Avgust opened his eyes slowly, the blurred shapes failing to sharpen and enhance what should have been perfect vision. The black lines and the blue lights meshed in order to remove all sense of familiarity. The Titan had faded in the cold, but he had awoke in the confines of some prison. He felt for his hands, finding them around a massive tear in his garb—holding onto the rock hard substance that was covering the breach in his suit.
Drawing in a groan of pain, the Vanguard watched as a blurred sphere of light found itself in front of him. The blue glow from the shape faded inside of the rest of the mesh, as the Titan stared at the odd object.
"Are you doing alright, Vanguard?" The shape asked.
«Normal'no.» Avgust replied. «Kak ty?»
Svarog tilted forward, shaping itself to appear as if it was frowning before replying: "You are doing that thing again."
«Khorosho.» The Titan replied, before continuing: "Means I can still speak."
"You went out right after the engagement. Internal organ damage, very severe. I managed to preserve you while I pulled down the Outrageous Fortune, (very narrowly got it down, I will have you know). But Orur wasn't lucky... whatever Heinrich did, it took the light. We've witnessed it before."
"Whatever Heinrich managed to do, he marked Orur with this. It weakened him, broke him down and left him vulnerable for the kill. Question is..."
"Are we marked." Avgust sighed.
"He did stab us with his blade." Svarog concluded.
The interior of the Outrageous Fortune fell deathly ill, as Avgust and Svarog looked quietly at each other. The Devouring Essence was a potent thing, and was proved at the Twilight Gap to have weakened Guardians considerably. Whether it disabled their light temporarily, corrupted the bond between Guardian and Ghost... or killed a Guardian in a matter of minutes. The Vanguard considered it a rare weapon, or at least a newly discovered one—given it was only shown at the Twilight Gap. But it was a devastating one.
"It was said that despite however strong a connection between Guardian and Ghost is, it could always be broken. Separated. I always thought this was meant should we fall fighting the Darkness. But we weren't."
"We were." Avgust interjected.
It was impossible to consider that a warrior of the Light could kill as coldly as a warrior of the Dark. Guardians could be corrupted by the Darkness, as Heinrich was. Guardians who were too ambitious for a future contrary to the Light, ideas more destructive than constructive; such held by Osiris. Such held...
By himself. Avgust believed in the freedom of criticism, he believed that the Light was best protected by those who preserved by cynicism. He believed the Light and the Guardians protected by knowing that by preserving this dream would mean their legacy fulfilled. He found himself as a protector of the Wall, wondering his importance by the foundation.
Now here he was, wondering if he had been corrupted by the Devouring Essence. His own ideas turning against him. Pariah challenged Zavala with what he should believe about the parable of the Wall. He was damned.
Svarog turned to look back at him, hovering over his injuries as it tried to collect information it could use about it to confirm or disprove what had been decided.
"It might just be a local application, blade might have only been tipped by the Essence. So it may just be a problem in terms of physical weakness around the abdomen, if you are injured by something—only intense Light may be able to heal."
Avgust nodded his head grimly, before asking: "Is this going to heal by itself or is it going to spread?"
"Let's hope for the former, Vanguard." Svarog replied. Silence followed, as the Ghost shifted up right beside the Titan once more.
"I heard them die."
Avgust turned his head towards Svarog as the Ghost spoke this, not exactly sure as to what it had meant. The blue eye locked onto his brown eyes, as detail begun to become more sharp and precise.
"Their Ghosts: Orur's and Heinrich's. I heard the death of Orur's, and the pain and destruction on Heinrich's. Is this what we are doomed to become, Avgust?"
The Titan detected the seriousness in Svarog's tone, especially with how it referred to him by name. The Ghost never used his name unless it was being serious, unless it had a very real concern. The Vanguard kept his eyes locked onto Svarog as he spoke: "We will not be doomed by this sort of end anymore. Svarog, whatever this is—whatever is out there... we will be ready to face it."
"I just remember the tales of Guardians always being grand adventures. Journeys into the unknown to fight what nearly destroyed us all. I searched long and hard for you, in all matter of ruins. When I did find you, I thought I finally found what would be the key into the first steps of this dream."
