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Orchestra (Warframe One-Shots)


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(Seventeen one-shots, one for each Warframe and one for the Lotus)

Ash

The violin.

Strings tightly bound with the bow to work them as a whole, a mechanism in itself. The short stroke of the collé, as a shuriken buries itself into a Grineer throat. Détaché, a smooth and sinuous motion, as the Ash buries himself in smoke and wreaths himself in the smoking substance of nothing, his enemies screaming as the wraith carves them to pieces. Staccato, short bursts of animation played along the board, as he blinks in and out of existence with every entry and exit marked with the ending of a life.

Everything the Ash does can be contained within one motion. When he was reclaimed from the frozen Grineer keeps of Titania, his first act was to cut off the ship’s life support. For nine hours he waited, hidden in the shadows, and watched as the crew slowly froze to death. And on the tenth hour, when only Tyl Regor was left hiding in his quarters, the Ash slipped through the vents and buried a machete in the general’s brain.

He is the only one who dreams. The Lotus can sometimes see it as she peers into his hibernation cycle, struggled to understand the twisted pathways of raw molten thought. There is little coherence, only flashes of sights and snippets of sound in a stream of neverending consciousness. She can understand the processes, the mechanics, but not the design. This intrigues her, but the Lotus has other concerns, so she leaves the Ash to dreams he can no more comprehend than she.

She is blind. She was born blind. An experiment by the Orokin to determine the effects of limiting one sense to hyperdevelop another. The Banshee cannot conceive of a world in three dimensions. She thinks and acts only in terms of music.

The Banshee listens to the song of the string as her fingers draw back the arrow. It is a song of tension, a song of release, a song of caged things made free. The Banshee listens until that song reaches its peak, the point where all potential was revealed and any more would lead to ruin. She slows, tightening the grip on the arrow to further pull back the monomolecular string, until the whole of it is humming with the sweet music of anticipation.
It would not do to rush.

The metal of the bow and arrow nearly vibrates in her hands. The arrow nocked is the first one the Shapers had made for her, the glyph of the Lotus carved into the arrowhead. It gleams in the artificial light, sharp and deadly and straining to find its mark.

Hollow men of Corpus surround her, blue light and laser flying through the grey expanse. The other Tenno struggle to draw their attention, but she does not fire. The target lifts his cannon, but still she does not fire.

A pulse of sonar, a single pure note, flies out from her in a wave. It drags across all of them, her, her brothers, the Corpus creature and its minions. The music whispers to her of imperfection, of a gap between the helmet seal and the frontal armor, a space perfect for an arrow to exploit. The Banshee hears the music, and understands.

Every composition is defined by the exact placement and length of each specific note. A finger held for a second too long or moved a second too early alters the pattern. It is no longer the song intended for the audience, altered instead into some pale shadow of its former self. A song must be perfect to still remain itself.

Finally, when she can hear the finger pulling back against the trigger, the Banshee releases.

The arrow flies from her bow to its purpose. It slides across the cavernous space between them to take its place in the song. It flies down the throat of the colossus, stretched straight as before he can fire the fatal shot. Then, puncturing through armor forged by the fires of both greed and ambition, it tears through the cyborg's black heart.

Sergeant Nef Anyo is dead.

Edited by DadumbSerb
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  • 2 months later...

Ember


 


The snare drum.


 


Each Tenno reflects some primal aspect, some instinctual concept ingrained into the human psyche through billions of years of evolution. The Orokin studied such ideas, and embodied them in physical avatars to enact the will of the Masters. Ice, Time, Fate, Lightning, Arc, Wave, Mind, Death, a hundred other forgotten names and all of them but fragments of the whole. But the Ember is not Fire, she is Transformation.


 


Earth burns beneath her feet, steel warps at her touch, snow evaporates into steam with her mere presence and the sand flattens into glass as she hurls the first Fireball into the Infested ranks. Gnarled grey skin peels, then flesh sloughs off as the horde begins to liquefy. She is the perfect counter for an enemy that the Orokin could never have predicted. An impossibility, as are all Tenno. To be Tenno is to be unreal.


 


The Ember extends a hand, and a row of them erupt in glowing red pillars as they are cooked alive from the inside out. A glance, and a wave of fire so hot it burns white sweeps across the boiling swarm, reducing dozens of the gibbering mutants to atoms. They dance with agony, their erratic movements reflected a thousand times in the twisted plane of newborn transparency. Scores of afterimages are burned into the walls.


 


Fire is heat and heat is energy and energy is only the transition. The Ember does not kill with her gift, she renews, shedding her enemy of their physical form and granting them the blessing of a baptism by fire, a rebirth to cleanse their sins and leave them untainted for whatever afterlife awaited them at the end of their twisted existence.


 


Objective complete, whispers the Lotus.


 


She moves to the next objective. She walks. Every footstep drips with molten steel as the floor melts beneath her. She runs. The inferno is not far behind. The corridors are bathed in hellfire as she passes, every inch of tainted life purged with righteous flame. Where she moves, the fire follows.


 


The Ember never stops moving.


 


Excalibur


 


The piano.


 


Proficient in all trades but master of none. The blueprint from which all other Frames were designed, simple in his function but complex in his purpose. Excalibur was the first to be drawn from the shining vaults of the liquid Void, the first to look upon his Orokin masters and the first they commanded in the Long War.


 


But to understand the Excalibur, great equalizer among all Tenno and closest to the voice of the Lotus, one must understand the Orokin, the Sentients, and the war waged between them.


 


In the beginning, when the universe churned with naught but new stars and verdant, newborn planets, they were partners in the great enterprise. The first children of the stars, and the first children of the worlds, strove together to complete the pattern, the uncovering of the framework which governed this universe and all within it bound to fate by the skein of potentiality.


 


The Planetborn conjured the wyrd and the mystical, and they codified it and analysed it, until it became a science of the impossible, adding their knowledge to the collective. In understanding an art that was considered a concept, in actualizing the impossible so as to coexist with the unwritten laws of hard reality, the Planetborn transcended. They became aware of the Self, of Themselves, evolving past Beast into the true Sentient. And that became their name for themselves, for there was no other species that could truly call itself the same.


 


The Starborn looked at the world of the solid, of the actuality, and found that it was as alive and as open to manipulation as the skein. They took the scientific method to its very limit, and for all intents and purposes, it became magic itself, just as magic became science under the observation of their partners. And so the the Starborn, masters of the metaphysical labeled themselves Orokin, a word both real and unreal in a language existing in two states at once.


