed in an instant, his attack force is still largely intact.
Mara, freshly crowned Queen that morning, takes to the personal defense of her people. We're told that Sjur is encased in a full combat suit, but that Mara fights in the open. She knows that her people need to be able to spot her and be able to see her vulnerable so that they will rally to her side. And it works. With Sjur handling the larger threats, and Mara serving as a rallying force, and Uldren watching his sister's back, the Awoken of the Reef once again put aside their differences and come together as a people.
While Mara and her brother are busy inside, Sjur is busy outside engaging the Fallen Baron and his forces in zero-g combat near the exterior of the Sacred Fire. The Fallen had attached a Spider Tank to Awoken's largest habitat ship and it was up to Sjur to stop them. I'd love to see this scene rendered by cutscene studio Blur or someone. Sjur and a large Fallen Baron leaping among asteroids and debris. The Baron and his spider tank trying to pin Sjur down. Sjur finally ending the Baron with a single well aimed arrow through the throat. But, even with the Baron dead, Sjur still has to stop the tank from destroying the Sacred Fire.
It's here that Sjur knows she is going to die. Remember, she told Mara that her death would be doing something incontrovertibly heroic. Her only chance to save thousands of her sisters and brothers is to hastily place an explosive charge down the tank's main gun. When it fires next, it will detonate in a devastating backfire that Sjur knows she will be unable to get clear of. And it does. And Sjur is engulfed in the blast. And Sjur is... not killed. She's not even harmed! How is that possible?!
Earlier, before the Fallen attack, before Mara became Queen, her lead researcher had revealed more about the research they have been doing into the Awoken's special form of magic. Not only can every Awoken subtly affect outcomes, Mara herself seems to be the source and concentration of that power. And those subtle effects seen in other Awoken are massively increased for Mara. Simulations show that Mara's subtle magic is so powerful that even things like weapons and bombs don't work properly around her. The fundamental physics that would normally control a trigger mechanism of a gun or bomb are literally thousands of times less likely to function correctly if triggered near Mara Sov.
This is what saved Sjur. Mara focused her power and instead of dying, Sjur is thrown safely clear of the blast. As Sjur wonders what happened she see's Mara's face projected into her mind and she knows who saved her.
Next time, we'll look at some of the more obscure connection to past Destiny lore and reach the end of the Reef's beginning.
Bite-sized Backstory 52: A Power Unknown
Originally posted on Ragashingo.com, Mon, 3 Feb 2020
Once the dust settled and the fires of the Fallen attack were put out, Mara takes stock of her Awoken. One in three of them are gone, either killed in the Fallen's attack or else they left and have gone to try and aid the Humans on earth.
For the Awoken that remain on their ships with Mara near the large asteroid Vesta, new work begins. As Mara says to Uldren,
...never again can I allow my people to be divided. We must offer them more than shielding ice and cold habitat cylinders and the warrens of Vesta. We must make a culture, a thread that binds us all in pride and wonder at the mystery of ourselves. Nowhere does culture flourish better than in a city.
But do the Awoken have the population or spare resources to build a city? Perhaps not. Even before the mutiny, Mara was insistent that the Awoken's first goals were to restart their industry and grow their population. Now, with a third of her people gone and their fleet even more smashed by the Fallen attack, the Mara's Awoken are stuck in a venerable position. Uldren is quick to voice this, nothing that gathering in one place, like a city, will just make them a target.
That when Mara gives one of her most fateful orders of all time. An order that will lead to her own death and the death of her brother. An order that will trap her Awoken in an endlessly repeating cycle of heartbreak and carnage. An order that we still have not yet seen all the implications of. She says:
Go forth and find me a power unknown to all the other powers of this world. Return it to me, and I shall make of it the cornerstone of my new city, where the Awoken shall dream of all they have been and all that is yet to come.
Uldren does so, and when he returns, he has with him a tiny lizard-like creature barely bigger than his hand. He say to his sister:
Behold, Sister, the lie that makes itself true. This is an Ahamkara.
