The Lonely Fall of Andal Brask

“This isn’t like the six fronts, Cayde.”


They were in a high scrub bluff, on the last ridge before the climbs of the glacier above; leagues ahead of them, down the broken spines of the mountain’s roots, the city was on fire beneath its pearl. The moon hung full and cold in the sky, and what few clouds there were, hung bathed beneath in mournful red. The echoes of cannons were soft thunder on the remote where they hid, two inscrutable pairs of eyes in the dead wood and crags on the rocky slope.


“Why? Because this’ll be so much easier now that I’m around?” Cayde’s sense of humor usually made Brask grin; at the moment he found it grating.


“I should’ve brought Bray,” Brask muttered under his breath. Lying prone, his rifle stock sat uncomfortably against his shoulder, and he shifted his weight imperceptibly. “Shut up and look for that mark.”


Kilometers below them down the ridge, on the edge of the languid jungle that covered the Massif du Nord, they’d traced the line that Fenrik had taken into the undergrowth leading towards the ancient Citadelle Laferriere.  The Kings’ Baron had decamped that morning in the icy tips of the mountains at the Bergschrund of the Massif, and it had taken the pair until evening to flank the ridge and find position above the mass of captains and vandals that had passaged down to the foothills below.  In the dusky light of nightfall, they’d lost the party in the brush of the path that led to the far off castle.


“Did you spend the whole of six fronts bivouacking on a hiking trip, too? What the hell are we doing up here?” Cayde sounded off.


“It sounds like you think our time would be better spent elsewhere, and let me assure you, you’re incorrect,” Brask sniped back, not looking up from his scope. “The house of Kings likes a superior seat. They despise the other houses as much as you or me. The only way these houses will play together is by the Kings’ consent; they’re the only house with the clout and resources to put together an assault of this magnitude.” Along the eskers at the edge of the jungle brush, a shifting swathe of translucence was barely visible. “Chameleon at 11:55.”


“Rearguard.” Cayde was fussing over his scope. “I don’t see why Fenrik is such a priority. What’s one Baron against all of that?” He nodded as he spoke, toward the red glow that hung on the traveler, painted by the fires that blazed on the city’s battlements.


“Fenrik isn’t the mark,” replied Brask. “He’s just reconnaissance. He’s looking for a seat for the Kells to convene.” He paused; the air had suddenly turned to static, and he could smell the burn of ozone and taste its metallic evanescence. He broke a thin smile. “Does it hurt to always be wrong, Cayde?”


Then the boom of a subsonic entry thundered around them as the asymmetrical bulk of a ketch fell from the sky directly above; its massive width spreading until the fortified portal on its belly was just above the aged fortress. The shark-mouth of the ketch opened, its loading platform lowering to rest on the ramparts.


“Son of a bitch,” Cayde muttered, mystified and ecstatic all at once.  Brask looked at him sideways, his thin smile now a wolfish grin.


“The hens have come to roost, eh friend?”


“Pardon my ignorance, wicked old fox,” Cayde purred, his delighted blue lights waxing fuzzily. “Why I ever doubt you, I’ll never understand. Must be in my programing.”


They skirted the ridge invisibly, a pair of shadows the clouds might have cast in the moonlight. Far below them, the twilight gap was a flash of blue flame: they could see the fusillades of the tanks, those tiny insects in the distance, but could only imagine the sounds of the blasts. Across the cirque that cut through the crest, tiny avalanches cantered down, spurred by the Ketch’s deafening entrance; the convenient anarchy on the heights masked their descent, and they crept into the jungle under a cloud of vaporous dust. Through the growing thick of the trees, the King’s flagship hung like a phantom, a suggestion of orange brass beyond the dark veil of the canopy that they felt more than saw. What they could see of the sky was imbued with the sanguine whisper of far-off fires.


“What exactly is your scheme, old fox?” Cayde’s question wasn’t as much a demand as it was an entreaty. Brask frequently left him in the dark until the moment of necessity; the grey-eyed Vanguard was often reticent about his plans, mulling them over until the last moments of necessity. They paused, crouching beneath a squat coffee tree. The alert eyes of Brask had shifted indiscernibly; Cayde slowly realized his mentor’s attention was elsewhere.


“There are two parts, operating simultaneously,” murmured Brask; his mind was agitated as he surveyed the brush before them urgently. There were short fronds covering the floor, and the snaking towers of vine-laden trunks arrested his view beyond fifty meters. There was a collapsed trunk, twenty meters ahead of them through the tree they were hiding under; perched on the trunk, crouching and listening, was the unmistakable obscuring of a cloaked sentry. Cayde and Brask regarded it, two pensive aspects, their eyes never leaving its apparition.


“I need you to board the Ketch and activate the emp of one of their spider tanks,” Brask resumed offhandedly. “The pulse should be enough to disable doors and lights, sufficiently limit reinforcement. It will also trap you on the Ketch. You’ll need to get creative in executing your escape.”


“That sounds like a terrible misuse of our resources,” whispered back the horned protégé. “If you’re planning to assassinate a bunch of Kells, getting all of them together in a dark control room on their ship and locking yourself in alone doesn’t seem like the most effective way to dispatch them.”