 


There was concord, peace and a desire to open the universe between them; to travel the titanic gulfs of the Void as one might step between rooms, to classify all matter and its reflections in the skein, to understand precisely how the two were related and what the universe was truly for. The Orokin burrowed realspace channels through the skein, and the Sentient crafted entities and edifices from the stuff of magic itself, and set it loose within the actuality.


 


For billions upon billions of years, as the light of the Big Bang faded from existence, there was only a galaxy in harmony. Every race that henceforth came into the observable universe had a purpose and function within the great enterprise. They were, each of them, cogs in the grand computing engine of existence.


 


But one in particular intrigued the Orokin Lifesmiths. The explorer race, designed solely to expand the extent and reach of the great network, in their slow ships, curious yet always the wrong side of ignorant, their lives too short to know their place in the pattern and too self-interested to care. The Orokin saw a reflection of themselves in these primitives, recognizing the curiosity, the tenaciousness, the ambition. They were drawn to this pale likeness and so sheltered them within the confines of their great empire.


 


In this universe, there were no passions and no tragedies. This was a realm of moderation and cold, clinical contemplation.


 


It was a galaxy of absolute perfection.


 


Evolution demands competition, and after uncountable millennia it came time for both Orokin and Sentient to evolve. Gradually, over lengths of time too broad to be counted as mundane years, planet was set against star, then planet against planet, until the pattern was lost, and conflict poisoned that colorless image of perfection.


 


Sentient victory was inevitable. They were the true masters of the material plane, they originated from it, were bathed in cold possibility from the moment they stepped out of the primordial slime. The Orokin were merely guests, ones who had lost their understanding of how to return home, and so were doomed from the start.


 


In their desperation, the Orokin turned to their adopted children, casting out the rare few who willingly served them into the furthest recesses of the Void. That impossible space was anathema to the Orokin, its mere proximity poison to beings not entirely rooted in the physical world. They could build the towers, raise up great fortresses, but they could never hope to master the Void’s potential. Perhaps humans, who had never tasted numinous truth, could withstand the touch of corruption.


 


Many were sent, the exact number unknown. All that is known is that they did not come back intact. It horrified the Orokin, as well as they could relate to the concept of fear. Cold, dead flesh wrapped around the pulsing heart of a newborn star, brimming with a power that dwarfed even that of the great Rubic Engines that fueled the rotations of artificial suns.


 


So they took the twisted few and sought to harness that power. The Lifesmiths built a frame around them, grown from the bone trees of the Tower Gardens, and the Atomshapers forged weapons from the forgotten brutality of mankind to equip this new breed of Warrior-God. Blade, to cut through armor designed to resist concept, and gun, to slay beings that had transcended death.


 


These newborn avatars, these outcasts, were given a name that meant nothing to Orokin but everything to mankind. King, Emperor, Sovereign, chosen of Heaven and greatest among Its servants. Tenno, cast in steel and clothed in fury, striking at the enemies of Orokin with a savagery a Sentient mind could never comprehend.


 


The first of these frames was equipped only with the power of the Gift. Named after the sword from legend, existing only to cut through the Legions of the Sentient threat. Excalibur was its name and singular was its purpose. It was the first of a vanguard leading a million million sapient lives united in service to their Orokin patrons.


 


He fought the Sentient on shattered moons, beneath dying suns, in the screaming vacuum, every second of every day of every century pushing back the Sentient armies. He set fire to the fields of Elysium as the fleets above collapsed beneath his hatred. He strangled the Nightmare Child with gauntlets crimson with gore. He defended the homeworld of humanity from an army numbering in the hundreds of thousands, routing them only after carving out seven hearts of the Sentient who lead the invading horde. The Excalibur did all this of this and more, the first chapter in the legend of Tenno.


 


The Excalibur fought every second of every day, and although it took many centuries, eventually he succeeded in his mission. The outlying solar rails were reclaimed, and the Orokin could now go on the offensive.


 


Excalibur was the first, and his brothers soon followed. Thus the rejects, the Tenno, became the saviors of the Orokin.


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Frost


 


The cymbals.


 


Grineer is the more obvious threat in the war for Reclamation. Numerous, monstrous, wielding ugly machines built by crude hands and conceived by crude minds only to kill in the name of their demented gods and creed. Corpus is no less dangerous, in only that it is more insidious. For where Grineer destroys, Corpus dominates.


 


Nowhere is this more evident than in the indoctrination temples of Neptune, towering obsidian edifices large enough to match the colossal Void constructs of the lost Orokin. To each of the thousand thousand branches is lashed a human, their skull impaled on one of many iron spikes that coldly empties their mind of the capacity for independent thought.


 


Each and every soldier of Corpus is lobotomized, leaving in their place only an emptied husk that can never again feel rage or hope, despair or desire, beyond a desire to serve Corpus and its unseen masters. But those are only the soldiers, automatons with no more humanity than the MOA which fight at their side. The slaves are given the curse of autonomy, to have the capacity to decide only to be denied the freedom to choose even to die.


 


The slave market is a web woven from a million strands with the Corpus spider sitting at its center. Most slaves are taken from the small satellite fiefdoms still dotting the edge of the Oort cloud, sold into Corpus custody as a tithe paid for both protection from Grineer raiders and insurance against Corpus annihilation. So long as these realms remain profitable they will be left alone, the last bastions of unmodified humans in the Solar System. Sacrifices offered to the uncaring god of Greed, their stories will die with them.


 


Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, the slaves are shipped directly to the vespene mines of Venus. There the slabfaced soldiers of Corpus lash them together into worklines stretching miles long, where they are ordered to march underground and begin mining the precious minerals needed to fabricate the cheap goods Corpus will sell back at a grotesquely inflated price.


 


The slaves are worked until one drops dead from exhaustion, where the corpse is harvested by specialized MOA and taken to the genetanks, where their essence is recycled into a healthy new body, where it is then sent to resume work with the same memories and consciousness. This cycle is repeated over and over and over again until the genetic structure degrades to the point where the next body is little more than raw genetic slurry, after which it is then promptly discarded and what little remains flushed down the drain.


 


They never stop working, for when one dies, a replacement is slotted in, and so the cycle continues. Humans reduced to little more than cogs in a machine always breaking down. Were the slaves replaced with automatons, productivity would increase by an estimated seven hundred percent. The overseers know this, but they will never act on it, for Corpus isn’t after profit, but control. They dominate the lives of their subjects to the point that a slave isn’t even permitted the freedom of death.


