Uldren wants to try; he wants to know if he can do this and how much it will take to turn the City into home - to even have a home at all.
The Wolf had offered to help him pack, and had visibly winced at how little there was. Their ship was a state of the art needle, meant to thread sharp turns but still big enough to make the Jovian journey to the reef. He doesn’t want to sleep; nonetheless, he collapses on a disused cot almost as soon as they board the ship.
The flight from EDZ to City can be whittled down to a few short minutes, should you dip out of the atmosphere only letting the friction of air slow you to break your descent. He knows that it’s the most popular method to travel planet-side, but the Wolf only ascends just above the clouds, letting the hours go by slowly. Not enough time to sleep – the sun will rise soon. He remembers a person, a people perhaps – loving pageantry, symbolism, presentation; he wonders who they were, wonders if it was even real, or if this is somehow an attempt to hide from the truth. In his experience, one sort of uncertainty is never a good enough distraction from another.
He’s brought before the remaining Vanguard, imposing, grief-struck creatures. He would disdainfully pity their blatant angst, but something about the pair stirs dread in the current - like sensing a shark much bigger than you. He’s petrified through the introductions, through the heavy weight of the titan’s sorrow and the mad electric grief of the warlock. The sound of their armour, shifting and creaking and barely audible under the Wolf’s rasping clipped speech, rings loud like a death knell.
He’s not sure what’s said, despite himself and his better instincts, and the Wolf needs to gently guide him out of the room once the ruling is given. All he can think is how did I kill something like that.
He tries. He tries. He’s tired, but he tries.
He doesn’t want to be a bad guardian, doesn’t want to disappoint his Ghost. He doesn’t want to fail his new comrades – most unwilling, some ignorant (if he’s lucky). He doesn’t want to let down the civilians who only recognize the armour marking him as another one of their protectors. So he has to try and do better. He needs to be better.
At first he demands space; room away from his murderer, worst nightmare and babysitter all in one.
The absence made in searching for freedom and normalcy. He plays the Tower’s games and gets better guns, he patrols the wall and beyond, and he helps shoot down earthbound mining operations to get better armour. He doesn’t sleep much – which feels as normal as it does irritating.
If he doesn’t talk and keeps hidden, his aim and skill are just enough to cover for him – at least for a while. It inevitably falls apart sooner or later. They learn who he was- who he is, and they realize what he did. They make one of two faces, with the worst and most common one being a ghastly, haunted expression.
They always leave, after that.
He doesn’t sleep, he can’t sleep. Ataxia starts to set in. He doesn’t ever remember falling asleep, but he always wakes up distraught. So, he decides to strike out on his own for a time, stretched thin aim and skill protecting him where a fireteam should – at least for a little while, until he missteps.
But Uldren is immortal now; he need feel no fear in a gunfight and his failure is temporary at worst – everything is. Being left to die isn’t the end.
So even through failure he gets up, he does it all again. The few teammates who could stomach seeing his face never last, and before long they start to dwindle to none.
Time drips by too slowly, too quickly, all wrong and strange at once, like some half-remembered daymare of glowing white currents and water dripping to the sky. He’s alone again, in this city of everyone in the world. It’s been months since he’s talked to that Guardian, or anyone else really. They’ve been backed off for a while now. He can’t stand the space, and he thinks he hates them in new ways. Uldren watches their place on casual pedestals other people make – the heroism and adoration is sickening. He’s sick with it, with envy. There’s always a smile and a kind word for them. A strange sense of adventure and safety follows in their wake. Like the feeling of making eye contact with your best friend in a firefight, and knowing that come hell or high water they’ll defend you.
“Only idiots and the desperate fall for things like that,” Uldren scoffs one day out of nowhere to Pulled Pork, who says nothing back. “Blind, helpless fools putting all their hopes in one person? One saviour? It’s no wonder they keep failing into the brink of destruction.”
A hero, beloved for daring actions. Apparently he was one once upon a time, now he wants to be one again. The Wolf is one. He wouldn’t be here without his past mistakes, but with that heavy shadow clinging to his coattails, he won’t be anything more than a pariah. Uldren knows that won’t ever help make him friends, or allies, or even a true enemy.