“They won’t be on the Ketch. The Kings would never let Draksis or Virixas on their flagship. They’ll convene in the fortress.” Something else had caught Brask’s eye, past the Vandal: at the edge of his vision, in the dark foliage on the far side of the senty, a silver form was crouched in the bush. Brask slowly raised his rifle, gazing down the scope into two yellow eyes. It was a wolf; hunkered, peering down its nose at him, curiously sniffing the air. Brask lowered his rifle, meditative. “Maintain transmit after contact or encounter. You’ll need a head start on me; I’ll need time to improvise if they catch you.” He gave another sideways grin to the teal exo.


“Yeah, my ass, Brask,” Cayde snorted back, shouldering his own rifle and shifting up from his squat to crouch. “When they catch you don’t sell me out too quick.” Then he evaporated into nothing, his departure the whisper of a breeze and a soft rustle receding behind and away. Brask set his rifle against the tree and quietly took a knife from the seam of his glove. He shifted his weight, like a sprinter in the blocks; his black cloak hung over his lithe form, the crimson streak on his hood invisible in the near complete darkness.


There was a silent rush and the whistle of a blade; he closed the twenty meters in a second, leaping half way, gliding down like the silent plunging of an owl. He smashed feet first into the sentry, driving it down from its perch into the brush; he landed expertly on top of it, and in a single motion drove his knife into its throat and deftly somersaulted into the brush and to his feet, spinning as he did to face his dead adversary. The hiss of ether broke the silence, and he waited quietly for the sounds of alert or discovery that might require further viciousness. There was the snap of a twig behind him, and he turned to see the white shadow of the wolf fleeing deftly through the trees; then he was alone.





The humming pulses of the Winter’s skiff hung over the southern bulwark of the Citadel; Draksis, highsprung champion, ‘the Unrivaled,’ leapt down to the bulwark alone, like a great tiger coiled and ready. The pack of vandals who stood guard around the ramparts flitted nervously about, not daring to even look at Winter’s Kell; Fenrik primefed, the high Baron of Kings’, approached cautiously from the cresting hall of the fortress, doing his best to stand tall, and not flinch. He was a full half of his height shorter than the giant Kell; his clean yellow cape and brilliant gold mail looked out of place on a battlefield, and the tarnished silver and blood encrusted royal blue of the peerless champion made clear what duties were familiar to each. The eyes of Fenriks were not on the armor of Draksis, however.


“Esteemed Draksis, it would do my masters great injury if I did not ask to bear your swords for you. May I carry them, by your gracious consent?


“Your masters are ever cautious, are they not?” Draksis laughed back. “Do they believe me to be so chivalrous? When did the Kells of the Proud Regents become so fearful? I have ever shown my fealty to their…birthright.”


Fenriks seemed unsure how to proceed. “Do I understand you refuse to relinquish your arms, as is tradition?” The sentries surrounding them seemed to be bracing, they’re weapons surreptitiously rising. Draksis laughed boisterously again; he unsheathed his swords, deftly twirling them to offer to Fenriks, hilt first.


“Forgive me, dear Fenriks,” he brushed aside the conversation and past the Baron simultaneously, carelessly sauntering by him into the hall. “My weary mind forgets the formalities of all these trappings.” Fenriks did his best to keep up without sprinting, but the huge strides of the Kell were impossible to match. At the far end of the hall, Skolas, highsprung imperator, ‘the Rabid,’ was standing in consort with Taniks, that inscrutable hunter, a myth and flesh in the same moment. Draksis approached them both, resting his higher hands on their shoulders while clapping their backs with his lower ones.


“Is our mettle set, my brothers?” Draksis greeted the emissaries. Taniks placed his own high arm on the shoulder of Draksis.


“Our fates are twined, my friend. The Devils stand with you as their Kell battles on the cities walls,” the ancient mercenary rasped. “What has been set to motion, I am confident will avail us of our ends.”


“Our path is before us, Primeborn. Virixas prepares his fleet in the asteroids, gathering now to heed your call,” added Skolas. ‘The Rabid’ was ever hungering for battle; he cast furtive glances to the entrance, where the clamps of armored boots signaled the approach of the nearing monarchs.




It was still several kilometers to the fortress, and as Brask flitted through the brush the silence was intermittently broken by the buzzing whir of skiffs overhead. He had not killed the sentry needlessly, nor had he left trace of it; he carried the corpse up the largest of the nearby trees like a leopard, crammed it in the bifurcating limbs where it would not be found hastily. He wanted the fallen alerted but skeptical; when the sentry went missing, he anticipated they would spread to search, but not scramble a larger force. Those sentries currently patrolling the jungle would spread further from the castle; but Fenriks would not be bothered to send more. The skiffs were more blessing than nuisance; he doubted their captains would bother to disembark, rather staying high to survey for aircraft then to anticipate solitary scouts on foot. The sentry was no doubt resting or sleeping; would be found, demoted, and mutilated; there were more pressing matters their attention required.


He turned his own attentions to the Kells. He knew little of the Devil’s young Kell; it was understood that their influence was not strong in the houses of the fallen after the disaster of the six fronts, and rumors swirled that a legendary mercenary now represented and guided the devils. Brask had little knowledge of this creature the Kells regarded fearfully as ‘The Scarred.’ Virixas of the House of Wolves was a mature Kell, but the wolves had yet to show their hand, and Brask doubted that their representative would make an appropriate target for his purpose.


