Bite-sized Backstory 45: The Hunter and the Soldier (Destiny)
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.