The Awoken continue on from this point. They build a great network of cities and stations spread among the asteroid belt. At Mara's command, they put themselves in harms way not once, but twice, in order to save Humanity. And, of course, Mara Sov, Uldren Sov, Sjur Eido, Petra Venj, and Mara's Techeuns continue all the way up to Destiny's present day.
There are still some great stories to tell about the Awoken, but next I'd like to tell perhaps the greatest Destiny story of all. Next I'd like to lead you through the great twists and turns of The Last Word.
Bite-sized Backstory 53: Child of Light
Originally posted on Ragashingo.com, Tue, 4 Feb 2020
Destiny has a lot of lore. There are so many good stories that you can pursue and so many different types to read. Sci-fi, drama, epic fantasy, political intrigue, you can find all these and more, you just gotta pull on the right thread. But one of my favorite stories, and one of Destiny's oldest and longest, has all of the above. I want to tell you the story of The Last Word, an iconic exotic hand cannon that itself has been a huge part of Destiny's gameplay and was, at least at one point, at the top of Destiny's multiplayer meta game. The story of The Last Word begins with a ravaged Earth and a new wave of alien invaders.
In the Dark Age, that time period after the Darkness was driven away by the Traveler but before The City was well and truly established by the victory at the Battle of Six Fronts, much of Humanity was spread across the remains of our world. Some cities, like London, apparently survived the Collapse. Probably they weren't well off, but they were still places people could live. Then the Eliksni came. These "Fallen" aliens were fleeing their own equivalent of our Collapse. They too had barely survived an encounter with The Darkness. They were beaten and bloodied and desperate from decades or centuries of fleeing from their homeworlds all the way to our star system. They were looking for the Traveler which had abandoned them and they were looking for any advantage they could give themselves. No matter the cost. Sentient lives? Plundering the ruins of a civilization in need? The Fallen were far too desperate to give such concerns any attention. We even have some references and reports saying that the Fallen would eat humans when food ran short!
What was left of Humanity was furthered scattered by the Fallen. Cities like London fell to an enemy that still had ready access to starships and high technology. Smaller towns lived in fear, and were often forced to run for their lives when the Fallen found them. But, over time, Ghosts began searching the world for their Guardians. As decades passed, Ghost who had yet to find their Guardians took it upon themselves to help the pockets of humanity they could. A Ghost can fabricate. It can scout. It can deliver food to the hungry. We find one such Ghost assisting a small group of humans on the run.
When this group first sees this Ghost they are wary. To them, it is another alien. But, in time, they come to see it as a helper. They name the Ghost Ti?nsh?, which is Mandarin for Heaven's Messenger. Some even think the Ghost is an actual angel! The Ghost is quick to deny this, but it keeps the name, nonetheless. Along with this small group of Humans, living presumably somewhere in or near China, is a single very young child. The child's mother and father, and the groups as a whole, did their best to care for this baby despite the tough times they found themselves in. And the baby? It had a fascination with the Ghost. After gaining their trust, Ti?nsh? began the long task of leading the group in the directon of the The City, but one day, while hiding in a cave in order to avoid a Fallen Skiff, the worst happened. The group, some thirty strong, had lost two thirds of its members in a recent Fallen attack. And then they lost one more. We not told if the baby was sick, or malnourished, or injured, but it died there in that cave in his mother's arms.
Ti?nsh?, who was outside keeping lookout, heard the mother's and father's cries and turned back and saw something new. This Ghost had been sad for a long time. It had given up fining its Guardian and had turned to help this struggling group of Humans in an effort to do at least some small amount of good. This Ghost had never seen even a hint of the Light it was looking for... until now. Back in the cave, held tightly in the grieving mother's arms, was the Spark Ti?nsh? had never been able to find! This makes sense. Ghost only revive the dead. This child could have been the Ghost's companion all this time but the Ti?nsh? would never have known it.
The Ghost approaches, but hesitates at first. Ti?nsh? wonders what kind of life it will be imposing on a child that was not even old enough to talk. But, quickly, Ti?nsh? remembers that its true purpose is to deliver hope, and almost as a reflex it ignites the dead child's Light. The baby that was lifeless moments before begins crying once more stunning the eight others huddling in the cave. Ti?nsh? is proud of what it did, but the small... enormous... act of reviving the child is not something that will save this group of humans. Not all of them.