The Winter’s Kell was a different beast entirely. He had seen Draksis at the six fronts, an enormous creature gorged on the vapors of a Prime; Brask doubted even he could manage the task of killing Winter’s Kell. Brask had sent numerous assassins after him following the six fronts; rumors and myths were all that ever came back to him. And even if he managed to kill Draksis, his intel suggested he would only solidify and entrench the fallen’s resolve.


The quiet snap of a breaking sprig drew his mind back to the present.  He could hear another pair of sentries now, beyond the obscuring of the trees, perhaps a quarter kilometer. He slid low to the ground, creeping with surprising agility through the fronds and thickets, soundless. He had no need to slay more sentries; he moved like a wraith through the quiet trees, quickly circling the patrol and continuing on.


He had set his mind on the Kings’ Kells for two reasons: first, because he suspected that the assault on the city was at their behest or order; and second, because he felt confident that the death of any of the three would be sufficient to derail the resolve of the whole house. The timing of the attack was not lost on him. The Kings were tacticians and, more importantly, cowards; they never fought on the front, delegating such tasks to the lower houses. If they felt an actual threat to themselves, they would flee, and the Vanguard could break the unbacked soldiers of the houses without the Kings’ technological superiority.


Furthermore, the Kings were not the battle tested masters of swords and spears that Kells like Draksis were. He had rarely met blades with the Kings’ Captains, but they had not presented the challenge that the fiercely drilled masters of Draksis’s battalions presented; nor were they near the equal of the Devil’s wicked lieutenants. If his plan were to work at all, the only hope he had lay in the equal and probable indolence of the chieftains of the House of Kings.


He continued through the ferns, always low, cautious. He had traveled perhaps two hours with good speed, without another sighting of the fallen. Cayde’s transmit hissed in his ear. “I’m at the base of the castle hill. 100 meters uphill from jungle to wall.”




“Warlords, our peers, why have you requested such audience with us? Draksis, what is the meaning of our retreat from the high fortress the vermin hold in the pass above the mountain line?”


“I think you have failed to give due honor to the valor of our foes, Arakvis.” Draksis’s reply was as calm as a dead ocean; he sat placidly across the table from the three Kells of Kings, flanked himself by the Scarred and the Rabid. A vivid red holographic projection of the human fortress lay before them; the wicked white sphere hung above the crimson battlements.  The subtle venom of Draksis’s demeanor betrayed his efforts to conceal his contempt. “Perhaps you would like to join the front, champion of Kings?”


“We would not deign to such low errands, save for the disaster of an enemy at the gates. Such labors are for our vassals, not our hands.” Aramiks made no effort to conceal the contempt in her own voice, delivered in typical, cold dispassion. “My brothers may itch to draw their blades with the enemy, but that is not their place. It is yours.” Her arms were spread on her settee; she reclined, one high arm absentmindedly clicking sharp claws on the back. “Why have we withdrawn? The armament we have provided you with is more than ample.”


“I will not be disparaged by a dilettante,” growled back Draksis. “Your censure is baseless; I did not wish to assault that fortress, nor did I lead that doomed assault. Tanik’s efforts at the pass have been stymied by the flighty meddling and fey whims of your indolent siblings. You seek to assault our enemy at the crux of their power, at the seat of their strength; their counter assault is bolstered by their own dead, risen on the field as our brothers fall.” He gestured to the wavering line of vivid blue positions on the map, indicative of the lines of armor that lay broken against the enemies fortifications. “You divert our power to the heights when we should reinforce our battered engagements at the walls themselves.”


“Your charge is the behest of your monarchs,” spat back Amaviks, eldest Kell of Kings. “We will not be belittled nor reproached by your tongue, Winter’s Kell. You will heed our whims if we choose it. The mountain fortress must be reclaimed, and if the Devils are not capable of such an impossible task, you will do it in their place. We have other matters to address.” His hiss was punctuated by the crash of his mailed fist on the chart. A furtive glance between Taniks and Skolas escaped his notice.




“—provise if necessary, and execute. Good luck Cayde.”


Perched on a narrow shelf on the edge of the castle bulwarks, Cayde watched the persistent march of sentries patrolling the far rampart; across the broad width of the castle roof, the gaping maw of the Ketch bustled with vandals and captains. The bulk of Fenrik was a monolith among the spindly forms of the elite troops of the Kings; beyond him, rows of Pikes and Walkers were visible in the broad divide of the deployment hanger.


“Going dark; anticipate pulse in twenty minutes on my count,” Cayde whispered. He activated camouflage and drew his thin machete, breathing calmly and steadily. The Baron was affixed in his sights, the focus of his attention.


“Three.” His memory was clear. Two years. Seventy-eight days. Fenrik was a brilliant fire in the angry sun.


“Two.” The Baron’s giant hand bore the decapitated corpse of Yari aloft, his merciless laugh peeling in the dry red dirt creek, mocking Cayde where he lay, pinned downstream, powerless.


“One.” First the tank. Then an old score to settle.