Still, he makes a point to sneer twice as often and thrice as mean at the temporary rotating roster of teammates he’s assigned when needed.
He doesn’t want to be a bad Guardian, but he doesn’t know how to exist here. It’s lonely, and he’s a helpless fool. It’s by his own design, of course; and if he could, he’d shoot the man he’d been before in a heartbeat. Uldren doesn’t think he’s an idiot, but he suspects that he’s always been desperate. He calls the Wolf back and much to his surprise, they come.
Their ship is new; same with their weapons, armour, and even their Ghost’s shell. The the same sort of rich colours he saw before are painted generously across it all, and by now he’s been around other guardians enough to tell that everything carried is overkill. Standing at the empty hanger’s outermost edge the wind tugs sharply his cloak. He shifts with it awkwardly, half into a shooting stance, not truly sure what to say, or where to start. He didn’t actually expect to get this far. The Wolf cocks their helmet to him at the end of an deliberately slow approach.
“S’good to see you again.”
Grating as sheer ice as it is, it still doesn’t feel like a lie – but that doesn’t exactly help him figure out how he’s going to explain what he wants.
“No offence, but you wouldn’t have called – you wouldn’t have called me if it wasn’t important. Can’t blame you after, well… doesn’t matter.”
They trail off and shuffle, just as awkward as Uldren. They nod to themselves, and with a deep rasp of an inhale, they start over. “How can I help? What do you need me to do?”
“Your offer, from when you first found me – is that still open?”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t put a time limit on that. What do you want? This ship, a different one? It’ll take me a bit longer to dig your old one up and fix it, but I can cash in some favours if it’s a rush.”
He doesn’t want things, well okay, he does, he’s not a saint - but that’s not what he’s asking for right now. He snaps as much. “I don’t want your ship; you said you could take me somewhere else! Was that only supposed to be a one way trip?”
“Doesn’t need to be.”
“Good. Fine. Take me to… to Venus. I’ll call you when I want to come back.”
He thinks that they’re blinking under their helmet. Then they shrug; before Uldren can respond, a shimmering diamond shaped jumpship transmats in, this time a racing model.
“Well? I can get you there in the hour if we leave now.”
Uldren is about to protest that he should go and check out his weapon vault, but the Wolf catches the thought, and snorts, “Please, I’ll give you something better to take there anyways.” Pulled Pork seems excited by that, fluttering eagerly ahead into the ship, so he follows.
They keep their word; the two are there in an instant. He’s given a pulse rifle of foreign design and a hand cannon in classic lines. Only downside of a ship this fast is that there’s nothing but the tiny cockpit, so the copilot’s seat is where he sits. He’s too prickly and they’re too stoic to break the silence, uncomfortable as it gets at least it never feels hostile. His Ghost orbits their heads; their Ghost says hidden until they’re entering the atmosphere, when it chooses to tentatively peak up at Pulled Pork. They drop him off ten kilometres away from Ishtar's borders and nod goodbye. He doesn’t look back.
His cloak has been almost completely eaten away by radiolaria splatter by the time he calls for pick up. Uldren is rez-sick and Pulled Pork is weary. He’s got a cache of information he’ll give to the Vanguard for nothing, to pretend it was easy. He’s clinging together by his last thread when a familiar Light signature breaks the sound barrier above him. Something in the arcing storm makes it hard to transmat, so Uldren climbs forty stories of ruined concrete to a rooftop just under their ship and tries not to vomit when he makes the final jump. This ship has a passenger space, Uldren notes, as he arranges his face into a suitable mask (beneath the metal one) and marches forward to find them.
He manages to tolerate the tower for a day, but a festival is coming and he can’t stand celebration right now – not with the crowds it brings. He very resolutely ignores how traveling would be easier and safer and everything else to that effect if he just got himself his own ship while he punches in another call to that Guardian. He ignores it from common sense, his Ghost, and even himself. The Wolf doesn’t question it either – they never question it. After the request is sent, they show up, he demands a new location, and off they fly. By the time summer is dawning on the Last City, it’s become habit.
This is both worse and better. It almost feels like surgery - hollow, drugged out, staples pulling your skin, and yet healing.
