The Traveler's Walk, the Last Safe City... Three days later...
The bright sun gleamed overhead, as the red-leaved trees and the green blades of grass absorbed its brilliance. The calm water stirred none, as the usually present breeze remained still. The smooth stone walkways made its way around the Traveler's Walk, and the blue skies and white mountains beyond the border of the City showed themselves gloriously. The scent of the air was fresh, uncorrupted and not corroded by the smell of flame, nor its smoke. Everything was calm, and everything was quiet.
But a golden and silver-clad Titan stood along the right-most of the three stone walkways. He carried a crate, decorated with the symbol of the Iron Banner as he approached the resting place and ground fixture. The Titan summoned his Ghost, as is floated upwards and projected down onto the ground fixture. And just as he did, a metal gong materialised which bore a similar mark of the Iron Banner.
The Titan looked over the gong, as he rested down the crate which he carried. He paused momentarily, before he turned his head over his shoulder to look at one, a Titan like him, stand silently by. The old Titan nodded his head, as he turned around completely to face the one he recognised.
"Lieutenant Avgust," he spoke, "I see you have come. Perhaps to participate in the Iron Banner? But I am afraid you are too early, I have not yet established, and rung the gong."
Avgust nodded his head, "I see. But I am not here to participate. Not now at least, Lord Saladin."
Saladin stood still, as he rested his hands behind his back. "Then why have you come?"
"Three days ago, I was on a mission in a far off place." Avgust started, "It was supposed to be a simple scouting mission, but it turned into something more than that the further we went. And now, I am left with nothing more than just questions."
Saladin nodded his head, as he stepped down from the steps he stood on top. He approached Avgust slowly, keeping his hands locked behind his back as he did. The old Titan spoke carefully, "With whatever questions you have, I will try my best to answer."
"Thank you, Lord Saladin." Avgust said, "On my mission, I discovered something I thought I would have never found."
"Which was?" Saladin asked.
"Who I was before."
Saladin fell silent, as he nodded his head carefully once more. He turned to face right, as he looked back towards Avgust: "And what was it that you found out about yourself?"
"I was a member of an ancient organisation, MIDA." Avgust replied, "The Moscow Intelligence and Defence Administration."
"I see. Is there something about this 'MIDA?"
"Many things, the first being its objective. When I entered this capital, Moscow, something from my past told me that what I was doing was standing against what I had sworn to in the past."
Saladin remained silent for just a moment, "As if you had betrayed what you once swore to protect?"
"And it knew you." Saladin restated, "What was it that you had encountered?"
"An artificial intelligence, Muromets. It hunted my Fireteam and I, and sought not only to destroy us, but to undermine our beliefs."
"Your duty to the Traveler, to the City?"
"And has it succeeded?"
"I don't think so, no." Avgust replied, "I simply thought that times have changed, and with those times, my promises to to my affiliations. Especially since I have taken up the responsibility to protect our Last Safe City."
"I see." Saladin sighed, "So this Muromets, challenged what you knew was your responsibility? Plotted to guide you away from the path that us Guardians must all walk?"
"A part of me felt as if Muromets was just trying to distract us. But, when I look back to what I know was me, and when I look at myself now..."
"You see a difference."
"That is a question of knowledge and belief I believe that most have the privilege to not experience. But, when it comes to what it means to shape you, to improve you, I believe this was necessary."
"Do you believe this might pose a threat to my role as a defender of the City?" Avgust asked.
"Only if you allow it to," Saladin replied, "but if you know how to fight the one enemy that we wish to keep suppressed, then you must know how to fight it."
"And which enemy is that?"
"It is ourselves, Avgust. I could teach Guardians how to fight Warlords, how to fight the Fallen or now the Hive. But what I can never just teach Guardians, is how to fight themselves. Their own doubt and their own past."
Avgust remained quiet, as Saladin continued.
"We all know what it means to fall to a blade or a rifle. All of us, have our fair share of that. But to fall into a pit of doubt, is something only a few of us will ever understand. Have you, conquered this?"
"I would like to think so." Avgust replied, "But where does my responsibility lie?"
"Hopefully, as a defender of our City." Saladin replied, "But you have become more than that, more than just a defender. You stand, young one, as an educator and a mentor.
"You are what the rest of our Guardians look up to. Look to for guidance, instruction and leadership. Your light burns in a way, unique to most others. Take this experience, yet unshaped and unforged."
"And make it what?" Avgust asked.
"Into a blade, sharper than the one you carry now." Saladin replied, "Shape yourself in a weapon, that can not only just strike at foe... but lead charge with a legion behind you."
Avgust nodded his head, as Saladin explained this. He took a minute to mull it over in his head, as his old Mentor kept his eyes securely focused on him. Perhaps Saladin was right, he must turn what doubt he had and forge it into a blade stronger that the belief and knowledge he had now. But one question remained untouched.
What if I was wrong?
"Lord Saladin?" Avgust said, as the Iron Lord straightened his posture.
"Yes, my student?"
"Before I destroyed Muromets, it asked me a question that I yet don't understand."
"And what was it?"
"What if I was wrong?" Avgust replied, "Not 'I' as in me, but 'I' as in it."