“We can make the play, Six. They’ll be dead before they know they’re under fire.” It was dry and hot in the noon sun; the flies had fled from the heat in the dead stream bed where Yari and Cayde lay motionless, watching a pack of fallen with mustard-yellow capes hastily drag salvage from a downed warsat further up the canyon.


“You’re moving awfully fast for a first date,” replied Cayde. The sun was beating down on them from its midday position. They were downstream, maybe 75 meters, in a shallow walled gorge; Cayde’s rifle was firmly tucked beneath his chin, his electric-blue eyes scanning the big captain wearily. It was enormous; maybe 3.5 meters tall. Abnormally big. “Why don’t we let this one go? I think your eyes are a little big for your gut.”


“It’s just a patrol, Six.” Yari winked, and suddenly she was gone, in the muffled hiss of her active camouflage. Her transmit crackled. “I’ll be back before you miss me.”


“Don’t do anything I’ll regret, kid,” muttered Cayde. He drew his attention back to the big captain; then, up to the tops of the canyon walls above him. His position was far too exposed for an actual engagement.




Cayde reached the deck of the Ketch’s loading bay, meticulously creeping along the edge of the fortress roof. The moon was unobscured by clouds now on the exposed battlement, bathing the shuffling patrol of sentries in vivid blue light. A quick exhale; a short, soft sprint along the right hand side of the massive ship’s metal jaw; then a silent slide under a metal stair, and Cayde was safely positioned in the large operations hanger of the Kings’ flagship. He crawled along the wall, beneath an exposed catwalk, reaching the far end of the hanger before deploying his ghost in relative solitude.


“It appears too active to attempt a sabotage on any of the hanger tanks, Cayde.” His ghost was peering around the cavernous loading area; fallen mechanics were scrambling about, activating and deactivating the walker legs. “I don’t believe I could charge and fire the pulse device unnoticed.”


“Don’t these Ketches have support hangers?” Cayde speculated. “We could try to find one further up that’s receiving less attention.”


“It would stand to reason that, if anything, the tanks in the support bay would be receiving more attention than these, not less.” The ghost pondered their quandary. “I would need schematics as well; this Ketch is dissimilar to the one we raided outside old Donetsk.”


Cayde eyed Fenrik across the hanger; he was bickering with the dregs as they operated on the tanks, bossing them about with three gesticulating arms. He held a pair of ornamental swords in his fourth hand. “Ghost, I have an idea.”




There was an electric hiss as the blasts of wire rifles skimmed inches over Cayde’s head. Explosions of rocks and sand were all around him; he rolled sideways to an outcrop in the stream, pinned by enemy fire in the dry creek. Yari was in his ear.


“Six, what’s going on! Talk to me!” He wasn’t sure how they’d spotted him; on a bluff above him to the right, along the canyon wall, a scout must have been returning from reconnaissance. Up the creek bed, the vandals were scrambling to find position on him; if they flanked the opposite wall of the canyon, he’d be dead, fast.


“I need you to hit them as they flank the far wall to my left!” He shouted to her over the pulsing detonations of blue electricity. The thunderous report of Yari’s rifle shuddered up and down the low canyon, and the tracing contrails of bullets splintered out from the left side of the canyon’s basin upstream; vandals fell in the creek bed ahead of him, and the sniper above him collapsed down the right canyon wall.


“Move Six!” Yari shouted desperately in his ear. He lurched up, sprinting downstream and sliding into a culvert. “Shit Six, shit!” There was a muffled scramble over the com, the struggling thuds of punches and kicks. He turned, aimed his rifle out of the narrow hovel where he hid, sighting down scope. Standing high in the riverbed, the giant captain held Yari’s struggling form up in front of its face, blocking Cayde’s shot. In another giant hand, it held a broad scimitar, ready at her throat.




Cayde crouched with his ghost by an access panel, high up on a catwalk that ran the length of the hanger’s ceiling. He pulled apart the glowing fiber-optic cables of the communications mainline, and the ghost flitted inside.


“How’s the fallen-linguistics dissertation coming?” Cayde ribbed his small companion. The ghost ignored his jest.


“It’s done. We’ll need to move quick to shadow him.” The ghost whirred back out from the cables. Far below, Fenrik put a free hand to his ear. He turned quickly, barking sharp commands, and whirled around toward the back of the hanger with swift, angry strides. Cayde quietly sprinted the length of the catwalk, pirouetting off the end and deftly catching a rail ten meters below as he engaged his camouflage; as Fenrik strode beneath him into the central lift of the Ketch, he dropped down behind the imposing Baron and leapt into the lift ahead of the closing door, shrinking back into a corner, uncomfortably close to the huge warrior.


Their ride was brief: the elevator lurched to a halt and the doors were open almost as quickly as they had shut. Fenrik strode out into the support bay with his silent shadow in tow; the Baron flew into the hissing steam and cacophony of drills and torches in a rage of obscenities directed at the nearby foreman. Neither noticed the slithering shade that crept into a dark recess near a row of spider walkers nearby.


Cayde slid down the column of tanks to the far end of the bay; at the entrance, Fenrik was howling at every fallen within reach. Mechanics were setting down their tools to watch the fuss; the two that had been scrabbling over Cayde’s tank of choice had climbed down to get a closer ear to the shouting.