They’re insufferable. They don’t talk often, but their Ghost does now, spewing endless ceaseless chatter. He’d hate him for that and more, if he and Pulled Pork hadn’t become fast friends. Ghost, not named it seems, is… chirpy. And cowardly. ‘Cautious’ would be more generous, ‘understandably wary’ more so – he’s seen unimaginable things, even beyond all that his Guardian has. He’s always willing to share his stories with Pulled Pork, and after a tip about Hive locks saves them both, Pulled Pork practically worships the air he flies through. He loves his Ghost, and his Ghost loves hero’s Ghost, so Uldren cannot bring himself to dislike him any longer.
He resents his new partner less too it seems, goodwill and attrition having worn him down.
Somewhere around the time they drop an ice-cold gun in his lap, serial number in the low hundreds and perfectly tuned to the Light in the way only the best weapons can be, they start to talk. Or rather, he starts to talk to them, and they start to answer on occasion. The two of them almost work their way up to a conversation on occasion.
Uldren still has nightmares of their face. Ever since he met them, besides the dying and the scorn and the disdain, who they are – what they could be – haunts him. He doesn’t know which is worse: if they’re something human and alien, awoken and familiar, or a grim metal gleam for skin. He doesn’t know what expression they wore when they put a bullet in his head the first time. So he couldn’t know the expression they would wear if they do it again for what he did, for what he’s done and will do, then again for the audacity of existing, again because he can not stop them, and again because – well. It’s a mystery.
He can’t picture it clearly and that’s a mercy. He thinks they suspect, maybe even know; because even now when he gathers the courage to remove his helmet, sometimes even pushing down his hood to talk, they keep themself masked.
Somewhere between summer setting into the Last City and new hand cannon being forced on him, this time a distinctly Awoken make - but before their mandatory weapon bundles come wrapped in a new cloak, the two of them fall into routine. They become almost friends.
His reputation spreads. The Wolf’s doesn’t. He’s a bad influence, a Guardian killer, a rogue agent who ended one their beloved Vanguard; he destroyed his people and will now take their hero with him as well. They’d gone rogue to hunt him down – a choice everyone envied at the time and few decried – but now that the deed is done their collectives of grief have cooled into a different shape.It’s no longer bloodlust and hatred and sorrow alone, it’s wariness of the implications of their actions too. They’re on a pedestal; the image of a scintillating ideal.
He’s not enough to topple it, they’re not enough to bring him up.
The world looks at the wide red path they carved into the stars, with the body at the end now standing beside them, and a twinge of uncertainty makes its nest. The Wolf isn’t hated. A few months ago, he wouldn’t feel sympathy for this lost trust – especially not when the same people hate him, now that his identity has spread.
A month ago, a week even, he wouldn’t have been sympathetic to their other plight, either. The people here don’t like him, but they can’t start to see that their Young Wolf is a person. Godhunter, Kingslayer, Chosen One.
Uldren thinks they’re friends, and that maybe they don’t help him out of guilt anymore (if they ever did).
The difference between immortal and invincible and infinite is sketched out in the path of their life—
They’re immortal, they will fight forever.
They’re not invincible, a cost is paid to do so.
They’re not infinite, eventually no more can be given and they take nothing back.
Uldren thinks they might be friends because he’s the least complicated and demanding part of their life.
Nothing special happens the last day, nothing spectacular. It’s petty, even without the long, long list of ill behaviour preceding it. It’s not even worth mentioning. It’s just the last straw.
Calm of the storm while he makes his way over to his vault and transmats everything out. Whirling distortion as he sees he has more than enough to buy a ship. Lightning strike terror hits - a realization that he doesn’t want to be alone with only him and his Ghost. Fear is his first surprise, the second comes when he catches sight of the Wolf’s armour. Forward tempest: maintain that momentum and don’t back down even though this isn’t planned out, it isn’t quite what was offered – and he’s going to asking a lot.
“We should talk.”
They startle away from the post frame, nod their thanks, and gesture for him to continue. He grabs their arm and pulls them away to a tower alcove.
