> Submission Received from kjcman
Everything was lost. The tower, the city, the vanguard, the Traveler, even the light. We had lost. How had this happened? How was it that all that we had achieved together as guardians was able to be swept aside as if those achievements meant nothing? To the Red Legion we were nothing but insects. A tiny bug to be stepped on by the boots of this new conquerer, Ghaul, who desired to prove himself greater than us. I knew what this meant to him, he must have heard of our exploits. He knew that we had proven our existence against the Vex, Hive, Fallen and Taken many times over. So to him, defeating us, meant that he had proven himself that much greater.
It has been 4 days since the fall of the last city. I managed to escape the carnage. Perhaps it was the will of the Traveler? I’ve heard the murmurs of many of those around me, that the Traveler was dead and it was up to us to save ourselves. I didn’t want to believe that. I believed that it was still alive, if only barely. I had sworn I felt it guiding us, helping us push back the encroaching darkness that sought to extinguish humanity.
Thankfully against all odds my exo frame wasn’t damaged beyond repair from the fall off of Ghaul’s command vessel. However I still required attention. I could walk, but not very quickly. I could fight, but barely. My ghost had done what he could but without the light it was just enough to keep me moving. Where I was going I had no idea. The city was lost so where else was there to go? I had heard stories about the settlements outside the city but I had no clue as to where they were or where to even start looking. So I just kept moving forward.
My ghost and I had remained mostly silent as we traveled across the landscape. “How many people do you think made it out alive,” my ghost inquired.
“I don’t really care to speculate,” I answered tersely. This wasn’t because I didn’t worry about everyone’s safety but because it was simply overbearing to think about.
My ghost looked away and decided to change the subject. “Well, at the very least we should talk about our options.”
“We don’t have any options,” I replied bluntly. “The only thing I can think of is to try to find someone, anyone and then determine the best course of action from there.”
“But isn’t there anyone you can think of that we can contact,” my ghost asked with a hint of desperation in his automated voice. “Maybe the Awoken?”
“The Awoken probably have their own problems to deal with,” I replied with exasperation. “I would be surprised if they haven’t already fled the system. Most of their fleet was decimated when they battled Oryx. So they wouldn’t have any strength to oppose Ghaul’s armada.”
“But there has to be someone out…”
My ghost fell silent as he was interrupted with a not too distant scream, the scream of a human child.
“Did you hear that,” my ghost asked.
I didn’t answer. I had heard it and was already limping as fast as I could towards the screaming. There were others out here besides us. I felt a surge of what I had come to recognize as hope as I climbed up one final hill and laid eyes upon the source of the screaming.
There was a small clearing up ahead. The scene was dotted with small bits of foliage and thin trees. In the center of the clearing was the human child that I had heard screaming before. He was being circled by two dregs who were prodding him playfully with their blades. I then heard shotgun shots and the grunts of a grown man off in the distance. I quickly made the connection that this was most likely a family that had gotten separated from one another.
I didn’t think twice about what needed to be done. I pulled out my sidearm and took two quick head-shots at the closest dreg who after letting out a cry of surprise fell to the ground. The other dreg, who had no doubt assumed this child was easy pickings whipped its head around to look at the new threat. I saw an expression of what I assumed was horror on its face as I landed three more shots, two in its torso and one in its skull. The child didn’t immediately get up but instead remained scrunched on the ground trembling. As I holstered my sidearm and rushed to the child’s side I heard one final shot of a shotgun and the cry of a fallen. The man had survived, good.
I kneeled next to the child who I now saw was a boy and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s over. They’re gone,” I said to him. The boy shuddered a little at my touch, but after looking up and seeing my helmeted face he smiled. This was heartening. I hadn’t met many citizens of the city. All of my time had been spent in the tower. So seeing the smile of this boy was a joyous feeling. At least, it was the feeling that I had come to associate with joy.
“Are you a guardian,” the boy asked with wonderment in his voice.
“I am,” I replied. “Are you injured at all? Are you alright?”
At this my ghost revealed himself and asked the next question that was on my mind. “Where are your parents?”
The boy who couldn’t be any older than eight or nine looked with amazement in his eyes at my ghost. He didn’t answer any of our questions and instead pointed and asked, “Is that your ghost? He can talk?”
My ghost emitted a whistle that I had never heard him make before and jittered a little bit before continuing to speak. “I am and I can. Where are your parents?”
The boy didn’t answer. He stared at us and spoke with admiration and excitement. “My mom used to tell me stories about the guardians. About how they kept us safe and protected us from the bad aliens outside the city. Are you a titan, ooh, are you a warlock? I want to be a warlock! Mom said that maybe someday I can be. What can your ghost do? Does he live inside your head?”
I felt overwhelmed with questions but also, I felt happy? Was this how normal human children acted? If I could smile I would. I removed my helmet so as to let the child get a look at my face. Upon seeing that I was in fact an exo his expression faltered a little before smiling even wider.
“You’re an exo,” the boy exclaimed. “A real exo? Like you’re a person but a robot?”