"They were, don't get me wrong. But what I have come to realise is that this journey meant more sacrifice and suffering than any other. You fought long and hard against the Fallen at the Twilight Gap. But our reward was a loss, and even then..."
"We are still losing."
"I just guess it is necessary to lose in order to achieve a greater victory. But I guess I was too hopeful that we would bring up the strongest and most determined Guardians to fight for our survival. There are many, but there are also those. Those corrupted because they were neither, Avgust. And those who worked to bring forth every Guardian, could find that they didn't find this legendary quest which was brought forth by so many others. They die at the hands of the force they brought forth from the soil."
Avgust simply nodded his head, looking down towards his covered wound before he allowed himself to sigh audibly. What Svarog had said was true. The future he hoped to save wasn't as cheerful as many have hoped for it to be. The Guardians fell, but so did the Ghosts. The things that brought them from the dead had to die as soon as their Guardian did, few even were lost without finding their Guardian. Then there were the corrupt. Heinrich was corrupted by the Darkness, but did that mean his Ghost had been as well?
It seemed unlikely, with something as pure in Light as the Ghosts were. He couldn't simply excuse the matter, because it was a relevant one. But it wasn't one he understood as well as many others. The Titan looked towards the display, brushing it as it revealed that they were within proximity of the City. There they were: almost home, under the safety of the Traveler.
"Have you informed the Commander we are returning?" Avgust asked.
"I did, but he told us to head directly to the Observatory. The Speaker would like to hold a discussion with us." Svarog replied, "The report will have to wait for later."
Avgust leaned his head back into his seat, as he allowed his fingers to dance along the controls of the jumpship. It was odd that the Speaker would like to talk to him, given the Speaker now typically kept to himself. But the Titan's interest were increased, as this presented him an opportunity.
"Understood, let us head down then." Avgust finally said.
The Observatory was a grand structure set on the Tower, an imposing but bright structure which seemingly reflected a great and incoming age among the chaos. It stood as a symbol for what they were once before, star set explorers who embraced knowledge and the future. Its massive dome roof allowed for the addition of a peculiar device, working around the shape of what seemed to be the hologram of the Traveler. The device worked around the the shape, seemingly impressing the image as it tried to understand it better.
Motes of light sat suspended in odd casings, allowing for the decorated place to shine as bright in the night as it did the day. Banners ran from the ceiling down the sides of walls crammed with ancient books. Incense were burned to allow the room to become more relaxed, which allowed for many to study in a comfortable and homely environment. But the overseer stood on a comfortable balcony suspended by an impressive marble staircase.
Avgust stepped into the Observatory with the assistance of a bridge connecting the piece to the rest of the Tower. His armour was worn, damages and scarred as he allowed the Traveler's Light to heal his wounds. On his walk from the Plaza, he could already feel the pain subside and allow for a desired comfort. It was odd how the sensation worked, first being that it was an incredible sore that was reduced to a mild numbness.
His midsection still ached with incredible pain, suggesting that indeed the affects of the Devouring Essence still had its grasp on him. Avgust's body complained as he walked from this pain, but he tried his best to ignore it. It wasn't much, but it was the best he could do with how short of a time he had returned to the Tower. He turned his gaze up towards the Speaker, the white robed being who told that he was the voice of the Traveler.
The white-masked figured looked down at the Vanguard, stepping carefully away from his workplace as he stepped down to the staircase down to where Avgust stood. He moved slowly, taking his time to make his way to the Titan. The way he walked suggested he was potentially very old, and thus believably wise and experienced—someone whose word could easily be relied upon should you search for knowledge. The Speaker's Ghost joined him, as he stopped only three metres from Avgust.
"So you have made your way back to the Tower from the cold and the dark." The Speaker said, holding his hands behind his back as he looked up to the massive instrument working around the projection.
"I have indeed."
"I do suppose what you have done was for the good of the City, Vanguard. Disrupted and dismantled an enemy hiding itself on our own world. And for that I must thank you."
"Yes. But the matter wasn't just the Fallen." Avgust replied.
The Speaker slowly turned his head back to the Titan, analysing his facial features before he lowered his head in a sort of shame. He paced forwards to the railing as he rested his grasp on the metal bars.