“I presumed that away from here or perhaps in private was implied; it’s remarkable you get anything done being this slow on the uptake.”
He’s muttering to himself, only realizing it’s audible when their shoulders shake in silent laughter. He’s doing this wrong. Once they’re both out of sight, they lean against a wall, waiting patiently for him to gather his thoughts.
“Your offer, from when we first – when I first – before you brought me here: how flexible is it?”
They shrug, unhelpfully amicable, and gesture for him to continue.
“I can’t stay here. No, no one is after me, don’t look at me like that.” He wants to fiddle with his knife, but that wasn’t exactly non-threatening, which you should try to be when asking for a favour. “I tried, you tried. I owe you for that, but it’s – I can’t make a home here.”
They look almost, no - no it doesn’t matter. They reach for their pocket vault in the way that proceeds an expensive transfer. He slaps the hand down. “I can afford a ship! That’s not what I mean, just be quiet and listen.” They don’t point out the obvious flaw in that statement, which would have at least broken the silence, and he gathers himself one last time. Uldren thinks that in his past life he might have been charming and wishes very much he was that, rather than surly and bitter.
“You said ’it’s an awful big galaxy’. I’ve got nothing but time on my hands to explore, and that’s what I’d like to do – to go voyaging beyond the starlight. I wouldn’t be abandoning anything, just… leaving. Getting some space from all of… this. It occurs to me that you’re not much more tied up than I am - you could scout the frontier. Search for the next threat at the horizon. Something like a break, maybe. You’ve put everything worth worrying about in the system to rest, and they’re not wholly helpless here.”
“If you’re aiming to forget, can’t imagine I’d help.”
He startles. Whether from the unexpected voice or the argument, he doesn’t know. “I’m not. I just had the idea that a partner to watch your back would help. Or… one to watch mine?”
They tilt their head, considering (which is better than the blast to atomic splatter he’s been braced for). He wants to say something like ‘no one will even miss us’ but that’s a lie; more so than the ever tempting ‘no one need know we’re gone’. He offers, “If they need help they will call for you,” and it’s the best honesty he has. It will have to do.
Whatever it is that drives them, whatever bold streak of curiosity turns them to hunt down so many gods and monsters, that’s what gives agreement. The Wolf tells him to grab whatever he wants or needs and to meet them by the lower landing pad before marching off.
Uldren is high on success for one glorious moment before he needs to take a running jump off the tower (resurrection stops panic attacks). Bug out bag blues linger. He doesn’t have much, since he was prepared to leave even if they’d said no, but when he arrives at the landing pad they’re already waiting.
There’s yet another new ship hovering by the air dock, sharp as a dark ritual against the pale city luminescence in the pre-morning sky and big enough that some of the ships he was prepared to buy would fit in the cargo hold.
“Golden Age, fast and study enough that if you had the time you could get to the next solar system and keep going.” They seem sheepish, trailing off with a hand wiggle. “Didn’t know how far you had in mind. Brought the blueprints, just in case.”
“In case it’s damaged, which it won’t be, since I am an excellent pilot and you are the passenger.”
He sweeps up faux-imperious and they let him, surprisingly only fussing while in atmosphere. A pleasant surprise at last – it seems he actually is an excellent pilot. On old-and-unused instinct he plots a course slingshotting them around Venus, past the sun, towards Saturn and beyond.
The Wolf insists they make some stops, which isn’t as bad as it could have been. Honestly.Titan is new to him; he doesn’t like the crunch of chitin under his boots, but the storm is beautiful. Gasoline stains their clothing and wind storms play with his aim, which doesn’t scare him anymore, instead it feels more like a fun challenge, a game.
Sloane is the iron-stern protector of this place, commander of this Rig and she likes the Guardian. She appears grim at first, until they stumble in the hole in the wall after Uldren. Then she smiles, all dimples and teeth, and punches them in the shoulder. They’re setting after a Hive infestation, in exchange for a spare generator too small to matter here, with all the main wave powered ones online. It seems a poor bargain.
