The Tower, the Last Safe City... Two hours later...
Avgust didn't like the thought of being outside of his armour on a mission. Long had the Titan grown to appreciate the exterior shell and plating that his armour provided him. Not only did the armour protect him from bullets, blades and explosives—it also carried a weight of responsibility, of pride... of purpose. Long had Titan armour become synonymous with the symbol of hope and protection for the innocent who dwelled in the City, and as such became infamous as a symbol of war and fear to the enemies of the City.
Instead of the protective shell and body-glove the Titan had grown accustomed to, Avgust pulled over his body the clothes and armour of the Forces of the City. It was a particularly heavy set, almost provided to him as a vain attempt to mimic the weave and plating of Titan armour. The FOTC armour was hardly flexible at the plates, and was loose along the patches of clothing that weren't fitted with kevlar or ceramic plates.
The FOTC uniform was a dark blue, with a silvery and reflective weave that wrapped around his waist, biceps and thighs. Warning reflectors, that signified the presence of an officer of the law. A gas mask rested over Avgust's face, as the mouthpiece contained a filter and vocoder, as a green light blinked across the eyepiece. The Titan then pulled a helmet over his head, as he attached the strap below his chin. Avgust rolled his shoulders, as if trying to adjust to the armour as Svarog floated around and scanned the armour.
"This is..." The Ghost started, "well, this is different."
"The ceramic plates will only sustain a few well-placed shots from a rifle or sidearm." Avgust commented, knowledgable about the subject, "Will still hit like a sledgehammer regardless."
"You are used to worse. Besides, I can heal you just about as fast as they can shoot."
"Not worried about that." Avgust muttered, as he tapped his abdominal armour, "I'm worried about this."
The Ghost fell silent, as it came to a sudden realisation of what the Titan suggested. Avgust was marked by the Fallen's Devouring Essence along his abdomen, only a bit after the Twilight Gap. It was a powerful chemical weapon, that consumed the light and connection between a Guardian and their Ghost. Depending on the dosage: it could either outright kill the Guardian, or it could permanently affect a section of the Guardian, and make it nigh impossible for the Ghost to heal. If Avgust was hit in the stomach, there was no guarantee that Svarog could properly mend it.
"We'll make it." Svarog said, "Besides, the FOTC armour is temporary. Once the Consensus agrees on a course of action, then we can get back inside our armour."
"Hopefully that is soon."
Avgust turned his head toward the familiar figure of Fenrir, who as well was dressed in FOTC gear. His suit was thinner, and made less use of kevlar or ceramic plating to help the Hunter be more manoeuvrable and quick. Again, all features that would signify anything about the Hunter were covered. Even the eyepieces for his gas mask were tinted to a reflective silver. Fenrir folded his arms, as he spoke again: "The facts are undeniable, after all. I wouldn't give the Consensus more than twenty-four hours before they come to the same conclusion that we have."
"It then becomes a question of whether they believe Guardians will be the answer." Avgust replied, "They might think the FOTC can handle it on their own."
"They should be able to."
"I agree. But Commander Ardghal seemed very uncertain in their abilities to. And if his suspicions are right, then his own officers might be involved in this."
Fenrir fell silent as Avgust said this, as he nodded his head. The mysterious Guardian then tilted his head to one side, before he asked: "You think they might be?"
"I would hope not." Avgust said, as he similarly folded his arms, "It is bad enough to know people are willing to go as far as to kill twenty-three innocents. But, if officers of the FOTC are connected? Trust in them will drop, very fast."
"I almost wonder if Guardians are involved in this." Fenrir muttered.
Avgust narrowed his eyes in response—not because he was upset by what the Hunter had to say—but because he couldn't imagine Guardians of all people to be sympathetic with such actions. They had dedicated their lives after their resurrection to the protection and the safety of the citizens of the City, after all. But could a few really dedicate their protection only to a specific group, and actively resent the others? If so, they must have been good at hiding it.
"If they are," Avgust decided to reply, "then we will deal with them."
"Indeed." Fenrir simply replied, before he tilted his head at the Titan and asked: "Twilight Gap?"
Avgust simply nodded his head, as the Hunter continued: "Saw the badge on your armour. Where were you stationed?"
"The High Mountain." Avgust replied.
"The head of the defensive force, I see. That was the Devil front."
Fenrir remained silent of just a moment, before he replied: "I was there."
