Tesni cringed as she saw the high caliber sniper round tear through Natela’s side. The Hunter, almost twenty years her junior, staggered and fell, but to Tesni’s surprise she threw herself into the fall and managed to roll behind one of the First Light complex’s smaller gold-glassed geodesic domes. For the next few seconds the younger woman waited, holding her side, obviously in pain, but then she got back into a crouch and held her hand cannon at the ready.
“I’m fine… It hurt, but I’m fine,” the Hunter said over their radio link. Maybe she was learning after all!
“Two are advancing on you,” Tesni relayed. “I pinged the one on the left a couple of times before they forced my head down…”
“I see them on the tracker. They’re mine,” Natela said with confidence.
Tesni couldn’t help but smile as her teammate put away her hand gun and pulled out her knife. Despite her youth and inexperience, there were still few more skilled with an Arc Blade that Natela Tamaya Murk. The already brightly lit lunar landscape surrounding the Hunter became a bit brighter still as her blade flashed then glowed with focused Arc Light. Natela waited and waited, then threw herself around the corner. Her two pursuers tried to ready their weapons, but they were far too slow. Natela blinked forward and slashed into the nearer Guardian. He vanished in an instant. The other had quicker reflexes. He managed to throw a grenade at her feet, but she evaded it and struck him down as well. Both he and his colleague reappeared on the far side of the lunar habitat a few moments later barely comprehending what’d just happened.
“Very good…” Tesni congratulated her ward, but a familiar, ominous sound cut short any further praise. “Interceptor!” she warned a second before the first of its rockets detonated beside her. Her shield and heavy armor ablated the majority of the explosion, but that only gave Tesni enough time to turn and catch a glimpse of the rocket that would end her current life. Natela didn’t fare any better. Out of position after her successful knife attacks, she was easy prey for the small hovering tank.
“I know you’re pretty good about watching my back,” Natela complained after the match ended, “but we really need to find someone to watch yours!”
“It’s just a loss,” Tesni replied as they waited for the Anastasia to arrive from orbit. “Sometimes we’re going to lose. How well you did personally, how you acted and reacted, is what matters right now. Besides, I already told you I’m working on it…”
“You’ve said that before…”
* * *
That evening, Natela received an invitation from an Abner 4c6173746e616d65 inviting her to lunch at a restaurant on one of the lower levels of The Tower. She was going to delete it, but thought better of it.
“Who is this?” Natela had sent to her mentor, forwarding the message to her.
“Abner is a very old, very skilled Exo with deep connections,” Tesni had replied. “If he is inviting you to something it must be important. Plan to go.”
Two days later, Natela arrived at the appropriate location at the appropriate time only to find Tesni waiting there for her.
“I know this Warlock,” Tesni said, explaining her presence. “He is very… in it for himself. I didn’t feel comfortable with you meeting with him without me. He’d be willing to mess with you, but not so much with me around.”
“Thanks… I think. I was a little nervous,” Natela admitted. Together, they entered the restaurant and located Abner waiting at a small circular table set next to a large window overlooking The City. He stood as they approached, giving them each a small, polite bow, though his gaze remained fixed on Tesni.
“Natela, this is Abner,” Tesni said by way of introductions. “We’ve worked together out in the field before. We don’t always see eye to eye, but he is good in a firefight,”
“As are you, Ms. Jarmila. I did not expect you to be here though. Still looking out for those around you, I see,” the Exo replied, his tone conveying his admiration and distrust of her where his unmoving robotic face could not. “Sit, both of you,” he insisted. “We cannot do any business unless you sit.”
The two women pulled up chairs and sat. As they did, a waiter quickly stopped by and left the two of them glasses of tea.
“The service is prompt here. I like it,” he said as he retook his own seat. “Now then, I hear you are looking for a third to enter into those games with you. Tesni, I have told you many times what I think of the Crucible have I not and yet you still come to me with this?”
“You invited us,” Tesni said flatly.
“Technically, I invited her,” Abner replied correctly.
“What do you think of it…The Crucible?” Natela couldn’t help asking, despite the tension at the table.
“Little light, I have lived a very long time. While your mentor here was relaxing blissfuly on a beach I was hard at work for the benefit of others. My life was not my own and my choices were not mine to make. I will not allow such a thing to happen again. My choice, currently, is to not fight for the enjoyment of others.”
“You’re a Guardian. Fighting for others is what we do,” Natela replied, a little more sharply than she had intended.
“For others, for ourselves. There will always be wars to fight,” Abner said, dismissing her comment.
“Not if we work together to end them!” Natela exclaimed over his more gently spoken words.
“Ah, you are as feisty as I hear you are,” Abner commented. “I am surprised though that you do not follow in the opinions of the legend here,” he said knowingly, turning back to Tesni. “Hoarding supplies and running away is still the best option, is it not?” he asked her, a slight goad evident in his voice. The blue skinned Titan shook her head.
“I didn’t come here to debate with you, Abner. We lost two Guardians last month, one was a friend of mine. If Natela had been up to speed we might have lost none. They trained her like any of us, but she is not like us. She’s learning, but she doesn’t have the combat experience you and I had… from before…”
“I see,” Abner said softly, noting how the previously high spirited Hunter shrank back into her chair at the reference to her mistakes.
“It’s an uphill battle trying to teach her and fend for myself at the same time,” Tesni continued. “They aren’t exactly going easy on me in there… So, no more of your ‘I hears.’ If you are offering to help us then say so. Otherwise we will be on our way.”
The robed Exo tilted his head slightly as if in thought then addressed Natela once more. “I hear,” he said with a quick glance back to Tesni, “that you fight for the health of your sister, correct?” The tone of his voice said he would have been smiling cryptically if he’d been able.
“How did you? I haven’t even told…” Natela blurted before wisely covering her mouth.
“So then, it’s true? Fascinating.” Abner said simply. “I will help you,” he said to Tesni.
“Wait… You will?” Natela asked in surprise.
“Very few of us have anything but the most distant of family, if that, Little Light. And very few of us fight solely for the benefit of others, yet you do. For that you should be rewarded, and for that I will help teach you how to remain alive.”
“…And what do you get out of it?” Natela asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion. Tesni locked eyes with the Warlock as well, silently seconding the question.
“Perceptive, isn’t she?” Abner asked Tesni after a tense moment. She could hear the slight smile in his voice.
“She can be,” Tesni responded coldly. “The answer?”
“FWC has heard rumors of a prize on Venus. If I do this for you then you, and you,” he said looking to Tesni then Natela, “will help me claim it.”
“What’s the prize?” Tesni asked.
“A Vault of Glass.”