 


They will never see sunlight again. They will never again breathe non recycled air. They will never even be able to voice their agony, for their vocal cords are removed upon arrival. All they can do is scream with the crude vocalizers stitched into their throats, the garbled static wails of millions echoing off the walls in an unending hopeless dirge.


 


Slaves are stripped of any identity immediately upon arrival, their original names mindwiped and replaced with a designation. Each designation is little more than a random string of characters deliberately chosen so as to be impossible to both pronounce or conceptualize, so that a slave cannot take their designation as a new name.


 


Designations are themselves pointless, for an overseer will not ever need to refer to an individual slave. Should a slave cease working or break protocol, the slave is terminated, a new body fabricated with the offending incident mindwiped, and the slave is reintroduced into the workline.


 


N_4 is phonetically unpronounceable, yet the slave is designated N_4, so whenever he must think of himself, he thinks of himself as N_4. Should anyone ever ask him his designation, N_4 will be unable to provide a truthful answer.


 


N_4 has seen light twice in his service to Corpus.


 


The first time he saw light was after his first death. It was a curious sensation. It was after some time working in the mines that N_4 realized he could no longer breathe, he could no longer move his arms, and the only sound he could make was the strangled static garble that resembled a gasp for air. Were he only to turn around, N_4 would have discovered the source to be an overseer holding a smoking plasma rifle, with a fresh wet hole punched through N_4’s spine. But N_4 did not, because N_4 could not, so he closed his eyes and did not open them again.


 


When N_4 woke up, it was while being shipped atop the transport carrying him and other newborn bodies back to work in the mines. He noticed that the tunnels were different, because they were steel and not dirty stone, and that the floors were different, because they were clean and not littered with corpses. The ride did not last long however, because soon he felt the transport stop moving as it reached a great steel door. The door grinded open with a harsh mechanical roar as the overseers gave the command to move forward.


 


There was a small gap between the Corpus rebirth facility and the mine shaft, a disjunction between hab units evident in the small crack in the ceiling. N_4 looked up before he was shoved back into the rotting dark, into that small sliver of a window into the sky, and for the first time that he can remember, N_4 saw the pale light of the sun peeking through the gas-choked clouds of Venus.


 


Although the first death was always the worst because it meant a slave had to undergo the pain of the second life, N_4 did not care. Although he had to experience for the first time the sensation of newly woven muscles being subjected to back breaking labor, N_4 worked through the pain because he had something no other slave could claim. The raw screaming agony was nothing, when N_4 had the memory of light.


 


The second time he saw light was the last time.


 


His workline had been sent to dig further and farther than Corpus had ever dared go before. N_4 could not understand why, only that the tunnels here were much darker than the ones he had grown accustomed to, and the rockwyrms much larger and more aggressive. For three life cycles N_4 worked in these deep tunnels, not drilling, but digging. Corpus wanted the slaves to search for something, something buried hundreds of miles below the surface, and after three cycles of digging, they found it.


 


It has the appearance of a great silver capsule, shaped like a teardrop and larger even than the great dropships Corpus uses to ferry materials to and from the mines. Pulsing golden lines of crystallized Void stretched out like vines from the seed, planted there to grow into something far greater than the creeping rot of Corpus. N_4 was among the first to unearth it, and now, he has been ordered to be among the first to open it.


 


Another slave, 3`XJ, lays a hand upon the seed. The surface glows gold at the touch of another human hand untainted by Corpus augmentation. It recognizes the haptic signature of purestrain homo saipen, designated heirs to the Orokin legacy, and initiates standard reawakening protocol. The passenger within slowly stirs to life.


 


In that instant, the Lotus touches a mind. Data is shared between them in the nebulous space, raw information from one, a series of unanswered inquiries from the other, all to give the passenger a new purpose and a new enemy.


 


The seed peels open, thousands of monomolecular layers shedding off to give the appearance of a blossoming flower. The sight is so wholly alien from anything N_4 has ever witnessed, as is the humanoid nestled within. It is garbed in a baroque design colored a pale white and lined in pale azure, standing at a height equal even to the overseers. The air grows cold and heavy. It is the image, the ideal, of lethality, and although he cannot recognize the word N_4 recognizes the passenger as a warrior.


 


Corpus explodes into action. MOA stream out of wall-mounted carrier pods by the hundreds. Hollow soldiers march into the cavernous chamber, Ospreys carrying melta-bombs hovering at their flank. N_4 even recognizes the Board Director of Venus, Jai Xedon, observing the spectacle with a mixture of fear and surprise growing on her withered face.


 


The warrior leaps out of its hibernation unit. It lands soundlessly, yet every soldier reacts as if he landing with an explosive detonation. They ready rifles, arm cannons, and prime detonation charges placed to ensure this place would be buried beneath half a mile of irradiated earth. Half a Corpus phalanx stands against the warrior, yet N_4 instinctively knows they are hopelessly outmatched.


 


Drawing a curving scythe in the shape of a crescent moon, the warrior rushes forward. A solid wave of plasma bolts and cutting lasers flies out to meet it, but the warrior casts out a hand and each projectile is frozen by a conjured globe of glass. N_4 merely stares in disbelief as the warrior takes the phalanx apart. MOAs have their legs cut out from under them, soldiers are bisected vertically, and commanders are impaled upon razor sharp spines of ice. Jai Xedon screams for a moment before she is frozen solid, and the warrior smashes her to pieces with little more than an errant flick of the wrist.


 


For a brief moment, amidst the steaming carnage surrounding them, the warrior locks eyes with N_4. Something passes between them, something beyond words, and in an instant, the warrior vanishes into one of the many labyrinthine tunnels riddling the planet crust. That frigid gaze, colder than the vacuum of space, inspires something in the minds of slaves that should no longer have the capacity for inspiration.


 


N_4 stares for a long moment at the corpse of his fallen oversee. He turns, and sees 3`XJ cradling the detonator for the tunnel charges in hands mangled from electro-whips. This place will be their salvation. This place will be their tomb. They will earn their freedom, even if it is only earned through death.


 


When the Corpus come for them, with hissing machines and soldiers with faces of stone, N_4 is not afraid. He faces down the screeching dark with an unfamiliar look of defiance.


 


Desssssssss...dessssssss...durseg…?” 3`XJ whispers behind him, struggling to ask a question without tongue or throat. Regardless, N_4 understands. 3`XJ wants to know the name of the slave who will die with him, perhaps the closest to family he will ever come to understand. But slaves have no names, only designations, and even those are impossible to voice.


 


N_4 thought that every part of him had broken. He was wrong. He collapsed there, and 3`XJ was there to support him. The two slaves were scarred, rotting, and foul-stenched, but they were humans. In the center of so much bloody death, they were free.