Avgust questioned the answer that Fenrir gave him, but didn't pursue any further answer. He knew that to some Guardians, the Twilight Gap was an incredibly distressing event. To have witnessed such a ferocious battle first hand... to have seen friends and comrades die at the hands of a near unconquerable foe, changed many of the Guardians that survived.
Suddenly, the metal doors of the chamber slid open as the familiarly uniformed man of Commander Ardghal stepped through. He took a quick look at the two Guardians that accompanied him, as he cleared his throat and spoke: "Titan, Hunter. I thank you for your cooperation for this matter. I do hope that these uniforms will work."
"They will, Commander." Avgust replied.
Ardghal nervously nodded his head, as tilted his head back toward the door that he had just walked through. He spoke again, "Very good. They should only be temporary, until the Consensus approves the motion for Guardians to act within the Walls."
The Commander then backed out of the room, before he turned his head back and said: "We've got a Hawk waiting for us in the Hangar. Follow me."
Avgust glanced back toward Fenrir, as the Hunter shrugged and took the first steps forward out of the room. He followed behind the two closely, as the three FOTC uniformed persons walked down the narrow hallways of the Tower. A few Guardians passed by, as they looked strangely at the three. The Titan couldn't help but think that the Guardians found it odd that members of the FOTC would be engaged in the walls of the Tower. The Tower after all was the safe haven for Guardians, a places for them to gather and regroup, to restock and rest between missions and patrols. Avgust thought his brothers and sisters might believe it to be unsettling that the FOTC have entered their home, essentially.
This thought was quickly broken, as Fenrir decided to ask: "Any news on the Consensus' decision?"
Ardghal sighed, as he shook his head slowly, "It is still in the debate chambers. They are supposed to reach a decision by tomorrow."
The three uniformed beings turned a corner into a wider hallway, as they were presented with a staircase. Ardghal stepped up first, as they marched carefully up into the higher reaches of the Tower. Fenrir followed closely behind, as he scoffed quietly: "Great..."
Avgust looked up to Ardghal, as he quietly considered what the Commander had said. He had hoped that the Consensus would have reached an agreement rather quickly, and would have already plotted a resolution by now. With the sensitivity of the issue, the Titan had almost been certain that the decision to act would have been unanimous. But when Ardghal said that the issue was still in the debate hall, Avgust realised that they still hadn't settled on the issue, and whether or not they should get involved at all, despite the risk that followed if they didn't.
However, Avgust was determined to solve the issue as quickly as possible. The Titan then asked, "We have a course of action planned, Commander?"
Ardghal nodded his head, as he stepped first onto the top of the staircase, as he continued down the hallway. "We will need to head down to FOTC Headquarters. Hopefully my investigators have been able to extract information from our suspect."
As soon as it was mentioned that the FOTC had captured a suspect, Avgust perked up. It would have been vital to gain an asset as valuable as one of these terrorists, in order to better determine the reason for the attack, as well as other relevant information such as troop numbers, equipment and future plans. The Titan asked: "You've captured one of them?"
The group took another turn, as the green coloured concrete wall was decorated with a series of languages as a set of arrows accompanied the words as they pointed toward the direction: Tower Hangar. The sounds that accompanied the Hangar became more and more apparent, as the sound of a series of tools and welding equipment were heard. Other sounds such as the landing or taking off of Jumpships also became more apparent as they approached the Hangar.
A few more Guardians passed by, as Ardghal nodded his head: "Yes, but when I left, he still refused to talk. Didn't want to say anything other than a name."
"A name?" Fenrir asked, as the Hunter seemingly narrowed his eyes.
"Yes." Ardghal replied, "Apparently there is an organisation behind this: Humanum Tactus."
"Human Touch..." Avgust muttered.
The group fell silent, as the wide blast-doors in front of them opened slowly to allow them access to the Hangar. Avgust glanced around the wide and seemingly open space, as Ardghal motioned toward one landing pad in particular. The pad was occupied by a silver and navy blue Hawk, with stylised white letters that formed the acronym: FOTC. A series of blue flashing lights were mounted to the Hawk, along with a chin-mounted spotlight. A pilot had already occupied the cockpit of the airship, as she reached up to lower the troop-bay door for the three.
"He isn't saying anything else?" Fenrir finally asked, breaking the silence as the Hunter was the first to mount the ramp into the troop bay.
"At least, not since I left." Ardghal explained, as the Commander of the FOTC stepped into the troop bay as he took a seat on one of the two parallel rows that lined the interior of the Hawk. Avgust followed him, as he reached up and secured a grasp on one of the holds overhead. Fenrir knocked on the side of the Hawk, as the Hunter growled quietly. The troop bay door closed and sealed.