“You really spun a tale of deception and woe, huh?” Cayde whispered to his ghost as he scaled the tanks control pod; he deployed the tiny miscreant into the cockpit, his eyes trained on the Baron as he drew a blade and forced the foreman to his knees.


“Remind me to recount it to you when we have the time. The pulse should be ready momentarily, awaiting your mark.”


“We still have 90 seconds until Brask is expecting the pulse. Start the countdown and let’s find somewhere shielded to hide.” The Baron’s sword hung high over his head; the foreman’s arms were spread wide where he kneeled.




“Ghost, decode that. Now!” The captain was shouting downstream to him in the hoarse language of its species. There was a crackle and the ghost began interpreting a hasty translation.


“—gut this vermin if thou doest not bid it cease its struggling!”


“Yari! Quit kicking! Be still!” Cayde barked. Yari went limp, her hands helplessly clinging to the captain’s massive fist.


“We are Fenrik, Baron of Kings! Primefed! Thou whilst hasten to our words, vermin!” The Ghost raced to keep up. “Thine vermin race is…something to do with being doomed, maybe. It’s referring to inferior, archaic fallen houses—”


“Stay on target,” Cayde interrupted.


“It says to come out. ‘Throw down thine arms or I will execute this vermin before thee while thou liest there, craven coward!’”


“Shit.” Cayde muttered. He hesitated a moment; then he rested his rifle against the wall of the culvert, standing resigned with hands folded behind his head.


Immediately there was the crackle of a wire rifle; the shot smashed the side of Cayde’s face, and he fell backward onto the dry stream. He heard Yari’s horrified scream cut suddenly silent; there was the whir of the skiff, the rustling of armor upstream and the strange clicks of the fallen’s shouts. Then the world was gone.


He woke under a brilliant canopy of stars; arcing above him in the dim light of a crescent moon, the Milky Way spread out above like a wisp of vapors.


“You’re back.” The ghost was somber. Cayde pulled himself up on one arm; the side of his head was a fire of bad circuits and pulses.


“Where’s Yari?” Cayde groaned. His whole frame was a mess of tremors and spasms; the two-way circuits of his nervous system burned like starfire. The ghost turned upstream.


“They took her ghost. I had to hide to escape the same fate.” He turned to Cayde. “They kept her head. There isn’t enough left to restore her.” Cayde slumped back, prone in the sandy creek; he stared into the stars, and closed his eyes.




One moment, the dismembered form of the humiliated foreman was writhing beneath the tower of Fenrik: then there was an electric hiss, and the blistering crackle of static in the air. The overloaded power cells of the sabotaged spider tank blazed like a tesla coil, then erupted in a lightning storm. The hanger was bathed in blue for a split second; then the whole of the ketch teetered and fell backward, crashing on the old fortress and then sliding down the steep hill the stronghold was built on. Insulated in the safety of another tank’s cockpit, Cayde and his ghost felt the crash of the ketch; then they were tumbling head-over-heels as the tanks occupying the support bay crashed down into the far end of the now inclined hanger. The ketch lay askew where it rested in the scarred forest, its nose pointing thirty degrees into the air.


Their tank landed miraculously upright. Cayde thrust open the hatch; outside it was pitch black in the bay. His vision switched to infrared; bodies and tanks were strewn across the hanger. The sabotaged spider walker was a bright mess of heat registering in his vision; near the lift gate, Fenrik dragged himself to his feet, clutching a guardrail on the far end of the bay.


Cayde was a blur of blue light, his arc blade hissing to sputtering life as he sprinted up the inclined hanger. Fenrik was still disoriented, unprepared as Cayde neared; he reached feebly about for his sword, finally grabbing a long dirk from his belt. As Cayde reached him he swung late, and Cayde kicked the knife from his hand, in the same motion setting his feet and driving his glittering blade deep into the Baron’s neck. Fenrik collapsed backward, his eyes closing, ether pulsing from the wound with explosive throbs. Cayde stood over his massive corpse, staring down at his hated adversary, and about at the splayed bodies of dead fallen around him. Then he climbed to the hanger door and, forcing it open, pondered the best route for his escape.




It was the break of dawn outside, but the sky was so black with smoke that time was indiscernible; to the two occupants of the shelled out high-rise, it may well have been midnight. Seated against the pantry wall, shoulder to shoulder, Andal Brask and Ikora Rey shared a canteen of water. The burned holes where wire rifles had fired through the walls littered the small larder; flour and sugar were sprawled on the floor, and the air was thick with the charred odors of spices. There was a loud crash as the building cattycorner to theirs collapsed under a mortar blast; neither Brask nor Ikora so much as flinched.


“I never thought I’d see the equal of six fronts,” muttered Ikora, exhaustion and defeat thick in her voice. “But this is worse.”


Brask raised a hand to his ear, eyes closed, listening to an incoming broadcast. He let his hand fall back to where it previously rested, his elbows on his knees. “We’ve lost the Twilight Gap.” Ikora shut her eyes, leaning her head back against the wall.


“We can’t press this back numerically,” she reasoned, staring at the ceiling now. “We need to strike at their command chain.” She deployed her ghost, addressing it. “What’s our orbital arsenal’s current capability?”