Wormrot stench makes its way through his mask and eats away at his grips, but they’re stubborn, and all he gets for his complaints is a better set of gloves tossed in his face. Wintery and tacky things, but there’s no time to swap shaders in the descent. The Wolf somehow manages to keep stopping and grabbing things. Uldren doesn’t like the distant hissing noises, the alien squelch, or the dim orange light. His finest and fastest reflexes are all that’s keeping him chewing through endless thralls, rather than a thrall literarily chewing through him.
Reload, aim, fire, no time to ready between rounds.
The Wolf is almost too hesitant, and almost too confident.
Twenty fathoms deep under the waves best he can tell - a faint shaft of light barely making it through a nearly overgrown window, the rhythm clicks. Dodge back on the beat and they throw a grenade, then hurl his knife to finish off a knight so they can move onwards to the next obstacle. Hesitance appears to have been holding back, and so he pushes to keep up with the pace the Wolf sets. They break through the floor into a nest, worms crunching under debris, a trio of oversized ogres awakening as a result.
Uldren is giddy: outnumbered and outsized, and still they’re the most dangerous things in the room. The Wolf feels present in a new way, light trailing up their fingertips, like they’re ready to tear the world apart. He fires a final primary round into a flesh stalactite, sheering it off into the creche. The split-second distraction catches their enemies’ attention, and none are prepared for the radiant killing bloom.
When they’re both done climbing back up after scrubbing the hive from existence, the Wolf offers Sloane the heavy bundle of all the strange things they’d picked up in exchange for a helmet – which they promptly shove into Uldren’s arms on the way out. He calls that his aim was better and races out to steal the pilot’s seat again.
Nessus is better. Nessus is tiny – the hungry ship in the sky makes him shiver, sure, but the planetoid itself is beautiful. He wants to lie in the fields and sun himself under the false sky, to run rampant through the canopies and dive through every bismuth-gold vex burrow. The two of them trek to a couple of crashed ships. One is a model close to their own, smashed into a mountain and broken in half. The Wolf slips inside on their own, cracked pottery in their hand. Before they come out, Pulled Pork recognizes the ID tag embedded in the ship as Vanguard property. Suddenly Uldren doesn’t know how to feel about being here.
They come out sans one bowl and plus a real paper notebook in one hand (which they quickly stuff in a pocket), and shimmering fistful of projection chits and map tablets in the other. They don’t rush towards the second ship like they didn’t rush to the first; no sparrows, just a leisurely pace set through the jungle. He pushes his uncertainty down, and nearly trips over a frog. When the two of them reach the other ship, he finds that this one is both a vessel and a person. This time, he’s invited inside. She – the ship – calls the Wolf ‘captain’, and swings from sweet to amaroidal sarcastic.
There’s no favours to do here, no errands to run. Just one last chance to walk among flowers for him, and one last chance to say goodbye for them.
He leaves after the ship after a little bit, the stilted greetings less enticing than seeing if he can make it to the top of that massive tree on the horizon. He can, as it turns out. When he finally makes it to the top, he catches one of the strange birds barehanded for the same reason he climbed the tree – just because he can. Death hides above; a fall from this height would kill him – and yet, their farewells had sounded final, but not like an end.
Eternity doesn’t seem so bad here, suspended in this place where leaves pool like blood rippling in the breeze. Unknown hours later, the Wolf’s voice cracks when they call that it’s time to go. Uldren lets himself fall off the branch. He drops halfway down, kicks off from the air once, and then twice – right before the impact with the ground would have splintered his limbs. Easier than flying, he thinks. It’s not until he goes to sling his gun that he notices his death grip on a handful of bright, pulped foliage. He drops it to the ground, and goes to pointlessly tune something.
They reach Neptune, and from Triton they catch a signal. It turns out to be a Cabal outpost, relaying Reef and City transmissions to their unknown empire. His partner, it seems, can hold a grudge better than previously thought. They’ll have a better map of dark space, at least. The Wolf brings out a truly nasty looking sword, grunts ‘Red War payback’, and transmats away. He groans and scrambles for his own loadout, then follows on instinct. They do better with cover fire anyway.
