In a small stone garden at daybreak, Ikora Rey meditates, her attempts at communion with the Traveler unsuccessful. Her mind is fraught with worry over the variables, decisions that must be made, and the margins.
Above her hangs a cloud-swept Traveler: an ivory island in oil. Mute. Bereft. Its acts untimely and oblivious.
Ikora remembers the many times she watched Osiris sit here in frustration. The gardens represented serenity to her then, and he was the brazier's flame—brilliant and illuminating. The world was clear in those early days, but clarity was shallow and easily altered by the painful nuance of time.
Ikora murmurs to herself. "We are adrift. Our foes know their bearings and we…"
There is an imminent, daunting pressure.
Ikora holds her breath.
She is not alone; something is wrong. She feels an intrusion and tension draws tight around her heart.
A shadow moves over her.
She breathes again; familiarity anchors her.
"Osiris… would you care to join me?" She recognizes his robes, his voice, and that is all. His face sinks between dancing shadows cast by the garden's torchlight. He is smaller, worn, and devoid of the magnificence she remembered. A monument of embers, defined by what once was.
Osiris scoffs and peers up at the Traveler. It bears down upon him—a pressure building in his brain. He looks away and shakes his head. "I do not. I came to deliver something to you. A message I recovered, from Sagira."
"Sagira. If ever you wish to… I know you don't, but if you do…"
"Of course." Osiris hands her a small data-slate. "I have not read it."
"Oh?" A wry smile touches Ikora's face. "Privacy and sentiment… who are you and what have you done with Osiris?"
They chuckle together for a moment. Osiris meets her eyes. "In times of change, those who stay the same are often swept away."
There is comfort in his words, in the tone of mentorship. His honesty is refreshing against the careful tiptoe dialect of plumage and phrasing required in City conversation.
"Thank you." Ikora runs her fingers over the slate. "I was glad to support your reinstitution… and to see you return." She could not help but offer him this scrap of recognition. It is deserved. He was worth more, and she would not let the broken pieces before her reshape his image.
Ikora's eyes slide across the Traveler as if it were polished. "Do you still feel it?"
"I think not, but I am drawn to it just as I was drawn here. Memory and habit."
Ikora nods. "I lost my Light during the Red War. I don't think I ever told you. I kept feeling something. A hook that wouldn't quite catch. I was hoping you felt the same."
"You believe you felt the Light even while the connection was broken?" Osiris steps toward her, his shadow wavering in the flame-cast glow of the fire. "Interesting."
"I feared the call was not of the Light."
Osiris looks at her quizzically.
"Eris believes we all harbor Darkness. That it is only a matter of tapping it, as if it is a resource to be spent without cost." Ikora looks to the Traveler again, awaiting judgment for her words; recognition, anything.
"You fear its accessibility?"
"Not for the sake of hoarding, I would hope?"
"No. I fear what reckless hands would do with that knowledge." Ikora has seen it: anger given voice through power, and she has lived long enough to know fear flows freely in the absence of reason.
"Now is not the time to be concerned with gatekeepers." Osiris's words ring with truth. Denial and ignorance would become the cornerstones of their prison. To be wielded, to be properly resisted, Darkness must be understood.
"The power it offers is a pathogen," Ikora says, "virile and ravenous. We must inoculate ourselves against its temptations." But the doubt does not leave her. "Still, the mere hint of Darkness has already corrupted so many."
Osiris looks at his open palm. "Yes, and they were strong, but it is possible they were not strong in the right way. A wall does not keep out the rain."
To some, the Last City is alive. During the hours of light and dark, it breathes in rhythm with the traffic flow of vessels in the skies and citizens walking its streets. And it cries out in their shared fear and uncertainty about the future and times ahead.
Saint-14 came to hear those cries. To immerse himself in them and understand.
The sun is setting when Ikora Rey finds him in a plaza beneath the Traveler's shadow. There were crowds here, not all that long ago. Crowds of citizens flinging praise and accusations in equal measure. Like a Titan, Saint endured. But when the eyes of the City are no longer on him, Saint takes the time to tend to his wounds. Even if they are merely metaphorical.
"If you need the space, I can come back another time." Ikora announces her presence, standing beneath an arch trellis fragrant with lavender and heather. Sitting on an old concrete bench, Saint looks to her from across the plaza. His permission to approach is as simple as a beckoning gesture.
As Ikora enters the plaza, she can see the fatigue wearing down on him. Never does a Titan's shoulders show such burden as they do when they bear the weight of others.
"Hello, Ikora." Saint greets her and straightens up, as if in defiance of his earlier slouch.
"Saint." Ikora sits beside him on the bench.
"Is peaceful here, especially when the sun is setting. So many shadows at this hour, but see that?" Saint motions with an armored hand toward a corner of the park bathed in warm, golden glow. "Always a little light, no matter how dark."
Ikora doesn't even realize she's smiling at first, choosing to temper her expression in light of what she'd come here to talk about. Saint can already tell.
"You have come to ask after Osiris, yes?" He keeps his focus ahead on the play of shadow and light.
"I just want to know if he's..." Ikora pauses; she doesn't know which words to use.