“At this time we have no strike capability, Ikora. Visual capacity at %20; the majority of the metropolitan districts are obscured due to detritus and smoke. Infrared suggests the majority of the enemy fleet remains in orbit; bombardment has been continuous since first contact at 0200 hours yesterday morning.”


“Thank you ghost,” Ikora said, desyncing it. She stared back at the ceiling.


“The House of Kings will likely attempt landfall when they feel the battle is within reach.” Brask had not said a word since they’d left the rooftops to take a short respite from the melee on the walls. “I know where they’ll land.”


“How?” said Ikora, barely turning her head back to look at him. “How could you possibly know?”


“They did the same at six fronts. They landed in the heights of the Massif du Nord, hours before we slew the Kings’ Kell at the wall and broke them. They were strategizing for that final push; do you remember when their tactics changed, and they massed their forces above the Gap? It was the Kings’ banners they massed under.” He paused to drink from the canteen. “They’ve taken the Gap now; they aim to mass there again.” He tilted his head toward Ikora. “The Kings are the proudest house. I’ve watched them send waves of troops through pointless chokes, where the only possibly motive was hubris. They want to make a point to their fellow houses. They want to prove to the lesser houses that the Kings were right about the six fronts; that the Kings’ strategy is always the correct one.”


Brask deployed his ghost. “Give Cayde our position and tell him to meet me here.” He turned to Ikora, offering his ghost to her. “We need every ghost we have reviving the titans at the walls. Take it. Cayde can provide for us both.” She took it gingerly as he rose to his feet; turning, he helped Ikora to hers. “If we can’t cut off the head, ghosts won’t be much good anyway.”


“I hope you’re right, Andal,” she replied, rising; she held his hand, stopping him as he was turning to go.


“Will it make much difference if I’m wrong?” he spoke; the question felt fatalistic. He looked a long time at her, his grey eyes staring into her own; his cropped, black beard had new traces of silver. Ikora put her hands on his scarred face, staring into his eyes. He gazed back, mournful and human, his hands covering hers.  Then Cayde was in his ear, and he was speaking to her in a haze, the last words she knew she’d ever hear him say. Then he was gone.




“We’ve prepared numerous deployments for the final thrust, at this location, below the pass,” Amaviks continued, highlighting the high point of the enemy’s outer fortifications: a great tower on the fortified walls. “My sister has assured us that your efforts will not go unrewarded, our faithful Houses, should the enemy be broken.”


“You would truly seek to meet the enemy at their strongest bastion, then?” replied Draksis, nonplussed. “Need I remind you what became of your father at that place?”


“Enough with your impudent tongue, cur!” Arakvis was at his feet now, an arm on the hilt of his blade, overcome with rage. He rounded on his sister, gesticulating his free arms wildly. “Why do we tolerate the constant prattling of this worm? He offers rebukes to every plan as if he were an oracle, born with vision of the end of days!”


“We do grow tired of your constant criticisms, Draksis.” Aramiks was contemptuous; her eyes lingered on the Winter’s Kell where he sat, unmoving, his high arms a pyramid beneath his chin. “If your tongue cannot keep its place then perhaps Winter will have need of a new Kell sooner rather than later.”


“If you three are all so blind to the foolishness of your dead sire, ever striving to vindicate his stupidity, then the Houses of our great race have little use for your tedious tyranny.” With Draksis’s words, the Scarred and the Rabid rose by his sides. “We have decided to choose a different path, free of your constant idiocies.” He rose as he spoke; Aramiks contempt turned quickly to fear, while her brothers drew their blades.


“Traitorous wretches!” bellowed Amaviks.  Then the great hall plunged into darkness, and with a sundering crash the nose of the ketch came down through the ceiling.




Brask watched as the dust and bricks of the fortress came down around him at the jungle’s edge. High above, the guards crushed beneath stone and brickwork were howling in agony and pain. A skiff crashed down in the forest behind him; everywhere, suddenly visible sentries were scrambling out of the open. The Ketch fell back now, dragging a wall of the castle with it; its thundering fall down the hillside rumbled interminably in the echoing mountains. Brask hung low, unfettered by technological camouflage, a true born hunter that moved unseen in the anarchy around the castle. He entered through the main gate, climbing the keep to a central tower, knives out.




There was blind panic in the smashed high hall of the castle. The three Kells of Kings were scrambling in the rubble as Draksis emerged from under the shattered holographic table, as at home in the darkness and dust as he was in his throne room. He stepped over the trapped form of Skolas, pinned beneath a giant stone; past the injured form of Taniks leaning against rubble; up over the table and down to where Amaviks lay, pinned beneath a great beam. He reached down agonizingly, purposefully, a great smile on his face; picking up the low Kell’s sword, he raised it blithely.


“A wonder, dear brother: will it ever be that just one of your pithy endeavors might end in anything but disaster?” He let the blade fall, severing the High King’s head; ether sprayed through the air as Amaviks’s arms fell dead on the ground. “I think not.” He turned his attention to his other foes; Arakvis was struggling to rise, his left leg pinned beneath a collapsed wall. Finally he wrenched free; in the settling dust and growing moonlight, the champion sized his adversary.


“How now, Arakvis? Eager to test your mettle?” Winter’s Kell laughed derisively.


“I will splay you and every cursed rat of your ilk!” roared the youngest Kell of Kings. He staggered forward, brandishing his blades; he swung in hapless strokes, fanning the dust.