Just a few months later Ti?nsh?'s group is on the run from the Fallen again. They'd been spotted and soon they were chased down and began to take losses. The reborn child's mother is killed. Then his father. We're told this group had developed a bond tighter than that of a family after having shared so many close encounters, so as a matter of course, others in the group pick up the child as they continue to flee. Ti?nsh? flees with them, but it soon makes a choice. It is all but programmed to protect the child any way it can, so, when there is no other option, Ti?nsh? veers away from the group it had been guiding the last few months and makes itself a target. It successfully leads the Fallen away, but is unable to escape them. Ti?nsh? notes in its final transmission that by this point the Fallen have long learned that killing a Ghost can save many, many of their own lives in the future, so they hunt Ti?nsh? relentlessly!
In Ti?nsh? last moments, it notes that no matter what happens the child will be safe. That he has been adopted by a brave but careful man and woman who will look after him. Ti?nsh? final message, apparently picked up and archived by some other Ghost nearby, is joyous and heartbreaking:
I am not sorry for the choice I made. The child gave hope, though fleeting. What comes next for him is unknown. But there is promise in him, should he find sanctuary. Should he find guidance.
This is not a confession. This is my hope. This is my—
The next time we see this child he is now a boy named Shin Malphur who survived that fateful encounter with the Fallen and who has grown up in a small settlement called Palamon. It's there that he meets two men, one Light, one Dark, who change the destiny of his life.
The story of The Last Word is tied to these two men at least as much as it is tied to Shin. To understand this story we need to take a look at both of these men. So that's what we'll do next time.
Bite-sized Backstory 54: Jaren Ward
Originally posted on Ragashingo.com, Sat, 8 Feb 2020
Even though he is the gun's original owner, Jaren Ward is really just a minor character in the story of The Last Word. He came to the town of Palamon nestled in the snowy, tree covered mountains one day like a heroic gunslinger out of an old western. He walks in from the south and everyone stares but no one talks. That is, until someone we recognize, Shin Malphur, the child of light, now a growing boy, breaks free of his adopted father and races out into the street to greet the newcomer.
Jaren is described as a Hunter that wears a racing helmet with thick tinted visor. So, shift your mind from straight western, to something with a little more sci-fi. He silently greets this kid that ran out to him, but also knows there's something special about him. Shin, for his part, looks Jaren over in awe, but his gaze is soon fixed upon Jaren's golden hand cannon. Jaren notices this and instead of chastising the boy or driving him away, he leans down and holds out his gun for this kid to inspect and hold. This is the first time Shin Malphur ever gets to hold The Last Word.
No one really moves after that. You have this sorta high tech western gunslinger with a Ghost floating over his shoulder standing in the street. You have towns people all crowded around waiting for something to happen. You have a young boy in awe, holding a very special gun for the first time. But they're all waiting on someone. On Magistrate Loken. Loken is someone who started like all the other people who founded Palamon. He started out as the town's overseer. He was someone who helped enforce the rules they'd all agreed on. But, over time, Loken became stricter. He began to enforce his will over everyone instead of just maintaining order. We're told he lost people, but unlike most others, unlike Shin who barely remembers his parents and a small spark of Light that he tries not to dwell on, Loken's losses eventually broke him.
As Loken grew more and more dictatorial people left. Palamon shrank. Soon, its people lived under one man's rule... Loken's rule... until Jaren Ward shows up. I don't think we see Jaren and Loken's first meeting, but we do catch up with Jaren Ward after he has done something to set Loken off. I'd like to think Jaren Ward took a few days to understand the situation in Palamon then decided to change it. In response, Loken sends nine men to surround Jaren in a courtyard and then he comes to confront the Hunter himself.
Loken does the classic villain thing. He struts and taunts and threatens Jaren all while Jaren just stands there calmly with his hands on his belt. The exchange ends like this (as recounted by Shin):
"This is our town! My town!" Loken was shouting now. He was going to make a show of Jaren - teach the people of Palamon a lesson in obedience.