Saint nods, then folds his hands in his lap. "You know Osiris," he says with a hint of a good-natured jab in his tone. "Private, even among friends. Cloistered."
Ikora remains silent, but lays a reassuring hand on Saint's arm.
"But… he has changed." Saint's shoulders slacken. "Ever since the Young Wolf dragged him off the moon, it feels like a part of him stayed there." Saint shakes his head. "He is both obsessed and empty."
Then, quietly, he adds, "He would not even let me comfort him."
"Osiris has never handled grief well." Ikora gives his arm a squeeze, but leaves her hand there in reassurance. "You know the roads that can lead him down."
"Yes," Saint agrees. "He is already planning. Researching old records of the Speaker, Cryptarch texts on Ghosts. I worry so much, but I cannot tell him so. You know how he would react."
Ikora squeezes Saint's arm again. "Saint?"
The Titan turns to regard Ikora; wordless acknowledgment of her question.
"This isn't easy to ask, but you know Osiris better than anyone." He already knows the question by the palpable concern in Ikora's eyes. "Is… Osiris a danger to himself?"
Saint looks away. He can't bear to see that look in her eyes. He can barely give her his honest answer.
"I do not know."
Because it hurts too much.
"High priority… cause for concern…" Cold electronic light flickers over Zavala's face as he scrolls. "Investigation ongoing… results unclear…" None of it registers; at this time of night, the words all blur together. An indecipherable stream of endless worry.
In a blip, the screen goes dark. "Thank you, Targe," he murmurs, rubbing his eyes. His Ghost, silent and steady as a rock, nods. Forcing the commander to power down is part of the routine these days.
A blue flash, a change in air pressure. The day isn't done yet. Zavala looks up just as Ikora lands in his office's threshold. "Is now a bad time?"
A silly question—Ikora can see the weariness hanging on Zavala like mist on a mountain—but it feels right to ask. A habit from breezier times.
Zavala gestures for her to sit, but Ikora shakes her head. "I have a request," she says, moving towards the vista behind his desk. "It's a favor, really."
The view is especially stunning tonight: the City's streetlights glowing amber under a purple night sky, the Traveler gleaming over it all. Usually, this scene would fill Ikora with fierce pride and protectiveness.
Right now? Nothing but envy for the citizens sleeping below.
"Managing the Hidden has never been a simple task," she begins as Zavala joins her at the window. "And now that we need them more than ever..."
"They need you." His immediate affirmation is firm and reassuring despite his own exhaustion. "Of course. I'll handle the rest."
But she can't accept it. "In all your spare time?" She chuckles softly. "Let's face it, Zavala. The Vanguard was never meant to be a two-person operation."
Zavala looks at her, bewildered. Is she seriously suggesting that now is the time to…?
"I don't mean filling Cayde's seat. Not with everything that's going on. I think a better plan is for you to take on an assistant." Ikora fights to keep her face neutral as she presses on. "One who has experience in times of war. Who understands the Vanguard's role intimately, especially when it comes to making decisions that may be… unpopular."
Now it's Zavala's turn to chuckle. "Not many candidates with those qualifications. Saint-14, perhaps. And…" He stops short, the faint smile evaporating from his face. "You're not asking me to make Osiris my assistant, are you?"
Ikora clears her throat, briefly overtaken by the urge to transmat far, far away. Landing in a nest of angry Hive would be preferable to finishing this conversation. "Advisor is probably the title he'd prefer."
"I take it you haven't discussed this with him, then." A gentle admonition. Ikora can't bring herself to meet Zavala's gaze, but his sigh tells her enough. "Can he be relied on?" Zavala asks finally.
She wants to answer, to say "Yes, of course," but the words have lodged themselves in her throat. Her vision swims with a thousand pinpoint lights shining in the City that night, each one connected to a life she's bound to protect.
"A wall does not keep out the rain," Osiris's voice rumbles in her head. She closes her eyes, back in the stone garden earlier that day. They had been talking about the Darkness and the strength to keep it at bay.
But before that, Osiris had handed her a message. One he couldn't bear to read, which was just as well because it contained, amongst other things, an all-caps indictment:
HE IS NOT AS STRONG AS HE THINKS.
Ikora had smiled upon reading that. Even in death, Sagira couldn't resist taking her Guardian down a peg or two. The rest of the message was not as amusing.
I know you know that, Ikora. But I'm telling you here because he will try to strong-arm you and everyone else into leaving him alone. Please don't let him. Without me there to harass him into asking for help, I don't know what he will do. Something self-destructive is my guess.
You're the same that way: you've got hungry minds. Needing constant challenges to occupy you. My death is one of those puzzles that cannot be solved. He'll try though. He'll try until he burns out completely… only this time, I won't be there to sweep up the ashes.
"Ikora?" Zavala's voice draws her back to reality.
"He wants to help." Ikora forces herself to look at Zavala. Let him see her disquiet, her desperation. Anything to convince him. "He needs to help."
Zavala meets her gaze. For a moment, neither of them say a word. They simply look into each other's eyes, into the eyes of the only other being with the weight of the Sol system bearing down on their shoulders.
At last, he breaks the silence. "Very well."