Lord Saladin remained silent, before he reached up and withdrew his helmet. He fastened his dark eyes directly on Avgust, as he sighed deeply, "An enemy aware of what it did?"
"I believe it had meant that what if it had been wrong about me, about the City." Avgust replied, "It had prepared weapons to destroy the City, because it viewed it as a threat. For a long time, Muromets had accused me of losing sight of what was right. But then..."
"It asked you." Saladin asked, "I am certain you know why, Avgust. But not in the simple way I expect most to answer."
"Do you know what the answer is?"
"No. I do not." Saladin replied, as he sighed. "That is why I am certain you know. Regardless, I have a duty now."
The old Titan pulled his helmet back over his head, as he reaches down to open one of the crates under his feet. From it, he pulled a decorated torch. The Iron Lord sigil was imbedded at the wick of the torch, as he lifted it and activated it. Fire sputtered out of the torch, as he lifted it upright. Saladin looked towards Avgust, as he motioned his student over, "Take the torch, Avgust. And light the gong."
Avgust slowly stepped forward, as he carefully took the torch presented to him and bowed his head in respect to the Iron Lord. He then turned his head toward the gong, as he walked up the padded steps. The Titan looked at the design imprinted on the gong, of the Iron Wolves and the Ironwood Tree. Giving his respect to the symbol, Avgust lowered the flame to touch the gong.
In an instant, the fire erupted up and wrapped around the entirety of the gong, and thus lit the symbol of the Iron Lords. As the fire crackled, as vibrating of the gong started, as the steady sound of the gong played for all to hear. It echoed around the Traveler's Walk, as the silence of the Tower was momentarily interrupted.
And so it would be, for a time.
Muromets' Complex, MIDA Headquarters...
The red lights of the complex still remained activated, as the ruin of the complex remained lain about. The dead contraption that Muromets' had made for himself stayed as a dead slug on the floor. The cracked monitors stayed frozen at the twelve seconds until launch, a launch that would never happen as long as Muromets was dead, and Gagarin remained incapable of the process. And with what should have remained a dead, and eerie silence, was interrupted by the sound of slow but deliberate footsteps.
The feminine figure walked through the chamber, as she looked around at the series of monitors and destroyed servers that once stood might and imposing. She smiled from behind her helmet, as her own Ghost materialised over her shoulder.
"So, this is what created quite the stir?" She spoke, as her golden and black Ghost nodded with agreement.
"Indeed." The Ghost spoke, with a similarly feminine tone, "Osiris had said that this was once a weapon, an intelligence capable of destruction on a large scale. Not quite like the Warminds, however. This intelligence is strictly earthbound."
"And here it is, destroyed." The figure said, "Typical of the City."
"Should I see what I can gather?" The Ghost asked.
"Of course, Ra." The figure replied.
Ra floated over to the head of Muromets, as it began a complex scan of the destroyed features of the dead intelligence. The figure meanwhile wandered about the chamber, looking at a series of computers that were still activated. Suddenly, the lights of the chamber flickered and the figure's attention was drawn to the head of Muromets, as its red eyes flickered.
"I believe I have provoked a response." Ra said.
The figure slowly wandered over to the head of Muromets, as the disk above began to spin slowly. She looked up towards it, as eventually she was brought a kneel to the head of an AI that should have stayed dead. The figure brushed her hand over the design of the head, before she spoke: "One would think that one should be more careful in destroying you."
But I am not destroyed. Muromets said.
"Hm. But you are." The figure replied, "Don't get me wrong, you are dead and it is quite unfortunate that you are. But I am here to ask for a few things."
I have no ability to deliver them, nor do I have a reason to.
"I'm not here for things." The figure smiled, "I am here for answers. And whether or not you intend to cooperate, isn't a concern of mine."
Then do so.
The figure shrugged, as Ra projected a beam of bright light into the hole that formed in the head of Muromets. The gloved hand of the figure reached down into the contraption, as she fished around carefully before finding her hand secured around a certain object. She smiled, as she yanked it out of the head of Muromets before examining the spherical logic core. She stood, as the red lights that made Muromets' eyes faded once more.
The figure presented the object to her Ghost, as Ra scanned the object before it absorbed it in the transmat. The Ghost focused its blue eye on the figure, as it then said: "Incoming transmission, from Osiris."
"Open it." The figure replied.
The voice on the other end spoke, and with it came a rather calm and collected voice. The figure wouldn't say it was a soothing voice, but whenever it spoke, it had an authority that others would listen to. It seemed wise, comprehensive and commending. "I do believe you have finished your objective, seeing from the transmat I have just received."
"This is true, Father Osiris." The figure said, "Might be in rough condition, but it should still store the information we seek."
"Indeed, and we will make sense of it when you return."
"Is there something you need?"
"No, but I do have a question."
"What is it, Father?" The figure inquired.
"You had an idea of who could have done this." Osiris asked, "Who?"
"Why, none other than our Titan at the Twilight Gap."
"And how do you know this?"
The figure swooped down, as she brushed the floor with her finger before she secured the silver shell of a bullet she had grown all to familiar with. She looked at it, before she pocketed it.
"I have my own intuition."
"Very well, Daughter Pariah." Osiris said, "Come back home, we will need to discuss."
"Of course, Father." Pariah replied.