 


N_4 cannot give a truthful answer. Corpus has ensured that. Instead all the slave can do is name a memory, a concept, something strong enough to have stayed with him through the cycle of reincarnation, something that has managed to outlast the pain.


 


Light,” N_4 manages to whisper, the first and only word he has ever spoken.


 


For several minutes, the two stand with each other, their breath rasping from rusting vocalizers, with all that they have left being the gentle courage to embrace the blackness beyond the layers of grime and soulless Corpus steel. N_4 grips the detonator tight, the beginnings of tears shining in dull grey eyes. That breath empowers him, animates him beyond the numbing throes of his coming end. It gives him the strength to persist for the last few seconds of his life, as he and his newfound brother thumb the detonator just as the MOAs ready the cutting lasers.


 


Although he feels a great heat, N_4 is cold. A winter’s frost has taken him, a good frost that numbs him to the pain yet made him more cognizant of the sweet instants of liberation. The warrior could not save him, but it could show him salvation.


 


All those years of agony, of torture, of domination, they are nothing compared to this. This shines brighter and stronger and truer. And the darkness might have still existed in every bleak and bitter memory that Corpus had not seen fit to take, but this is stronger. This is all that has ever mattered. This is all that has been denied him for so long. This is contentment. This is joy.


 


The Frost does not show the light. It only reveals the way.


 


All he can see in the next instant is the light, flashing as bright as the sun itself. For a moment it takes him back to that first death, what Corpus could not take. He remembers peering up at the small window into the sky with newborn eyes, the sun's dazzling brilliance glorious...


 


Loki


 


The clarinet.


 


Namesake of a forgotten trickster god, sentenced to have caustic poison dripped into his eyes for all eternity, Loki is in many respects the opposite of Ash. Whereas Ash understands the value of subtlety, of the danger an unseen threat can pose, Loki understands duplicity. He is not gifted with the power of offense, instead relying on the simple minds of his enemies and their inbred nature to fall upon one another at the mere flip of a coin.


 


The touch of the Loki is never seen but always felt, his hand stretching across the entirety of the Solar System. A crude machete found embedded in a Board Director, MOA laser burns scored into the walls of a destroyed Grineer galleon, a thousand small acts serving as but the stepping stones to greater goals. The Loki thinks in terms of causality, rolling one small stone so as to set off the avalanche. A few Grineer corpses to ignite a war, setting foe against foe and weakening both in turn.


 


When the Loki is deployed with his fellow Tenno, it is always in role of support. Enemies find themselves having switched places, the Loki now in their place and they standing over a bottomless chasm. MOAs pull attention away from present targets and focus on a motionless new target, unleashing a hellish barrage only to have the Tenno collapse into dust, revealed to be a decoy.


 


Deception is a process composed of preparation and ignition, a thousand steps to build the fire and one spark to ignite it. Compromising messages detailing a Board Director’s plot to defect to the Grineer are forwarded to his fellow Corpus, and one week later he is sentenced to the indoctrination temples. Loki sees the empires of its enemies as nothing more than a facade, a hollow structure that falls apart as soon as one dispels the illusion.


 


The Loki sees thousands of slaves rising up against their Corpus master, tearing apart soldiers and machines with nothing but their bare hands. It is only the beginning. Over the course of seven days, he sees them rise by the millions, mutilated hordes clawing their way into to the surface as the blaring sirens stitched into their throats blare out the underlying hate that fed their newborn defiance.


 


Everywhere, nowhere, the Loki slides between the tunnel network helping to feed the fires of this rebellion. He is sure to put down some of the more insane slaves, those who turned on their comrades in their deranged bloodlust, lest something even worse than the Grineer be birthed in the underworlds of Venus.


 


They carry a banner painted with a crude sigil of his brother Frost, a symbol they can rally behind. It was no accident that the awakening of the Tenno and the following defiance of the two slaves was plastered across every vid screen on Venus. Causality: the death of two slaves igniting a planet-wide revolution.


 


This is the true strength of Loki. He isn’t the one to plunge the dagger in his enemy’s back, he is the one that gets them to turn.


 


The slave hordes walk with the banner of Frost, their unseen god walking beside them.


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Mag


 


The bass.


 


Abbreviation. A shortened form of a greater whole. Reality is nothing but a series of intersecting lines all pulling apart and together in an endless stalemate. Up pulling on down only because down is pulling on up, base orientation constantly shifting and changing with the natural curvature of the planet. Mag can recognize the lines, can perceive the directions and where they lead. It is her domain. Her enemies sit in space stations and battleships, small islands of gravity sitting in the lonely dark.


 


The dropship approaches the Grineer galleon, a small blue light weaving between the shattered glowing ruins of lost Sedna. Mag waits on the underside, just barely touching vacuum as she drinks in the gravity well of the planetoid. There is limitless potential in just the basic laws of atoms and molecules, laws understood milennia ago by human minds but never open to manipulation until the intervention of the Orokin. Mag makes sure to store a small undercurrent of Sedna’s hidden power. It grows increasingly likely she will need it.


 


Landing on the galleon’s outer hull, her craft carves out a small section to form a circular entryway. Mag and her fellow Tenno decouple from their holding chambers, slipping just before crude Grineer life support can register a hull breach. The dropship replaces the removed section and welds the strip of metal back on, separating from the galleon and making for the debris field to lie in wait for extraction.


 


Volt places a hand on a nearby security console. His hand glows a faint blue for a moment before sirens begin to wail in the distance. According to life support, fires have just broken out in seven distinct areas of the warship, all suitablly spaced out from the central command hub. A necessary distraction. The Lotus gives a brief word of acknowledgement, before the four Tenno begin sprinting towards the objective.


 


A Grineer rounds the corner, only to receive a dagger in the brain. Momentum carries him forward into the wall, where the resounding clang of Grineer armor on Grineer walls echoes across the corridors. Lines pulling on lines. Forward motion pulling on forward motion but the former resisted by the latter. Perhaps her sister Banshee could have silenced it, but Banshee is not here, only Mag, Volt, Vauban, and Ember, with her offending knives.


 


They bark orders at each other in their mongrel tongue, a language of all aggressive consonants but no connecting vowels. A butcher raises a machete as he charges Mag with bloodshot eyes and spittle gathering at the corners of his mouth. He makes it ten steps before his legs snap in half, with Mag septupling his weight, and is dispatched by a casual shot of her rifle.