Twenty-four hours later by Ghost count (forever and an instant by his) the pair of them sits on the edge of a smouldering crater. After a protracted rampage through the base and significant loss of on both sides, Uldren begun feeling impatient. He’d found that the base reactor and munitions bay were worryingly close together and had pulled the knowledge to hot wire it seemingly from nowhere. It was an enthusiastically accepted suggestion. The pair of them had taken shelter three klicks down in the valley of a crater edge, but the blast still made his ears bleed. On the Wolf’s insistence, they’d made their way back; and here they sat, swinging their legs over the crater-edge left from the explosion, rifles ready to pick off any unlucky survivors. Given that it was still warm here, with no sign of cooling anytime soon at that - well Uldren very much doubted that there would be anyone.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Should you talk about it?”
They glare, unload and reload their rifle. Then they talk.
“Yeah. Red war. Before your time. Didn’t last long, but I failed. Cabal came, wanted the Traveler – in the worst ways, the greedy parasites.”
“Is there a good way to want it?” He can’t help but be a bit confused at how vehement everyone was about protecting it.
“Fallen – the Eliksni – they had it. Once upon a time, a whirlwind ago, they had their own golden age, and I can’t blame them for chasing that. I can kill them; I’ll lie down and die before I pretend they haven’t done atrocious things in their pursuit. But I can’t blame them. They’re just like us – in all the worst ways.”
Uldren nods, considering; he’d seen the different alliances between the Houses and the Reef and the City. Apparently he’d headed one, before… well.
“No point in hating the Vex. You can’t spend the energy on it – you’ll never be able to stop. It’s not in their nature to yield. It can’t be in ours to yield, either. Same with the Taken: just blighted, unwilling snapshots. They don’t give in.”
They’ve pilfered his knife to fiddle with, now scraping the flat edge against metal-tipped fingers.
“Hive I can hate. I can stand against their wrath; I can be a curse on their existence. I understand why they’re here, why we are anathema. I can understand why they hate us like we hate them, and the bloody history written between our struggles. I can be the burning edge that ends their conquest, the hand that crushes their sword and turns it against them, and I’ll feel no sorrow, no guilt, no pity, no mercy – because they chose this war.”
They shrug as if their speech is a statement of fact, rather than a threat.
“Cabal are just greedy. They’re not wanting for anything, they just think that they’re deserving – that victory is their right, and that despite their vast empire they must push violently onwards. They’re the only ones here who haven’t lost their homeworld, you know? They’re mundane: the Dark did not ask them to answer, and the Light has never called. I don’t begrudge survival, but they’re fighting for a prize. I won’t – I can’t – I – we will never be a trophy.”
The Wolf doesn’t slam his knife down. Their final statement is punctuated by a slow drive, hilt-deep, into the stone.
“They came here and they killed us – tried to annihilate us – because of pride. It was… so empty, so alone for nothing. They wanted for nothing. They didn’t need to come here, and they didn’t need to stay.”
“You drove them to the brink before, you can do it again.” Uldren nudges their arm. “You’ve already made a decent first impression.”
They sit there until he begins to freeze to the ground, his extremities already blue long before today. Before going back to the ship, the knife is swapped out for an ammo synth. Uldren makes a note to ask more questions; it’s the only way to get them to talk, it seems. The two leave Neptune behind and push onward, on twisting course to Pluto.
They land there for a break, the once-planet too small and too dead to be worth enemy outposts. Though they haven’t been grounded for long it’s quite out here. The latest, even vaguely notable event to happen while drifting was when the Wolf finally explained what the Leviathan was (and what lived there) about a fortnight ago.
This far out, the void is easier to call, and Uldren has been experimenting with it. He learns to wrap himself in the space between stars and step out sharp as an obsidian arrowhead. He can’t quite draw a bow from beyond, the motions of a gun are instinct not this - but a knife is always knife. No matter if it’s made of mortal metals, broken rays of molten sunlight or a nothingness so fine it cuts.
Life is almost steady, almost hopeful, almost good – and then the Wolf wakes up from a nightmare. Uldren has long since mastered the trick of not waking up screaming.
Sunlight doesn’t mean much around here, but the standard clock they run tells Uldren that it happens in the early morning.
He can’t sleep, big surprise. His routine of mending armour on his cot until his eyes can’t stay open any longer, then waking up a second time hours later is interrupted. No words are distinguishable in the echo; just an almost-familiar voice filled with dread.