"I sense many things, the arrival of new lights among the dark. The struggling of a weak flame against the bitter cold, and the clouding of a strong one. By this I can tell when a Guardian rises, and when a Guardian falls. But never can I tell when a Guardian should be consumed by the Darkness, until it is too late."
"The Hunter was indeed corrupted by the potent power of the Dark, as most Hunters are. They seek in the wilds, heading into territories they do not belong. And because of this, they are especially weak. Heinrich sought to control an entity of the Dark, and to do so he would have to abandon the Light."
"But why kill us if he could have taken power of the House of Iron then?"
The Speaker sighed, releasing his grasp from the railing as he turned back to face Avgust. Although he was masked, the Titan could tell the Speaker felt something wrong.
"He had to appease the entity, one would assume. He would do anything to control whatever portion he could. The House of Iron was weak according to his reports, but obviously that doesn't make them any less stubborn. So a sacrifice had to be made so he could take control, and unlucky for you and Orur: you were that sacrifice."
Avgust lowered his head, understanding what the Speaker had suggested. Heinrich had no intention to destroy the House of Iron, he only wanted to appease it so he could take control of it. He would have killed Avgust in order to take power, no matter how small it was. It disgusted the Titan that Heinrich was willing to do something like this, to betray the very Light that brought him from the grave—to take the life of his fellow Vanguards.
"You dealt with a matter which would be incredibly difficult for anyone else, Titan. You have seen a matter of things which many would cower from."
Avgust listened patiently to the points made by the Speaker, but he could not find himself capable of agreeing to them. He shakes his head, disagreeing with what the Speaker had said.
"I've seen comrades die, Speaker. I have lead twice, and failed."
The Speaker fell silent, as he approached the Vanguard carefully. His hand formed a finger, as he pointed directly at the shape of the two badges which made their place known on his chestplate. The navy and orange mark and the white and black. Decorations presented to him by Saladin and Zavala to show his navy and orange to the Vanguard, and his black and white to the Twilight Gap.
"You find their lives important, perhaps even more so than your own. You have lived through fear and loss. These comrades fell and abandoned you, despite you trying your best to protect them. These are noble, Titan—worthy of recognition. You cannot be to blame for this, because you had no choice in deciding these matters. But despite this, you still wonder with your Ghost what these things mean."
"I still hear... I still see Pariah at times."
"The one who abandoned us to join Osiris, I see. It would be a great shame for you to still experience these phantoms. Mocking are their ideas about the Traveler and the City, and their persecution may feel too great at times. But the fact you are still here shows you want to stay strong, you want to protect what matters."
"I hope I do, Speaker. But with what I have seen, what I have done—"
"You must teach to others." The Speaker interrupted, catching Avgust off guard. The Titan examined the white cloaked being, as he looked to the Traveler. "You have seen and done many things. You have served nobly through strenuous times, many of which tried to break you. The new world has been unfair to you, but you have fought against it. We desperately need service like this, Titan. New Guardians shall rise in this cold and empty world, ones that will need to be taught to survive and be strong as you have."
"You want me to be an instructor?" Avgust asked.
"Indeed, Titan. Teach these new Guardians these qualities you know. Give them the chance they deserve to survive, the chance to rise to become the new legends of the City."
The Speaker turned back towards the staircase that lead to his balcony as he slowly approached the steps and mounted them. Stepping up them, he stopped halfway to look at Avgust one last time. "You will do this for me, will you not, Avgust?"
The Vanguard nodded his head. "I will, Speaker."
They stood in silence for but a moment, before the Speaker replied: "Good."
Avgust turned on his heel to head outside the Observatory as the Speaker made his way up to the balcony where he worked. The Vanguard turned his head up into the sky, analysing it.
The night sky rolled over the City like black paint being brushed over the white. Stars remained bright, but tiny in the field of darkness. An orb of reflective light took position over the sky, but broken was its surface as it rotted from within. The moon, once a beautiful reminder of the light was now a disguise for a sinister force. But a shape of a broken god remained still above the City, the only true source of light which the City could trust.
It was the shape Avgust had learned to serve, and the one he must teach others to as well.