Suddenly Draksis closed the gap between them; he deflected one blade, catching the arm of Arakvis as he tried to strike with his other sword. At the same time Draksis delivered a vicious head-butt that sent the young Kell sprawling, his scimitars clattering away to either side. Before Arakvis could rise, Draksis kicked him down, pinioning the toppled Kell underfoot with his mighty bulk, and ran the youngest King through the throat.


His sister was conscious now, besieged beneath the same pile of rocks that had trapped her brother. As she struggled free, the enormous hands of furious Winter found her; he throttled her thrashing form, her hands pitifully scrabbling at the grip around her throat, his voice a curious monotone. “What pathetic attempt is this, to slay your rivals?” After a time she ceased her shuddering; Draksis discarded her dead form in a heap on the floor. Taniks was assisting Skolas on the other side of the great table; Draksis turned to them. “What foible would they not consider? How could this ruinous disaster of theirs possibly dissemble us?”


“I do not think this is the Kings’ doing,” rasped Taniks, gesturing around the ruined castle. “The enemy is here; this is a tactical strike by the wicked sphere, not a coup of the Kings.”


Draksis looked about the castle roof, piled with rubble and wet with moonlight; realizing quickly that he too had underestimated the little mammals. “Well said Taniks; your wisdom is ever ready. Arm yourselves my brothers.” His senses were sharp, alert. “They will be coming.”




In the near dark of the castle’s narrow halls, vandals were scrambling in the dark, barking out in confusion to each other. One by one, the voices stopped; rounding a corner, or turning to listen for an imagined sound, they found the steel teeth of Brask’s knives. He was a ghost haunting those dusty rooms; up each flight of stairs he found fresh victims, easy work in the punishing darkness.


Finally he’d scaled to the penultimate floor; through cracks and new fissures in the ceiling, bright moonlight cast a kaleidoscope of tiny rays that played in the dust like rain. Brask sifted through the strange half-light, creeping through the empty rooms until he reached a broad double stairway, winding up to the doors of the great hall.


As he rounded the stair the doorway lay open, the giant oak doors smashed on the ground under lashes of rubble. He stepped silently through the gate, out under the bright open sky; the great hall was collapsed, a stony courtyard under the moon. Dead giants lay strewn about; he counted three of them, the broken forms of Kells surrounding a central table. On the far side, sitting against a stone seat, rabid Skolas was rasping, wounded perhaps; he barely acknowledged Brask as he entered.


Above Brask, crouching hidden on the keystone of the still standing doorway, the coiled form of Winter prepared to pounce.




Out of the darkness, he emerged, his mind naked in the black. There was a light before him, like a lantern on the trail, rolling and dipping towards him through a starless night.


Then the darkness lifted, and he found himself: prone on his back, wrapped in a torn sheet of plastic, his fatigues and chest armor riddled with holes. He wretched off the sheet, sat up on the burned grass, and his head swam in fire. His whole body throbbed in painful spasms, and he rolled over and vomited black bile, convulsing on all fours. Minutes of pain passed, and his mind mercifully began to clear. Around him, rows of burned corpses covered in bloody tarps spread out through the courtyard. The old stone walls surrounding him were charred black, and the windows of the short buildings were all blasted from the fire that had burned their interiors out.


He looked up to the sky: in the black, starless night, nauseating scars tore across the atmosphere, like fraying gaps in worn cloth. Seething tentacles of negative space and eroding starlight writhed behind the fabric, bulging against the black night like a massive school of translucent, ebony eels. The vistas of the skyline were blotted with the licking whispers of flames against columns of smoke, and he heard fires burning in the night. Then the light came before him again, flitting through the burned buildings and out into the courtyard. It stopped before him, a tiny geometric puzzle of cubes with a pulsing eye at its center.


“Good, you’re awake. I’ll need your help; there are injured civilians throughout the surrounding districts.” It spun as it spoke in quizzical blurs like the machinations of an automatic watch. It looked up with him into the dissolving sky. “The Traveler is dying; it’s attempting to bind the universe together with the last drops of its will. There is work to be done while it strives with the darkness.” It turned and whizzed toward a burned out doorway.


“Wait,” gasped the soldier, painfully. “Wait…I don’t understand. Who am I? Why can’t I remember my name? My….” He understood some of the flitting light’s words. The great white sphere of the Traveler, he remembered, and the urgency, the need to fight; but his clothes, the bodies, the fires around him; he had no memories to place them against.


“Little that you see now will have meaning for you, and what you were is meaningless; your world is gone. We must find a new one for you.” The light paused, patiently considering its new companion. “I can give you a name, to console you.”


“Am I dead?” the confused soldier questioned, struggling to his feet. “Is this hell?” He stared upward, his mind faltering against the wounded sky.


“Your name is your possession; the binding of your soul against the darkness that would destroy it. Your name is an ego you can ground yourself upon.” The soldier looked down at the tiny machine as it pulsed. “In different eons, on distant worlds, the Traveler knew a companion called Kartooth Brask; he was a great warrior of the light. I give you the gift of his lineage. When you struggle with the darkness, take heart in your great ancestors. Be known as his scion: Andal, child of Brask.”