 


An orb of fire sears a nearby Grineer to ash, the work of Ember, lobbing another as she hurls glittering knives. The second Fireball strikes a Legionnaire, where it rebounds off the kinesteel shield. Mag quickly forges an attraction between the shield and another Grineer, wrenching it out of the Legionnaire’s hands and embedding the edge through his comrade’s chest. The Ember then finishes her work.


 


Bullets begin to ping off Mag’s shields as several soldiers begin to concentrate her fire. She shapes a large gravity funnel leading away from her and towards another group harassing Volt, who is dancing between shots with lightning crackling in his hands. The rounds curve away from her and follow the natural pull, the Grineer now shooting their own with just a few pulls and tugs.


 


More pour in, the captain no doubt now ignoring the reports of fire. Vauban rushes to the hangar entrance and deploys his prison, trapping a dozen or more Grineer in a stasis field. It is an unspoken opportunity for Mag. She touches the lines flowing outward, the small magnetic attraction emitted by their atoms, and clenches her fist so as to invert them. A loud snapping sound is heard, akin to a gunshot, and Vauban drops the Bastille. Grineer fall soundlessly as they splatter to the ground, little more than wet sacks of meat with bones crushed to powder.


 


Mag doesn’t see it. She is already drawing her sword, pulling a Grineer to her with violent force, parting the screeching Scorpion in two in one fluid motion. It doesn’t take long with her and her brothers working in tandem. Soon the hangar is cleared, and the squad resumes moving to the objective.


 


Lines pulling on lines. An abbreviation, a shortened form of the whole. Each Tenno is but a line, Mag included. They all pull on each other to create a greater effect.


 


She is the last to leave. Just as Mag nears the exit, a nearby sound makes her pause. The Mag turns to see a Grineer trying to gurgle obscenities at her with a slit throat. He stares into her glass dome of a face, swirling with the images of nebulae and galaxies, and spits his hatred for her and everything her kind represent.


 


The Mag draws her pistol.


 


Nekros


 


The chimes.


 


Most Grineer taste crude, like undercooked meat. Many are relatively newborns, just birthed from a Brood Queen, so their souls are mangled, mutilated things just barely qualified to be labeled human. He doesn’t bother adding these infants to his collection. He simply rips their spiritual matter and violently expels it, reducing their essence into little more than a projectile weapon.


 


Nekros drives his fist through the heart of a Lancer, ripping out the twisted soul. He hurls the smoking orb of nothing at the nearest enemy, not even bothering to watch as it tears the other Lancer to his component atoms. Nekros spreads his arms wide and an image of nameless terror sweeps across their hearts and minds, sending them fleeing to whatever dark corner they can find. He feeds on their fear, draws power from the most basic of emotional states. It makes every bullet hit with just a little more force, gives his scythe an imperceptibly keener edge.


 


His Ether Scythe passes through armor as if it were nonexistent, a material forged partly of metaphysical elements so as only to cut through the more basic structure of organic flesh. The Lancer falls in two neat halves. Nekros continues to the next. He hunts down each terrified Grineer with the brutal efficiency of the farmer separating the wheat from the chaff. The Terrify distorts the perception, so the Grineer see him as a wraith with a hundred eyes and ten thousand screaming wings.


 


That is what the Grineer have been reduced to, eighteen or nineteen generations of degenerates spawned from degenerates. Gone are the days of High Lord Grineus with his gleaming armor of burnished brass, defender of Earth and its home systems. Gone are his Ophidian Guard, unaugmented men and women almost capable of matching Tenno blade for blade in the days of the lost Orokin.


 


The Lotus surmises that the Twins chose the name Grineer only to inspire loyalty in their mad crusade. Nekros thinks different. He believes Grineus buried his head in the sands of dying Earth, and what emerged were the maggots burrowed in his festering corpse. The general abandoned his post, and it somehow drove him mad.


 


When Khela De Thaym, Warlord of Sedna, strides out onto the battlefield, Nekros calls upon the phantom army at his flank. The souls stored in the neural tissue implanted in his spine spill out by the dozens, immaterial shades taking solid form in the material world in the shape of Grineer soldiers frozen at the moment of death. The legion answers to the call of their master. They fire shadow bullets from shadow guns, weapons and projectiles taken from the other side and employed to lethal effect. The army of the dead soon overwhelms the general, like ants overtaking larger prey, and soon she falls from a combination of a hundred nonexistent bullet wounds and from succumbuing to the toxins of the Saryn.


 


Once to wear the title of Grineer was among the highest honor the Mundane could achieve. Now it is a word whispered almost as a curse, the name of monsters and nightmares and the bloodthirsty horde. Nekros alone remembers what is means to be Grineer, and he is the only one who understands just how far they have fallen.


 


Four Tenno lay kneeling across from each other, the Solar System spinning between them. This is where the Lotus calls them from their resting place, a small pocket dimension nestled between real space and Void. Here a Tenno is chosen to undertake an assigned task, decided by the all seeing eye of the Lotus. Nekros is called for his insight into the past. The Lotus asks for his memories of a place called Galatea.


 


It is the duty of Nekros to serve as shaman for his fellow Tenno. It is his duty to remember, his burden to bear across a thousand battlefields. Nekros fights Corpus on the polar ice caps of Mars, the shadow image of a lost city and its ten thousand inhabitants superimposed on the horizon. He lops off an Infested head as the person it once was whispers maddened prophecies in his ear.


 


He digs deep into the past. Another phantom army at his beck and call.


 


Galatea. Artificial biome orbiting the gas giant Neptune. Four major cities. Majis, Ver, Tolivantes, Azulande. Azulande had crystal spires that shone at dusk and dawn, their light sparkling out as new stars in the night sky. Equipped with an inter-planetary trading network. Lines of light shining from orbit like a great gossamer web stretching across the entirety of the planetoid. Breathable atmosphere. The warm western wind heralding the beginning of summer. Artificial water sources. Rivers flowing with water that was the clearest azure in the light of the blue sun.


 


Livable. Beautiful.


 


It hadn't been a direct hit. That was the only reason the planetoid managed to remain intact. Whatever struck Galatea was only a glancing blow, the force of the impact spinning the world out of orbit and knocking the artificial core out of sync.


 


The people below had only moments to look up and wonder, children caught frozen in their games, singers pausing mid-note, tower-smiths putting down their fine tools to stare. They were unafraid, since they could not comprehend the magnitude of the doom that approached them. They just watched --


 


The atmosphere evaporated. The seas boiled into nothing. Tectonic plates shifted and heaved causing super earthquakes that reshaped the planetary surface in a matter of minutes. Mountains were split in half. Canyons miles deep rent the earth. A great sweeping wave of fire swept across Galatea, incinerating anything still left alive. In place of the world with the shining cities and rivers with the clearest azure was a lifeless rock.


