A monolithic ivory tower pierced the distant horizon. Siegfried, first Striker Titan of the Praxic Order, sat across from The Queen's Wrath and two bodyguards. Their skimmer-craft glided through the dazzling amethyst architecture and swooping fog-ridden tunnels of the Dreaming City. Crystalline reflections danced through the cabin around them like rainbow-mist flares, catching sheen off Siegfried's polished Dunemarchers.
"I've never seen this road."
"That doesn't surprise me. Much of the city remains inscrutable to prying eyes," Petra Venj chuckled. "You've visited before?"
"Once or twice. Is that Rheasilvia through the fog?" Siegfried removed his helmet and hung it on the Invective slotted beside his seat. A thick flaxen braid ran down the midsection of his head, fading into stubbled sides that fed a sumptuous beard.
"It is." Petra looked the man over. "That's not a common fashion for a Guardian."
"Grew in during the Red War. It took a liking to me." Siegfried stroked his chin. "Will your soldiers be ready to move once we arrive?"
"At nightfall." Her hand was outstretched, holding field notes. "You understand what you're facing?"
Siegfried took them and slid the note packet into his breastplate beneath a Cormorant Seal. "Innumerable Hive."
"Yes, and particularly vicious ones."
"That has always been my experience." Siegfried smiled. "I'm sure your Corsairs will allow no harm to come to me. I will do the same for them."
"They'll be relieved to have a Guardian leading the charge."
"My briefing mentioned fauna being afflicted by a pervasive infestation?"
Petra kept the worry from her face. "Recently sapient beings have begun to show symptoms as well."
"It's spreading." The Praxic Titan leaned forward. "How have you combated this?"
"Intelligence suggests the Hive congregate around some sort of relic. We believe it is the affliction's point of origin." Petra pointed to his breastplate. "Your notes provide more details."
"It is my understanding I am not to destroy this relic. Why?"
"'Whatever the Hive bow to in the dark: secure it, intact,'" she quoted. "It represents too many unknowns to discard without examination."
"That is not my perspective. The Hive exist to purge or be purged. I say we oblige them." Siegfried turned to The Queen's Wrath. "My feelings aside, you are the commanding officer of this expedition. I will comply."
"Do so with care. You alone are cleared to approach the relic. My Corsairs don't enjoy the protection of the Light, and I want them keeping a safe distance once the nest is clear."
"Very well. Still, know my recommendation to the Vanguard will only be in support of eradication or containment."
"The Reef will take note of their opinions. For now, I imagine the Vanguard are rather focused on Europa. At least, if what I hear from Eris is accurate."
"Eris Morn is a traitor." Siegfried's voice was stern, his eyes locked with Petra's.
Her lip convulsed in a silent snarl. "The information she shares would suggest otherwise." Petra turned away from Siegfried as the skimmer-craft dipped beneath the fog. She thought of Eris's last letter, the sighting of Variks. Pieces in motion. Coats turning or bisected. Wartime nuances. "Maybe this deployment will be good for you."
"Anywhere my Light can send shadows into retreat is a good deployment."