Jaren spoke: clear, calm. "Not anymore."
Loken laughed dismissively. He had nine guns on his side. "Those gonna be your last words then, boy?"
The movement was a flash: quick as chain lightning. Jaren Ward spoke as he moved. "Yours. Not mine."
With those words and Jaren's quick movements, Loken falls dead in an instant, and his men back down almost as quickly. From then on, Palamon is a free town. Jaren stays and helps. We don't know a lot about his activities after freeing the town, but we do know two things:
It's while Jaren Ward is away on one of these hunts, several years later, than a second stranger with his own very special gun strides into Palamon. If Jaren Ward was the embodiment of the Light, this new man is his opposite, someone smothered in Darkness. And nothing good will come of it when these two meet.
Next time, we'll work our way through the long history of the man best known as Dredgen Yor.
Bite-sized Backstory 55: Rezyl Azzir & Dredgen Yor
Originally posted on Ragashingo.com, Sun, 9 Feb 2020
If Jaren Ward was the embodiment of Light and Hope, Dredgen Yor was what you get when that hope dies. You see, long before the Titan we know as Dredgen Yor became perhaps the worst, most corrupted Guardian in history, he was a man known as Rezyl Azzir.
Rezyl was one of the Risen. One of those found by their Ghost before the Iron Lords, or The City, or the concept of Guardians existed. Rezyl, along with legends such as Zavala, Ikora Rey, and Lord Saladin saw to it that The City's great walls were built in the first place. Rezyl was a hero, a bringer of hope. I love this quote about Rezyl Azzir:
The noble man stood. And the people looked to him. For he was a beacon - hope given form, yet still only a man. And within that truth there was great promise. If one man could stand against the night, then so too could anyone - everyone.
There are some great stories of Rezyl's accomplishments. In one, he charges an entire Fallen Ketch on his sparrow knowing he'd be killed in the process. But he has a plan. He had his Ghost hang back. When the Fallen Kell and his troops came out to parade Rezyl's lifeless body as a prize, Rezyl's Ghost slipped into the crowd and quickly revived him. Alive again, Rezyl unloaded on the Kell with his hand cannon Rose and then:
In one motion, Rezyl rose from a crouch, his fists clenched and raised high as a storm of Arc Light built within him, his full might raining down on the Kell's chest. The shockwave of Rezyl's attack hit like a meteor, shattering the Kell's body and any Fallen within the Havoc storm's radius.
Through cleverness and strength, Rezyl had managed to kill a Fallen Kell, one of their highest ranking leaders!
In another story, Rezyl tracks a group of Fallen to a small town nestled in the snowy, tree covered mountains. Although it is not named, the town is almost certainly Palamon. Rezyl saves the town and leads those that are willing back to The City, but some stay behind. This might very well be the event that set Magistrate Loken down his bad path. And for Rezyl, this is yet another time that he does good and saves lives, but only after evil and suffering occur. We learn here that Rezyl is tiring of the endless war and is realizing that the good that he does is never enough.
By this point, Rezyl is a hero known far and wide beyond The City, but there are shadows growing in his mind. Shadows coming from a specific place. From the Moon! There were stories and legends of an evil far worse than the Fallen pirates that Rezyl and other Guardians had been fighting. This is a man who is already slowly losing hope after centuries fighting the Fallen, but Rezyl is also a proud man who is trying to push forward and be the hero he is expected to be despite his fears. So, at some point, Rezyl goes to investigate the strange calling he has been hearing from the moon.
On the moon, Rezyl soon finds and begins to investigate the Hive structures that have long been silent. This is long after the Hive emerged once before and killed thousands of Guardians, and long after Eris Morn and her fireteam managed to kill the Hive god Crota which banished him temporarily from our world. Rezyl's Ghost notes that the Hive are all supposed to be gone. Once they lost Crota they fell silent... and yet the giant doors of the Hive structure Rezyl is investigating creek open for him as soon as he arrives. The Hive have been waiting for him. They have been calling to him. They invite him in.