"That will change." Fenrir replied.
Unknown location, the Last Safe City...
The darkened plaza to the centre of the small district that marked the southern Wall would have typically remained quiet, inactive. The scorch marks and rubble of conflicts past marked the location. Torn banners and fabrics fluttered uselessly in the wind, suspended by cables and wires that ran from roof to roof, or from the ground into the sky. It would have typically been a desolate place, abandoned long after it had been raided by the Fallen years ago. A memorial to the fateful strike, that slaughtered many innocent civilians before the legendary Titan: Lord Shaxx put an end to the blood shed.
Instead, the plaza was inhabited by a small legion. Cloaked and armoured persons wandered the district, armed with a variety of tools and weapons. Crates of supplies were tied and tethered to the ground, hidden from the birds eye view with blue tarps that would have made it look like other locations in the district that were being prepared for repair. It was a seemingly hidden force, disguised by a number of orange uniforms that appeared to be construction workers.
Heads turned to the sound of a small flat-bed vehicle, as the noisy engine of the vehicle came to a halt and the forward lights dimmed. Two individuals stepped off, as they proudly brandished the symbol that the others in the plaza wore: the open human palm. As if this was the only form of identification searched for, the others in the plaza looked away and went about their business again. One of the two individuals turned toward the second, as he removed the gas mask that he had worn and with his hazel eyes examined the second.
"I am sure that Mother would like to hear about our success," he said, as he ran his black glove through his grey hair, "after all. Her will be done."
The second reached up, as he removed his gas mask as well. His brown eyes looked up to the first, as he spoke carefully: "Wouldn't she be upset that we lost Ethon?"
The first remained quiet of a time, as he guided his hand to the back of the younger second as he pressed him forward to walk. It was almost a gesture meant to comfort the younger human, as the first explained: "No. It was necessary he stayed behind, to show to all the City that we will no longer dwell in Darkness. We need to reclaim our City, our world."
The second remained quiet as they approached the central building of the district: a grand brick structure that was decorated much like one of the buildings of centuries past. It seemed to be a red castle of sorts, with high walls and turrets, steep roofs and long and slender windows. Concrete steps led up into the structure, as guards opened the heavy metal gating to allow the two figures in, after confirming the identity of their fellow members.
"Alyk?" The second finally asked, as the older of the two glanced back to him.
"Yes?" Alyk replied.
"Why attack them? The lot in the factory?" The second asked, "They had no way to defend themselves, did they?"
"It was necessary, because they were as useless as the soot on that building. They contributed absolutely nothing to our City, like the rest of their race. We needed to prove to our brothers and sisters in West Industrial that we understand their hardships, and will not allow these parasites to live off their charity. What we did, was liberate them."
The two stepped into the grand room of the castle, as the high ceiling at the top was domed. Bright lights were suspended overhead, as they cast their beams onto the decorated white and black tiled floors. There was an elaborate staircase that marked the far wall, leading upward before it split into two opposite directions. At the top of the first stair case was mounted a magnificent seat: a throne. A row of guards flanked the seat, as a feminine figure sat in the centre of the seat.
She wore long robes, as a decorated helmet sat atop her head. She held her gloved hands underneath her chin, held tightly together as she sat with one boot flat to the floor, and the other crossed against the first's knee. From her blackened visor, she watched as the two figures approached and fell to their knees, bowing before her.
"So it is done." The feminine figure said nonchalantly, before she released her grasped fists and rested them across the armrests.
"It is done, Mother." Alyk said, as he bowed his head in respect to his leader.
"Very good. You have done me proud, my children."
The air fell silent, before 'Mother' stood up from her throne suddenly. She slowly stepped down to the two figures, as she spoke once more: "Despite their 'exoticness,' and their... 'closeness,' to our perfection... the Awoken serve nothing more than leeches and burden to our City. They demand the protection and the enlightenment that the Traveler offers us, our God's gift to us. They survive only by our people's charity, and by the walls we have built for our people. No more will we tolerate this.
"And now thanks to your blessed actions, we have stepped from the Darkness. We have shown the City what Humanum Tactus is capable of, and what it intends to do. We will show our fellow men that we intend to free them from these chains of oppression, and that their suffering will be relieved."
The second thought carefully about what 'Mother' had said, as she looked around the interior of the grand building. He believed fully that it was his responsibility to liberate his people from the parasitical nature of the Awoken, but he had become uncertain of the methods that Humanum Tactus had just employed to push the cause forward. 'Mother's head snapped toward him, as her body turned to face him.