 


That was Galatea.


 


The Lotus acknowledges without condoning or condemning. She merely gives the wordless signal, the unspoken command to act, and the four Tenno rise to their feet. They fade back into physical space, where the dropships wait to carry them to their destination.


 


He falls through the atmosphere of dead Galatea, ignoring the psychic death scream of the two billion who burned here during the fall of the old Empire. Nekros lands two miles from the targeted robotics factory, his armor still glowing with the heat of reentry. Corpus are waiting for him, no doubt having picked up his signature long before his arrival. It does not matter. One can no more surprise a Tenno than one can surprise a hurricane.


 


Corpus tastes like iron, the acrid metallic undertone lingering as the ozone smell of fried machinery chokes the air. Their minds are hollow but their souls are left intact, so they serve. The hollow men do not thank him or curse him but merely stare blankly ahead, no different in service to this master than the one before.


 


Greed gone rampant in the absence of watchful overseers. Profit turned into an end rather than a means. The other end of the human extreme, for where Grineer is most definitely the unchecked id, Corpus is the ego. Their cyclical desire for more in the process of getting more spun unchecked for the millennia since the disappearance of the Orokin, spiraling into a debased cult that perceives currency as a god rather than a concept. They express this by building cheap MOAs in place of colossal Jackals, brainwashing thousands to serve as meat shields in place of trained soldiers, limiting themselves in the pursuit of something they do not need. The greed of Corpus is its greatest strength, yet it will be its downfall.


 


More soldiers. Lines of light connect them where the Ospreys magnify their shields. Nekros calls upon the army. Only one responds.


 


Flickering shadows coalesce into a solid form. Standing nine feet tall, with a black warmace phasing in and out of existence in her grip, Khela De Thaym, Warlord of Sedna, steps out onto the battlefield.


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Nova


 


The vibraphone.


 


I am here. I am alive. It is dark. I am not afraid.


 


TRANSMIT - Genelocks matched - RECEIVE - bonding successful - WITNESS - reintegration: lines of golden light and molten thought branching from your mind like roots from a sapling - ASK - ANSWER- PURPOSE - RECLAMATION - the gifts of those who came before - WARNING - metaphysical overload - THE VOID SINGS TO YOU CHILD - approaching critical levels - THE VOID SCREAMS - see the second layer - PROCESS - priming linguistic cyphers - FOR THE QUEENS - Mensunjin resukuktiel hrassul - DENIED - priming linguistic cyphers - IN THE NAME OF PROFIT - May our ledgers become ocean - ACCEPTED - begin.


 


I do not remember my name. I know I have a name, and I know that I know it, but I cannot think of anything besides a string of characters that cannot be pronounced. I remember a mother’s face, I remember the stink of bodies pressed together, I remember cold steel and lightning whips and the hissing of machines with avian bodies. I remember the honeycomb, when the stones fell around us, trapped us miles below, and how for hours we would scream in the dark for rescue.


 


TRANSMIT


 


Blue lights shining down from above. They find something of value. The ravens grip me with steel talons and ten eyes, they drag me up from the pit and leave the rest to rot. Four walls. More steel encasing me. Moved from one prison to another. Fed paste that tastes like blood. Brought out only to be stabbed by dull gray needles. Clothed in skin like the image of the Old Masters. I do not know why. Perhaps I cannot remember why.


 


Only twice had the artificial construction of a Tenno been attempted before the birth of the Nova, and both had failed. The first was arguably the more successful, but it proved so disastrous that the Lotus had all mention of it stricken from the records. The second was by the hand of Corpus, a madman who continues his blasphemous work to this day. That crime still goes unpunished, with the coward responsible successfully eluding the all seeing Eye of Reclamation. Little else of this “Zanuka” is known, only that he is harvesting the corpses of the Uninitiated for some sinister purpose.


 


I am no longer a person. I am meat. They cut me open a thousand times only to put me back together again. Again and again the man with the steel eyes pulls out all my insides, hoping to look for something that isn’t there. He argues with walls etched with the images of men. Over time his voice grows quieter and theirs grow louder. He grows desperate as he is slowly drowned out by the chorus. He won’t find it. He can’t. Cut. Uncut. Needles tipped with poison that makes me sing the pain. They give me my voice back. Still can’t find it. They won’t stop trying.


 


To build a Tenno is no easy thing. Their bodies are fueled by the essence of Void, ether matter gathered by beings not entirely physical. Their armor and weapons are shaped from metals not native to this universe, their knowledge of gun and blade learned in forgotten age. With no effort at all each bends or even breaks the laws of reality at their beck and call, molded to technology so advanced it appears to be almost magical to the minds of lesser beings. The Tenno are War Gods, unparalleled masters of blade and gun. They transcend humanity’s limited perception of three linear dimensions, and to understand them one must be equal to a race that has no equals.


 


Time passes. I can’t remember how much, only the concept of one second moving to the next, of past and present and future, and how it always moves. Never stops. Noise. Screams. Shouts. Lightning strikes and the ravens fall like stones. The sound of steel cutting steel. Four walls become three and a way out. I am afraid. Sound and action are unfamiliar to me, and the unfamiliar is a dangerous thing. Four knights clad in pearlescent bone. Not knights. Warriors. I open my mouth and the lightning flashes again. Darkness overtakes me before I have the chance to scream.


 


The next step in Reclamation begins when four Tenno return to the Lotus with a human girl rescued from the Corpus labs. Why she was imprisoned and not outright executed is only discovered through further observation by the Lotus. She is descended from the Potentials, humans carrying the gene sequences necessary to bond within the Warframe. Within her is the gift of the Orokin, and through her, their work can be continued.


 


BEGIN.


 


I am somewhere new. A room of featureless white. A plane composed of nothing but light stretching onwards into infinity.. For the first time, there are now walls. I can finally move on my own terms. For the first time, I want something. I want to run, and impossibly, I do. I run across hundreds of thousands of miles, for willpower lies deeper than distance in a mindscape like this. I sprint for light years in a place outside of time. Eventually I want to stop, not because I am tired, but because it is something I want. I do. That is how they ask for consent. They do not bother to ask directly, they simply see if the subject will ever stop running. This land of endless light is nothing but the first test.