The Rabid did not move as Brask approached; it only wheezed heavy, rattling breaths, staring at Brask as he walked quietly towards it in the pale blue light. Its eyes seemed to dart imperceptibly over his shoulder; he dove forward, rolling on his back and to his feet, drawing his arc blade, as a giant Kell leapt down lithely from behind, landing where he had stood. The two warriors crouched, regarding each other: the human in his dark cloak, his face in shadow, knife and blade at the ready; the Kell in his royal blue cape, his four arms spread, each holding a long, wicked scimitar. They slowly began to circle each other, instinctively; attempting to eye both the opponent; and the surrounding floor and walls, for any rock or crack that might trip up a lunge or parry.


Brask knew the crest on the Draksis’s burnished chest plate. Memories of all those he had sent for the beast came to him; rumors of the monster’s prowess and cruelty surged with rage and grief for the friends he’d lost to it. He suppressed his emotions; they swelled and were gone, and he prepared for the work before him.


He waited for the Winter to strike, but the beast seemed reluctant; it paused, and then to his great shock, spoke to him:


“You are…great intelligence of city, yes?” It croaked and barked and growled out the words, less with malice than strange respect. “You are ‘Brask’, yes?”


“Yes,” murmured Brask. “You are Draksis?”


The Fallen bowed its head curtly. “You do me honor, Black Wolf of city.” He resumed his crouch. “Prepare.”


Then the Kell flew forward, a blur of blades and limbs; he swung both left arms as he spun past Brask, bringing his high right arm down as Brask leapt between those initial blows. Brask landed, whirling backward as the high right blade swept down, centimeters from slicing him in half. He spun right, back to back for an instant with the Kell, and stabbed through the Kell’s giant left quadriceps with his ark blade.


Draksis howled, snaking back his left elbow, hitting Brask square in his back and sending him sprawling on the stone floor. Brask was quick to his feet, turning and then swooning immediately to his back as Draksis flung a saber inches above his prone form. Again Brask leapt to his feet; as the giant galloped forward one-legged, Brask charged as well, leaping and pirouetting upside down in the air, above Draksis’s head. As the Kell swung his sword in an arcing uppercut, missing by a hairsbreadth, Brask’s quick dagger found the hose of Draksis helmet, spraying ether vapors into the still air. Brask landed deftly on the other side of Draksis, as the huge Kell fell to his knees, fumbling haplessly with his mask. The hunter rose, turning slowly toward wounded winter, his knife ready in hand.


Then he was floating, weightless: the world was spinning without moving. He looked down, at the blade that had protruded suddenly through his heart: it disappeared just as suddenly back through him, and he sagged to his knees, and fell forward, dead. Taniks stood over his victim as the Winter’s Kell finally stopped the fleeing whispers of his sustaining ether, rising slowly to his feet. They regarded each other; Draksis spoke.


“We should flee this place.” He stared back to the fires beyond the mountains, where the pale sphere glowed, half in moonlight and half in flame. “The hierarchy is dissembled; without their monarchs the Houses will fall to disarray. He must march a hasty retreat, and preserve those we can.”


“It was ever a fool’s errand,” replied Taniks, his hand to his ear. “Communications are restored. The Kell of Devils is slain upon the walls.” He regarded the fact a moment, dispassionately, then turned to Skolas. “The Wolves meet with disaster in the belt. It appears an unknown force has engaged them and shattered their lines. The fleet disperses in disarray.”


“What of my Kell?” asked Skolas.


“It is not known,” answered the hunter solemnly. “I will bring my Ketch and guide you to your fleet. The Devils are dissembled.” He turned to Draksis.


Draksis regarded their sudden shift in fortune. “I will return to the second planet. The strange artifacts of the dead singularity must be monitored perpetually, lest they rise and begin their crusade anew.” He shambled forward, standing with Taniks over their slain adversary. “A pity he was not of our own race. He was ever my equal. The Black Wolf, I called him.  I only knew whispers of him, a shadow in my dreams; so many of my House were claimed by his blades.”


They looked out over the rustling jungle, and the disaster of their future was bare before them. A skiff approached, down from the silent mountains, and they were gone.




The soft haze of approaching dawn was settling on the mountains when Cayde finally made his way to the shattered crown of the old fortress. The dead forms of the Kings’ Kells were strewn about in the rubble and broken walls of the high hall. At the center of the shattered rooftop, a curved fallen blade had been fixed, point down in the broken floor; rent, bloody, the sinuous black cloak of Andal Brask hung on the blade, the hood looped over its pommel. His body was nowhere to be found.


Cayde looked out over the stirring jungle. The Traveler hung over the city, vibrant and still. The fires of the night were dwindling smoke in the morning, and the distant thunder of the battle was gone. Cayde pondered a long while on the walls, as day broke on the mountain tops, and the sun prepared to climb. Then he took the black cape from the sword, and leapt down from the castle, disappearing into the jungle. The old fortress stood, wounded and sagging, overlooking the broken Ketch: a strange tomb to the House of Kings, a quiet witness to the end of Andal Brask.

One Response to The Lonely Fall of Andal Brask

  1. PsycheDiver January 17, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    Really well-written! Good job in capturing Cayde’s attitude. Do you have anywhere other than here that you post?

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