Rezyl leaves his Ghost behind with instructions for it to run for help if he doesn't return. He then proceeds down and down into the depths of the Hellmouth until he encounters waves of Hive being lead by a Hive Wizard. Rezyl does his best, but even his Rose is not enough to save him... and yet the Wizard and her Hive do not kill him. Instead she taunts him, goads him, and plays upon those fears that have been growing in his mind. She show him that the Hive are preparing to reemerge and that there's nothing he nor The City will be able to do to stop them this time. And then, cruelest of all, she lets him leave.
Two days later, Rezyl emerges back on the lunar surface, but he has been permanently changed by his experience. One of the first things he does do is begin to affix some of the tough, cursed bones of the Hive he fought and killed to his hand cannon Rose. Later, perhaps after warning The City about the reemergence of the Hive, Rezyl spends one last day looking up at the moon while struggling with himself. He was a hero. Someone who spread hope wherever he went. He saved towns and killed alien leaders and helped establish a Last Safe City whose walls now guard millions. And yet, all he can do is look up at the moon in fear of what is coming.
In that cool evening air, as dusk was devoured by night, the noble man ceased to exist. In his place another stood.
Same meat. Same bone. But so very different.
The first and only of his family. The sole forbearer and last descendent of the name Yor.
In his first moments as a new being, he looked down at his Rose and realized for the first time that it held no petals: only the jagged purpose of angry thorns.
And so, the man that was Rezyl Azzir dies, and in his place stands Dredgen Yor. As Yor, Rezyl leaves a gash of death and destruction in his wake. We don't hear a lot about his deeds, one of the few acts we do know about is that he uses his corrupted Rose, now called Thorn, to permanently kill Thalor, a famed Crucible Champion. It is clear from surrounding context in Destiny's lore that Dredgen Yor becomes infamous and feared by even Guardians of The City. After that Crucible match he is likely driven out of The City after which he continues to wander and continues to sow destruction wherever he goes.
Interestingly, Dredgen Yor's Ghost stays with him through everything he does. But, eventually, Yor even sends his Ghost away. We have a transcript of the final conversation between Yor and his Ghost. We learn that his Ghost never even really considered leaving his side, not because it agrees with the terrible things he is now doing, but because, as his Ghost says:
I rekindled your Light, it falls first to me to aid in its survival.
Ultimately, though, Dredgen Yor convinces his Ghost to leave by talking up how he now only inspires hope so he can crush those that have it all the more. "Nothing dies like hope" he is quoted saying. But there is one very interesting thing at the end of this transcript that needs to be pointed out. Something important for the future:
[u.2:5.5] If you cannot let that man go, you will forever taint his legacy. All the good I have ever done will be washed away in the fire of who I have become. (Note: u.2 is Dredgen Yor speaking)
[u.1:5.3] If you care, there is still some promise within you. (Note: u.1 is Dredgen Yor's Ghost speaking.)
[u.2:5.6] If I am being honest, I care only to give hope to the frightened, huddled masses so that when I come upon them they will have more to lose. Their pain will be greater. Their screams more pure.
[u.2:5.7] Nothing dies like hope. I cherish it.
[u.1:5.5] You're a monster.
[u.2:5.8] Finally, you see the truth.
[u.1:5.6] [REDACTED] is truly dead.
[u.2:5.9] So I've said. Long live Dredgen Yor.
[u.1:5.7] This is farewell, but you can only run from your sins so far. In the end, you will die alone.
[u.2:6.0] Maybe so. But I gotta tell ya... I tend to like my odds.
[u.1:5.8] Your tainted "Rose" will not always save you.
[u.2:6.1] Old friend... It already has.
Yes, Dredgen Yor wants to be remembered as the hero Rezyl Azzir for the sole purpose of crushing the hopes of those he next murders, but that one final line, "Old friend... It already has." is very curious. We'll come back to this transcript in a bit. For now, I'll just tease by saying that Dredgen Yor's Ghost was right the first time.