The second of the two bowed his head further, as 'Mother' stepped closer to him. His leader kneeled down, as she rested her hand on his shoulder. The second felt a chill run down his spine, as the warmness of her palm was made ever clear to him. She spoke softly: "You have a question, my child?"
"W-what do we do now?" He asked.
"We wait." 'Mother' answered, "We know already that the Awoken will grow violent against our fellow brothers and sisters. The Exo—our given servants—will also become restless. Once they attack our innocents, our brothers and sisters will cry for our help. Then, we will stand together as a united people to push out our enemies, or make them submit to our will. We will be avenged, Benjarmin... worry not."
Benjarmin bowed his head in consideration, before he answered: "Bless you, 'Mother."
'Mother' smiled behind her mask, as she stood up and turned on a heel toward another figure. Decorated in a white and gold armour, and a red cloak, the figure stood obviously as one of the Guardians: a Hunter, by all appearances. He stood by, seemingly waiting for 'Mother' to pay attention to him.
As soon as she did, he removed a canister of some odd powder. It was a mysteriously green lit, and grey powder. Even without the assistance of wind or atmosphere did it float around, warning of some magical properties as 'Mother' approached to take hold of it.
"You kept true to your promise," 'Mother' said, "I am delightfully surprised. How did you manage to get to the 'Forbidden Zone' without alerting the Vanguard's sensors?"
The Hunter tilted his head, "That is my own trade secret. Regardless, this is but a sample. I can get you more within but a few days."
Benjarmin watched as 'Mother' laughed coldly, before she lowered the canister and examined the features of the Hunter. The young man didn't exactly understand what 'Mother' could possibly be thinking, or what this odd substance was meant to be. These thoughts seemingly made their way to the enigmatic leader of Humanum Tactus, as she turned her head back toward Benjarmin and Alyk as she spoke: "You are dismissed for the time, my children. But in due time, I will need you back."
Benjarmin and Alyk bowed their heads in respect, as they picked themselves up and turned away from 'Mother' and the Hunter. Slowly, they marched in formation out of the front gates, and back out into the abandoned plaza.
For now, they wait.
FOTC Headquarters, the Last Safe City... Fifteen minutes later...
The detainment centre of the FOTC Headquarters was incredibly loud, as a series of recently detained individuals were forcibly separated into plexiglass cells based on their species. Officers of the FOTC lined the hallways, with stun batons at the ready in case any detainee during transfer managed to break free to attempt attacking other inmates. The usually white floors have recently became stained with the crimson blood of both Human and Awoken inmates, with the machine fluid of the Exo occasionally splattering the floors and walls. Two officers wrestled with a rather violent Human inmate, as he yelled at the top of his lungs: "It is about fucking time you blue bastards got what you deserved! The lot of you!"
Wiggling free from the hold that the two officers had on him, he turned down the hallway and began to sprint. Believing himself to be free, the man was surprised when his shirt was seized by a seeming giant. Lifted into the air with only one arm, the armoured figure in the FOTC uniform slammed the man into the floor as he grunted with pain, and his eyes closed. The two officers that previously had the man in a hold rushed over, as the helped in pinning the man to the floor.
"Thanks..." one of them managed, "Officer..?"
"Avgust." The Titan said, as he released his grasp on the man. Fenrir and Commander Ardghal watched as he did, as the two officers tipped their hats toward Avgust before they lifted the inmate back up to his feet and shoved him into a Human cell. Three other officers had to guard the entrance with their stun batons, to ensure none of the other inmates in the cell tried to run out as they put another in.
"This place is a madhouse!" Commander Ardghal said, as he looked to two officers for an explanation, "What is happening out there?"
"You remember how you said it was just going to get worse, Commander?" A female officer asked, as she placed her hands on her hips after flicking off one of her stun batons. "Well, situation in West Industrial just exploded. Everyone is going at it down there. Even our Riot Police could barely do a thing, it just ain't going to straighten itself out."
"Is it really that bad?" Ardghal sighed, as he placed a hand on his forehead.
"It is." She replied, her grey eyes scanning over the details of Avgust and Fenrir. The officer appeared to become instantly curious by the presence of the two, as she said: "I don't think I've ever seen you two before."
"I don't believe you have." Fenrir simply replied, as he then added: "You can call me Fenrir."
"Nice meeting ya', Fenrir. New to the Force?"
"No." Fenrir replied flatly, as if to note it was the end of the subject. The officer lifted her blonde eyebrows, before she rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Avgust: "How 'bout you?"