 


I stand before a man in the visage of the angels of old, with wings of starlight and a cloak spun from the night sky. He carries a sword that glows like a dying star, the point turned downward and embedded into the barren earth. He is the guardian. He guards the gateway. I rush toward him. I will not ask for entry. It is the right of the Tenno to take and I will take my victory. I raise my weapon only to find my hands empty. The guardian raises his sword and smites me with a single blow.


 


Every cell is on fire. Every inch of every nerve screaming with an indescribable agony. New thoughts and shapes begin to take hold, thoughts like Skana and Braton and how best their killing power can be applied. I becomes she as the notion of the individual is stripped away among so many others. Names are no longer needed. A Tenno is their Warframe, one entity united in mind and purpose. She lives through the days of the Old Empire, understands and perceives them as if she were there all those millennia ago.


 


Each Tenno serves a role, represents a primal aspect of creation. Ice, Time, Fate, Lightning, Arc, Wave, a hundred other forgotten names and all fragments of the whole. There is always a role to fill, always another missing piece in a puzzle always shifting and changing. She will serve as the Second Layer, the unseen half of the Universe and the polar opposite of existence.


 


She stands before the guardian, new power surging within her. Sparks of energy flare between twin antimatter coils as she calls up small spheres of self-contained nonreaction. Null Star. They fly like bullets to their target but are turned aside by the blinding white aura. The guardian reacts, firing a dozen spines of himself out at her. She summons even more of her essence and flings it forward, where matter meets with antimatter and both are annihilated. The resulting explosion is strong enough to send the guardian back a step. Antimatter Drop.


 


Again. She carves a door weaving through the Layers, stepping into a gateway and across the spaces between spaces. Worm Hole. Forward becomes backward and what was below is now above, the guardian falling through nothing and exited miles up into the sky. He lands with the force of a meteor, cratering the dead earth blazing hotter than ever before. Now is the moment.


 


She casts her essence not at, but inside her enemy, charging every atom with a small measure of antimatter held an angstrom apart from the physical universe. The white guardian glows a brilliant blue. The sword is in her hand. She need only seize the moment. Sprinting forward, she slides under the downward swing and stabs the guardian in his false heart. The barrier collapses, antimatter falls back into matter, and he explodes with the contained force of ten thousand stars going nova.


 


Molecular Prime.


 


Assimilation Complete.


 


Rise.


 


The mindscape collapses. The forging is complete. For the first time since the end of the Sentient war, a new Tenno takes their first steps into the world. She carries with her the power to reshape worlds, harnessing the limitless energy brought by the destruction of one reality and the creation of another.


 


She will be called Nova, and the universe will shake where she walks.


 


Nyx


 


The harp.


 


ACCESSING CORPUS ARCHIVES. IN THE NAME OF PROFIT.


 


Enter Password: OMICRONNINE


---Please Wait----


Password Accepted


Search: FIRSTCONTACT


---Searching----


No Results Found.


---WARNING UNAUTHORIZED BREACH DETECTED---


---SYSTEM PURGINNNNNNNNN---


---SYSTEM REBOOT---


Enter Password: NAMEOFPROFIT


---Please Wait---


Password Accepted


Search: FIRSTCONTACT


---Searching---


1 Result Found.


 


WARNING: UNLAWFUL ACCESS OR DISTRIBUTION OF CORPUS PROPERTY WILL RESULT IN SUMMARY EXECUTION OR MINDWIPE.


 


<Begin Log>


 


REDACTED: What is your designation?


 


S-17: (No verbal communication)


 


REDACTED: Very well. Again.


 


(Neural shock is applied for a total one minute, six seconds at an intensity level of 19. S-17 gives no visible signs of discomfort.)


 


REDACTED: We know your kind can recognize and understand our language, and we know you in particular are capable of indirect verbal communication. Your silence only guarantees a greater degree of pain.


 


S-17: (No verbal communication)


 


(REDACTED gives the order for continued application of neural shock for one minute, twenty seconds at intensity level 23. S-17 gives no visible signs of discomfort.)


 


REDACTED: Each of you are given a name, isn’t that how it works? Banshee uses sound, Ember uses fire, Frost uses ice, crude little titles neatly encapsulating your innate abilities. Your abilities have been observed to be centered around mental domination or psychic energy. So I’ll ask again, what is your designation?


 


S-17: (No verbal communication)


 


REDACTED: Perhaps a change in tactics.


 


(REDACTED motions to the accompanying guard, G-735052)


 


REDACTED: Gather a squad and go down into the mines to await my instruction. For every question the subject does not answer, round up and kill twenty slaves.


 


(G-735052 leaves)


 


REDACTED: Pain means nothing to your kind, does it? No, clearly it’s not your body I should attack, but your mission. The stories say that the Tenno are entrusted with protecting the innocent against the guilty. I have now changed the situation so that in order to prevent the loss of innocent lives, you are forced to answer my questions.


 


(S-17 briefly resists against restraints for period of three seconds)


 


REDACTED: Use the slave we left you. Make him your mouthpiece. Now, what is your designation?


 


(S-17 looks to Personnel P-60002. P-60002 straightens in posture. Facial expression appears dazed or sedated. S-17 then begins to speak through P-60002)


 


S-17 (through P-60002):Neeuq.


 


REDACTED: Neeuq?


 


S-17: (Transcribed) .ti ekat ot tnes neeb sah ehs dna noitubirter rof geb yehT .smaerd gniyd rieht ni eyE gnieeS-llA eht ot dlot derutrot eht taht lla fo snoitalever eht skees ehS .noitamalceR fo yaw eht evres ot srats gnivil eht sepahs ehS .gnivil eht fo neeuQ


 


REDACTED: I don’t recognize that language and the translators can’t either. Can you speak Trade?


 


S-17: ?ees suproC lliw tahw ,rorrim eht ni kooL .sreffoc yvaeh fo knilc eht htiw yvaeh edam sdrow htiw sdlrow elifed uoY .ecafrus raelc eht nopu noitcelfer a si enod neeb sah taht lla nehw wen dna neila gnihtemos si ti gnimussa ,dnatsrednu ton od uoy ees tonnac uoy tahW .noisrevni si ti egaugnal ton si tI


 


REDACTED: If you cannot speak properly, I will be forced to respond to it as a non-answer.


 


S-17: We are called Nyx.


 


REDACTED: We? Do you not regard yourself as an individual?


 


S-17: We are Nyx and we are not. That is answer enough.


 


REDACTED: Very well, for now. Next question, what is your talent?


 


S-17: To serve and protect the Old Empire. We slept through many ages, and when we woke it was to the scent of ashes. We now serve the cause of Reclamation, the destruction of the false kings and mad gods that seek to rule lands never theirs to take.