I was about to reply when I heard someone shout from ahead. “Son, get away from him. He doesn’t deserve your adoration!”
I looked up and saw the man who I had undoubtedly heard fighting fallen beyond the hill. He was awoken, broad shouldered and had a grim expression on his face. He was wearing simple, dirty and tattered clothing and wielded a shotgun that rested on his shoulder.
“Dad, look!” The boy pointed at me as I got up from my kneeling position beside him. “A real guardian dad! He can help us!”
“Are you the boys father,” I asked as the man approached.
“I am,” he replied. “Now get back here son!”
The boy looked disappointed and didn’t move for a bit but then got up obediently and walked towards his father.
I couldn’t help but stare at this man. What did he mean I didn’t deserve the boy’s adoration? I wasn’t one to bask in people’s praises but I didn’t see any harm in letting the boy admire me. I found him curious and innocent.
The man grabbed his son by the wrist and started to walk away without another word to either of us. I reached out to say something but my ghost was the first to speak up. “Excuse me, where are you going? We could help you.”
The man ignored my ghost and kept walking.
“If you won’t listen to him, maybe you’ll acknowledge me,” I called out. “We could come with you and keep you safe. It looks like you had a tough time with those fallen. I’m an exo, so I don’t have to sleep at night, I could keep watch for you two and see that you make it safely to wherever you’re going.”
“Well thanks to you and everyone else up in the tower we don’t have anywhere to go!” The man shouted as he finally stopped and whipped around to face us. He specifically avoided eye contact with my ghost, which I found rude but thought was pointless to argue.
The man walked towards me making angry gestures as he continued to talk. “You guardians are the reason that we’re in this mess! All of this. You could have stopped this but you didn’t and now everything is gone. The city, our home, my wife and brother, gone! We barely made it out of there alive without anyone’s help but our own. We made it out without the help of the guardians and we can make it out here on our own as well.” At this he turned again with his son’s wrist in hand, who was still looking back at us longingly.
“But dad, they can help us. Mom would ask them for help,” the boy pleaded.
“Kira is gone,” the father replied with a softer tone, “it’s up to us to find shelter.” At this he looked back over his shoulder and shouted, “Don’t follow us! We’re fine without you or the Traveler’s so called blessing!”
At that they walked over a hilltop and disappeared from view. My ghost continued to watch even after they were gone. He broke the silence, “Well that was rude.”
“They do have a point though,” I spoke with solemnity. “It is my fault that everything is gone. He lost his family. I won’t ever know what that feels like.” If I was physically able to cry, I would assume this would be a perfect time to do so.
“What about your fireteam,” my ghost asked me. “I know I feel close to them. If I were you, I would consider them my family and we don’t know if they made it out alive either.”
At this I felt a shock that I had associated with emotional hurt. “Hmm,” was the only thing I could utter to what my ghost had said. They were certainly the closest thing I would consider to family. I put my helmet back atop my head and started walking toward where I saw the father and son disappear.
“Wait, what are you doing,” my ghost asked as he floated back to my shoulder. “Are you going to follow them? Even after they made it pretty clear they don’t want you to?”
“He is in mourning. He isn’t thinking clearly,” I told my ghost. “Despite his abilities to defend himself in tight situations, he won’t survive out here alone. I’ll follow at a distance and keep out of view. He’ll never know that I’m following them.”
“Listen, I want to help them as much as you do, but think about this a little. You don’t have your light. If you die defending them I can’t revive you. And then we’ll never be able to protect anyone else.”
I didn’t reply. I knew about the risks, but this was about more than just protecting this family. I felt guilty and that I needed to atone for my mistakes. I wasn’t there when the city was attacked. I could have helped. I didn’t though. No matter what my ghost thought I still felt it was my fault. I could sense my ghost wanted to protest further. Instead he kept quiet, disappearing back inside my head.
I followed the family at a distance as I had said I would. My ghost kept me updated on when they changed direction or stopped so I could avoid being detected. Nothing happened of importance. I saw Cabal ships flying overhead on occasion to and from the city but they never took notice of us. Or maybe they did and didn’t consider us a threat. On the second night following them a thunderstorm rolled through so I had to seek shelter in a forested area after my ghost told me that they had found shelter as well.
On the third night I sat alone thinking to myself while staying aware of my surroundings. The family had stopped for the night and were sound asleep. Occasionally I heard nocturnal animals going about their nightly routines. Some of them scurried around as families. I couldn’t help but slip into deep thought. What was family? Was family only biological? If that were the case then I would most likely never come to understand the feelings of biological beings. I was an exo which meant that I didn’t experience emotions like others did. It was even possible that I didn’t experience emotion at all. I had no memory of my life before, if I even had one. All I had of my past was my name etched into my chestplate, Juriak-7.
Just then I heard a rustling sound that brought me out of my deep thought. I looked around and noticed that the moon had passed midnight. How long had I been thinking? I shook my head and quietly got up to look around. Nothing appeared to be amiss but something felt off. My sensors were giving confusing signals.
“Ghost, I whispered.”