He calls up armour as he races to the cockpit; if they’re under attack – then, well he has no idea what could cause that amount of fear but he certainly won’t fight it in pyjamas.
Barely-real red fog dissipates so quickly that he’s not sure it was even there when he throws the hatch open. There’s nothing in view: nothing on the radar, no blasts rock the vessel. False iridescence clings to the sound and sight.
They scramble for a weapon first moment they can, whipping it around blindly. Uldren winces when their panicked aim arcs across the cockpit glass. Then without warning, they let the gun tumble free, needing both hands to claw at jawline clasps.
Both Ghosts flutter into existence to knock against helmet metal. They clutch blindly at their own, hand from neck, to press sharp shell points against their thinest armour. Their Ghost held tightly helping a quiet grief and calm gradually begin to sink in. Starlight shining through the window tinting paints the Wolf in washed out blue.
Uldren waves Pulled Pork over and into hiding. He places his back against the open doorway, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. “I’m aware we have a,” he flips his hand in a casual way he doesn’t feel, “unspoken agreement about not speaking.”
“I won’t pry – I owe you that courtesy at least – but if you did want to talk about what that all was about, be my guest.”
“An old fear. I’ve…seen things. Maybe the distance is letting all of it catch up with me.”
Ghost is crushed closer in comfort and then released, like a downy seed in the wind. They don’t discuss it further. He doesn’t believe them that night, and even they don’t seem to buy what they’re saying. They get better at mostly hiding it, if not completely.
Uldren can’t judge. The next time he woke up was two days later. He’d stabbed the wall before his eyes opened, thinking that they’d come to kill him again.
He hopes they don’t know, but suspects they might. Distance and denial are all that can be offered as comfort. He finds that disquieting. Like a ship in motion, their natures much the same – the easiest and only thing to do now is to push on.
The planetoids out here are tiny, barely touching, flirting with the endless expanse. Small dead masses trying to leave their birthplace, refusing to be nest-bound any longer. Sunshine and Light are faint; it’s not Dark, only empty. Then suddenly, when they push past the arbitrary boundary between homespace-and-faraway the sky is full.
On the edge of everything he’s ever known redshift flight instinct suddenly makes sense. The sky is full. There is nothing here. There are uncountable ships in the shape of sharp thorns. A heartbeat not his own rushes in his ears. He cannot see the danger, and mechanical sensors do not pick it up. Not yet, whispers something cynical, not until it’s too late. Something is wrong, though: he feels it, the Ghosts feel it. The Young Wolf twitches in distress. He knows them well enough to guess that this particular silence means they’re just as affected. Suddenly, like a blackberry vine sprouting through skull and brain tissue, revelations pierce him.
He’s pinned by the needlepoint sensation of Dark. Endless possibilities splaying out through them like unraveled twine – like they are a prism, made only to collect this un-spectrum scattering of entropy beams from or to a place so very close to where the Light flows. So close, after the scale of what they’ve seen and the scope of its dead yet extant spread. There’s something coming, warping an event horizon of hope. There’s already something like it next door – something once-dreaming. In the space where everything is drawn taunt and stretched spider-thread thin, the system-spanning paracausal web plays a clear message like a morning hymn: it is waking up now.
The awareness doesn’t go away, not really; but either the force withdraws or he acclimates. He wants to weep in a brief moment, wants to flee past whatever they do not see but know is there and to never come back.
In the stubborn curve of the Wolf’s spine, in the calculating tilt to their head, in the clench of their armoured fists it’s plain to see. It’s obvious. They do not want anything like that at all.
They won’t despair, do not accept loss, they bury sorrows. They gaze even and unyielding on the black. They want to stand and fight, they don’t want to abandon anyone – they want to save everyone. It’s arrogance to think they alone could make such a drastic difference - and most unfortunately it’s not wrong.
Uldren doesn’t do any of those things he wants; just stares, half-breathing, and waits for the inevitable heroic ultimatum. They’ll offer a way out for him, of course; he knows that much.
Some loophole, some escape. Nothing enough to divert his realization: the certainty he will follow.