We don't have anything even close to a timeline of what Dredgen Yor does once he and his Ghost part ways, but we do know he eventually returns to Palamon, the town he once saved. By doing so, one of the darkest, most twisted Guardians we have record of will come face to face with Jaren Ward, one of the best and brightest.
Next: The Last Word vs Thorn
Rezyl Azzir - Before These Walls
Rezyl Azzir - War Without End
Heart of Inmost Light
Legends and Mysteries: Rezyl Azzir
Legend: Rezyl Azzir - The Triumphant Fall
Ghost Fragment: Thorn
Mark of Contention
Ghost Fragment: Thorn 3
Bite-sized Backstory 56: Thorn vs The Last Word
Originally posted on Ragashingo.com, Fri, 14 Feb 2020
For the next several years Jaren Ward stays at Palamon after freeing it from Magistrate Loken. We know that Shin Malphur thought of him as the town's savior and eventually came to think of Jaren as a friend and father figure.
The Fallen were still a major problem for Palamon, however. It sounds like the town gets hit hard by Fallen raiders again. Jaren Ward and a few of the toughest survivors leave to give chase and possibly to prevent that group of Fallen from coming back. Four days later, someone new comes to what was left of the town. This man is tall and dark and solemn. Shin recalls that there was an intense sadness about him, but that he was polite and took up a room. This is Shin Malphur's first time meeting Dredgen Yor.
Something happens soon after and we find Shin and a few others out in the wilderness having put Palamon's "ash" to their backs. The lines get a bit hard to read between, but we learn that Shin and those with him were seeking vengeance for something. Could just be the fallen attack, but I think there's a strong chance they are hunting Dredgen Yor. We have another transcript featuring the corrupted Guardian being drawn into a loud conversation with some local bandits one of which wants to see his gun, Thorn.
[u.1:0.1] Can I see what you got there?
[u.1:0.2] Yer cannon...can I see it?
[u.2:0.1] I know you?
[u.1:0.3] Not that I can say.
[u.2:0.2] And you wanna hold my piece?
[u.1:0.4] Just that I never...seen one like it.
[u.2:0.3] No, you haven't.
[u.1:0.5] Looks dangerous.
[u.2:0.4] Seems, maybe, that's the point.
[u.1:0.6] Suppose so.
[u.1:0.7] Can I see it?
[u.2:0.5] Not likely.
Dredgen Yor banters with the leader of this group of four men for a bit and takes it unkindly when the leader states as "fact" that no one has ever been to the moon. The men begin to threaten Dredgen Yor and after warning them off in his own sort of way Yor finally has enough of their tough guy acts and guns three of them down. He saves the leader for last. This man who had wanted a look at Thorn now gets to stare down its barrel as Dredgen Yor explains to him about the nightmares of the Hive and how they will soon be coming for them all. And then the leader, too, is murdered.
Now, there is nothing that directly says this sorta old west bar room "conversation" happened in Palamon, but just nine days after Palamon is reduced to ash Shin Malphur and his group of Palamon survivors encounter Dredgen Yor again. I don't think they were hunting Fallen because Shin notes that they had accidentally wandered into Fallen territory as they tracked the trail of something or someone. Along the way, some of Shin's group are killed, "gunned down", we're told. But, what's left of Shin's group also meet up with Jaren Ward, and together they continue tracking their target. Jaren has an intense confidence that keeps the group going even though hope seems to be lost. But then, everything falls apart late one night.
A crack of gun fire then several more echo through the woods... These shots sound familiar, perhaps even comforting to the group. They've come from Jaren Ward's prized hand cannon, but, tragically, they are not the last word this time, as one sickly, unfamiliar shot answers Jaren's several. Afterward, there is only silence.