“What’s the family’s status? Are they still safe?
My ghost was silent for a moment before replying. “They haven’t moved from their location. Do you want me to scan the area for threats?”
“Yes. Something doesn’t feel quite…”
Just then I was knocked off my feet by something I couldn’t see. I didn’t get it, was my viewing sensors damaged? I rolled over just in time to hear a blade dig into the ground where I had been just moments before. I tried to stand but before I could a dreg jumped on top of me and pinned me to the ground. I writhed under the weight of the dreg but they had caught me by surprise. Had the light made me weak? Was I helpless to defend myself, much less others when I didn’t have the aid of the Traveler’s gift? The now fully uncloaked marauder ripped off my helmet off as the dreg held me down. I knew the killing blow would come next. Summoning all the strength I could I punched the dreg in the side. It gave a loud whelp and let go just enough for me to throw the dreg over my head.
I stumbled to my feet and looked where I had thrown the dreg. When I spotted it I was surprised to find it had been impaled by the marauder’s sword that would have very likely killed me if I had hesitated. The marauder tried to pull out its weapon from the lifeless corpse to no avail.
“Juriak,” my ghost interrupted my thought with urgency. “The father and son…”
“I know ghost,” I quickly interjected as I pulled out my sidearm and took aim at the marauder. “The fallen must have been tracking us both. I just hope that I can get to them in time.” I let off two shots at the marauder who abandoned its weapon in order to sidestep and avoid my projectiles.
I lowered my sidearm and gave a low growl as I charged the disarmed marauder who readied its stance to trade blows. As I charged I started to feel my damaged frame protest. I needed to end this quickly or else I would be terminated. I aimed a blow for the marauder’s skull. My fist whipped by its head as it dodged out of the way not realizing that my other fist was aimed at its side. My fist made contact and the marauder staggered back from the shock of the impact. It roared in anger at me right before my next attack found its mark. With a final thud, I smashed the head of my enemy who fell back lifeless.
I nearly fell to the ground as my frame trembled from the encounter. If I could barely fight back a couple of fallen, what could I do against the Cabal? I shook my head in resolve. No use in asking these questions now. “Ghost?” I was afraid to ask about the fate of the ones I was trying to protect.
My ghost replied quickly, “I’m still detecting their life signatures, but barely.”
“That means there’s hope left,” I said as I stood to full height and retrieved my helmet. I needed to do this. I owed them much more than I could give. Protecting them was the first step on a long road to redemption. I felt my frame resist as I ran through a forest towards the family’s camp, but it didn’t matter. The only thing on my mind was making sure the father and son were safe. Finally my ghost informed me that we were close and I slowed my pace. It was too quiet. The only thing that could be heard was a slight breeze through the leaves overhead. I was afraid I already knew the answer to the question that was growing on my mind.
I pulled back one final branch and there, in the clearing, was my answer. Two bodies, both limp, lay there on the ground. I was too late. I couldn’t save them. They were lost.
The next day
“None of this is your fault you know,” My ghost said breaking the day long silence that we had been keeping. I didn’t reply and kept walking forward.
My ghost materialized, flew ahead of me and stopped, blocking my path. “Juriak, we couldn’t have done anything for the city and you couldn’t have done anything more for that family out there. Sometimes, things just happen that we can’t control. All we can do is our best.”
I closed my eyes in thought. Deep down I knew that he was right. I guess with everything that I had done I had started to feel like I could stop anything that threatened humanity. Ghaul was a reminder that that simply wasn’t true. “I just wanted to prove that I wasn’t helpless,” I replied finally. “If I could’ve saved that family I would have shown that I was still of some use.”
“As long as we’re both still functioning we are of use. Guardians are still the best hope that humanity has against the Cabal. We may not be able to do anything now but if we are patient, an opportunity might just well present itself. When that day comes, Juriak, I want to ensure that you’re there to shine in the darkness.”
My ghost was always there for me when I needed him the most. He had revived me countless times and kept me alive when he couldn’t. Yet I never expected him to lift my spirits like the way he just did. So many people took their ghosts for granted. Most saw them as tools much like the weapons that we carried. Here I was though being consoled by my ghost like a companion, like family.
I opened my eyes and looked directly at my ghost. “Ghost.”
“I find it funny that I’ve never given you a name, don’t you?”
My ghost almost seemed surprised by this. He eventually replied, “Why would I need a name?”
“You’re my family are you not? I would think that would be reason enough. What do you think of the name Chester?”
“Why Chester,” my ghost seemed to be getting more and more confused.
“Why not Chester?”
After a moment of floating silently in the air, my ghost simply replied, “Very well, you can call me Chester from now on.” Though it sounded like he didn’t care, I could sense that Chester was pleased. We continued our journey after that. We didn’t know where we were going, but we both had a new sense of hope within us. Almost as if there was something out there guiding us.
After another half an hour of walking passed a memory resurfaced. “Chester, when that child asked if you were my ghost and you made that whistle noise, what exactly was that?”
Chester took a moment to answer, “I was flustered.”
I tried to smile in amusement.