"Avgust. And no." The Titan replied.
"Well, surprised I haven't met ya' two yet. Name's Erai. Lieutenant Erai."
Erai extended her hand to shake both Avgust's and Fenrir's. The Hunter looked down toward the hand, as he skeptically reached out and briefly shook the officers hand. After having finished with that, she then turned her open palm to the Titan, who took her hand and applied that grip notorious to Titan's. Erai yelped, as she eventually freed herself from the vice-like grip.
"Strong hands you got there, Avgust." Erai muttered, as she massaged her hand in order to relieve some of the tension, "Really, strong hands."
Avgust shrugged, "Necessary."
"That it is..."
Commander Ardghal looked at Erai, as he motioned down the hallway past a few of the other plexiglass cells that held the violent inmates. Ardghal then spoke gently: "We determined anything else from Suspect Beta?"
Lieutenant Erai nodded her head grimly, a sudden change in attitude as she removed a data pad from her belt and lifted it up to read: "It is one Ethon Tyuk. Repeat drunkard and agitated batterer. Worked in Tex Mechanica for fifteen years, before he was let go for harassment and aggressive behaviour toward fellow employees, namely the Awoken and Exo..."
The four passed a certain cell in particular, one which contained three Awoken inmates. One of these inmates stood, as he glared at the group before he threw himself at the plexiglass wall, slamming on it as he yelled: "You deserve to be gutted! You 'pure' skinned freaks!"
One of the two officers that guarded the cell quickly turned toward a panel that was mounted by the door. He pressed on a certain key, as the clear cell soon distorted and transitioned into a greyish-wall. The officers couldn't look into the cell, nor could the inmates look outside of the cell.
Avgust watched this, almost saddened by the prospect that this racial identity had become so powerful, that it drove citizens of the City—survivors of the Collapse—against each other. The Titan hadn't realised how bad it must have been, if all of this before apparently was just on the edge. He could only hope that once they stopped these terrorists... Humanum Tactus, that they would be able to better repair relations.
"Anyways," Erai continued, clearly agitated: "we believe that this resentment for other citizens of the City led to his indoctrination into Humanum Tactus. Any ulterior motives are yet to be discovered."
"Anything else about this 'Humanum Tactus?" Avgust asked.
"No, not yet."
The four reached the end of the hallway, as two armed guards stood on opposite sides of the door as they looked at the group that approached them. They were armed with submachine guns from what Avgust saw, as one removed a security key and pressed it against a scanner mounted on the concrete wall. The red light on the metal door turned green, as Fenrir stepped forward from the group, and cracked his knuckles.
"That is about to change." He said.
The Lighthouse, the Caloris Spires, Mercury...
The bright sun gleamed from what seemed to be only a few kilometres away from the surface of Mercury. The burning ball of gas dominated most of the sky, as the dark reaches of the void bent around the spherical perfection that was made prominent. Metal and glass spires rose up into the sky, jagged and crude structures that crackled with the strong electricity that bent around their odd shapes. The purpose of these structures seemed to be a mystery to most, but to those who resided on the burning planet... they could not imagine this odd home without them.
On one landing that marked the side of one of these spires—known to them as the Lighthouse—sat a being who basked in the brilliance of the solar. Her armour was wrapped and studded, taking on the appearance of some Egyptian soldier. Wrappings circled her hands, and the platinum-coloured armour cased her body. But one singular detail stood out: the radiant symbol of a blackened sun, detailed the faceplate of her armour. Along with this was a cloak, branded with a similar sun as the detailed weave of the fabric made it seem almost as a luxury.
Her legs dangled off the side of the landing carelessly, as the palms of her hands braced either side of her. Her faced turned up to the sun, as she closed her eyes and tried to absorb its brilliance through the thickened plate that protected her face. It was as if she was at peace, but for a moment on such a hostile planet.
This soon changed, as the Huntress sensed footsteps behind her. She tilted her head down into the chasm below, as she waited for this being to explain themselves.
"Pariah?" The masculine voice asked, as she turned her head to face the figure of a familiar Warlock.
"What ever could it be, Asim?" Pariah asked.
"Osiris has fetched for you." Asim explained, "He seems to be troubled. More than he usually is, that is."
The Huntress tilted her head to one side, before she smiled behind her mask: "How troubling that is for us."
"I would rather not keep him waiting, Pariah."
"O, I know."
Pariah sighed, "I will be there in but a moment. But for now, I will enjoy the sun.
"I feel as if I will need it."