Everyone back at Shin's camp knows what has happened. Jaren had gone out alone to engage "the other", the same thing Shin termed Dredgen Yor when he met him, but this time Jaren Ward was not coming back. Those with Shin soon leave fearful for their lives. Shin, though, stays and searches for his mentor. Shin doesn't find Jaren Ward, at least not at first. Instead, he finds Jaren's still very much alive Ghost. The Ghost has something for Shin: Jaren Ward's hand cannon. Dredgen Yor left it for Shin. How do we know? Because Dredgen Yor and Jaren Ward's Ghost have a little conversation after Yor permanently kills Jaren Ward with a single shot from Thorn. The conversation between the two is interesting for a few reasons:
Now there are two ways to look at this forth point, and I think both are valid. On one hand, Dredgen Yor is someone we have quoted as saying "Nothing dies like hope." He is probably gifting Jaren Ward's gun to Shin Malphur to fuel that hope so he can crush it too.
But, and we'll get into this a whole lot more very soon, Dredgen Yor is also agreeing that there is hope that maybe he still is a man who can be stopped, who can be killed. It will take someone very special to stop him, Dredgen Yor knows, and maybe he thinks he's found that person in Shin Malphur.
Next time I get to take y'all through one of my very favorite encounters in all of Destiny: The Showdown at Dwindler's Ridge!
Bite-sized Backstory 57: The Showdown at Dwindler's Ridge
Originally posted on Ragashingo.com, Sun, 16 Feb 2020
For decades, Shin Malphur hunts the man who killed his friend, mentor, father figure. Shin and Yor finally met atop a place called Dwindler's Ridge. And... this is how it played out. I don't often quote large portions of Grimoire Cards, my goal is to summarize and make available, not to copy and paste, but this showdown is one of my favorite scenes in all of Destiny's lore. It is a scene that deserves to be read:
We stood silent, the sun high.
Seconds passed, feeling more like hours.
He looked different.
He seemed, now, to be weightless - effortless in an existence that would crush a man burdened by conscience.
My gaze remained locked as I felt a heat rising inside of me.
The other spoke...
I gave no reply.
"The gunslinger's sword... his cannon. That was a gift."
My silence held as my thumb caressed the perfectly worn hammer at my hip.
"An offering from me... to you."
The heat grew. Centered in my chest.
I felt like a coward the day Jaren Ward died and for many cycles after.
But here, I felt only the fire of my Light.
The other probed...
"Nothing to say?"
He let the words hang.
"I've been waiting for you. For this day."
His attempt at conversation felt mundane when judged against all that had come before.
"Many times I thought you'd faltered. Given up..."
All I'd lost, all who'd suffered, flashed rapid through my mind, intercut with a dark silhouette walking toward a frightened, weak, coward of a boy.
The fire burned in me.
The other continued...
"But here you are. This is truly an end..."
As his tongue slipped between syllables my gun hand moved as if of its own will.
Reflex and purpose merged with anger, clarity and an overwhelming need for just that... an end.
In step with my motion, the fire within burst into focus - through my shoulder, down my arm - as my finger closed on the trigger of my third father's cannon.
Two shots. Two bullets engulfed in an angry glow.
The other fell.
I walked to his corpse. He never raised his cursed Thorn - the jagged gun with the festering sickness.
I looked down at the dead man who had caused so much death.
My shooter still embraced by the dancing flames of my Light.
A sadness came over me.
I thought back to my earliest days. Of Palamon. Of Jaren.
Leveling my cannon at the dead man's helm, I paid one final tribute to my mentor, my savior, my father and my friend...
"Yours... Not mine."
...as I closed my grip, allowing Jaren's cannon, now my own, to have the last, loud word.
"Yours... Not mine." is easily my favorite quote in all of Destiny. It was already a powerful line, but knowing the history of it, how it was both a confident, forceful statement, and a memorial to a lost friend, makes it so much better. It would make a great ending... but this is not the end of the story of The Last Word!
Unless killed in unusual ways, Guardians are immortal, meaning Shin does not just grow old and die happy. Similarly, the call of the Darkness and the Hive did not go away just because Shin put an end to Dredgen Yor. From here, Shin Malphur takes it upon himself to put a stop to any Guardian who would dare meddle with the powers of Darkness like Dredgen Yor did. And, once he becomes known as a feared boogeyman restlessly and ruthlessly devoted to the Light, Shin goes a step even beyond that...
I hope you'll join me next time as we begin to delve into the frightening Legend and thought provoking truths behind The Man With The Golden Gun.