 


REDACTED: But we are human. You are killing humans. Do the Tenno not serve humanity?


 


S-17: No, we serve the Empire. Fealty to the rulers does not extend to their subjects.


 


REDACTED: And how will you go about this Reclamation? What is the next move of your so-called Lotus?


 


S-17: This I do not wish to answer.


 


REDACTED: Is that a non-answer?


 


S-17: It is not an answer.


 


REDACTED: Perhaps you do not believe in my sincerity. Refuse to answer again, and I will, without hesitation, execute twenty randomly selected slaves by firing squad.


 


(G-735052 walks back into interrogation room. REDACTED appears surprised)


 


REDACTED: What? I didn’t order you to retu-


 


G-735052: You think you have leverage, but your delusion reaches deeper than that. You think this leverage gives you power, when in truth you are little more than a child prodding a sleeping beast, believing it to be slain. You think you have control over the forces of life and death, simply for holding the gun to the head of a slave. Does this control make you a god, tool of Corpus? Does such a trite little concept as money truly give you the power to cage the chosen of Orokin?


 


REDACTED: Impossible! This room is psy-shielded! Your abilities cannot reach beyond this glass!


 


(G-735052 and P-60002 now speak in unison. It can be reasonably assumed both are under the control of S-17)


 


S-17: Corpus believes itself a god. It believes control gives power. They are right, and wrong, both states at the same time.


 


(REDACTED collapses in pain. He screams for an interval of 3.7 seconds, then falls silent)


 


S-17: This is power.


 


REDACTED: This is godhood.


 


S-17: This is Reclamation.


 


REDACTED: This is the way of Tenno.


 


S-17: Show me our enemy, tool of Corpus and Tenno. Show me Alad V, guilty of the greatest heresy.


 


<Signal Terminates. End Log>


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Rhino


 


The horn.


 


Khor was the first of four to be pulled out of the birthing chamber. He lived because his other three brothers had emerged as little more than pulsating sacks of meat and organs ready to be tossed into the incinerator. Errors in the cloning process. They were too weak to live. They were not Grineer.


 


When they tore him out of the artificial womb they fed him his brothers. He remembered his first meal of grey slurry. He understood that it could very well have been his brother feasting and him pumped through a tube. Khor held the lesson close. It was a good lesson, one all Grineer should learn.


 


The strongest of each brood is allowed to choose a name. He chose the word khor, because it is the Grineer word for hate. It brought memories of his time in the tank, of swimming in darkness and drinking deep of words pounded into his mind. Images of other men and other machines, things that were not Grineer. They would show him his enemy, and they would spike the areas of his brain responsible for the state of intense hatred. This was how they taught Grinner to hate before they were even born.


 


His first fight was only a few hours after his birth. Khor boarded a strange iron monster he somehow knew as ship, clutching a rusting Grakata with newborn hands. Men wearing the same armor and carrying the same guns joined him, and soon there were five hundred Grineer packed into a space designed for half that size. The journey was long and silent, the silence broken only by restless Grineer tearing each other to shreds over any perceived insult. Khor spilled his first blood over a question of territory, strangling a Lancer with one misshapen eye. He kept choking even when his enemy went still, even as the commander ordered him to stop, even as they fired the stun round through his skull. Khor can’t remember why he killed the Lancer, only that he was justified in doing so.


 


His first battle was two hours after his first kill. The hangar doors grinded open, sparks flying from rusted servos, and the light was so bright it almost blinded Khor. The world had been reduced to a hazy white blur, but Grineer adapt, so Khor adapted, and soon his eyes focused on a world torn apart by glorious war. Great craters had been scored into the earth by cannonfire, corpses choked the city streets, and the sound of gunfire was only broken by the staccato boom of another artillery volley. Khor enjoyed himself that day, spraying with his Grakata and tasting the heathen blood on his teeth. He can’t remember his second kill, because nothing compares to the first.


 


They won the battle. Many more followed, and they won every one. Grineer always do, because if they do not then they are not Grineer. Khor fought alongside a thousand like him, but he barely noticed. Names and faces meant nothing in the crucible of war, the concepts of brother and comrade reduced to little more than words drummed into his skull. The names and faces may have changed, but Khor knew they would always be Grineer.


 


He lost an arm on a raiding party. Khor was the first through the breach cut into the Corpus ship, and he was the first to take a bullet in the eye. It made him angry, angrier than usual, because now he had half the sight and double the bloodlust. It also made him miss the bomb dropped on his right side, already flashing white with the detonation. When Khor woke up, it was in the med bay. The eye had grown back but the arm did not, so they replaced it with a cybernetic. Khor prided himself on his lack of augmentation, thought it made him stronger than his fellow Grineer, so when he woke up to a false arm he tore the surgeon in half. The arm was heavier than the original, clunky and awkward, but it could still pull a trigger and still rip out a spine, so it served.


 


Khor is quick to anger. He thinks the fury makes him strong. If anyone encroached on his territory, on the one square meter of the galleon he called home, then Khor challenged the whelp to combat and took his skull as a trophy. He won battle after battle, his hatred for anything that is not himself driving him to greater glories. The commanders take note. His green armor was traded for mottled brown, and his Grakata for a Hind, but Khor didn’t care. Pride and ambition were for weaker Grineer.


 


This goes on for years until he lost count of all the battles he had fought in, but even then he fought on. Khor watched his brothers die around him, shot and stabbed and blown to bloody meat, and still he fought on. He lost the other arm, then the other eye, then both legs, until one day he is more machine than man, with nothing to drive Khor on but a hatred that was never truly his. And still, Khor fought on. Across a dozen worlds and a thousand raids, he killed any who dared not be Grineer.


 


He saw the commander who led him to the battlefield cut down, and some other Grineer in yellow armor and wearing a pointed helm shouted that they were his now. He took a wound, and when that was still half-healed he took another. He sometimes ate the fallen for sustenance, Grineer and enemy alike, and when even corpses weren't enough he tore into whatever Lancer was too weak to resist him. One day he found himself wearing yellow armor and a pointed helm, and Khor had no idea why. He only knew that when he charged across the battlefield, ten thousand followed him. That was the Grineer way, advancing only by climbing atop a mountain of their own dead.


 


Decades passed. Khor fought. He shot and stabbed and clawed and broke with clumsy metal hands. Eventually words and numbers began to take up too much space in a brain that had more bullets pass through than thoughts, and over time Khor emptied his mind of anything not directly involved with the express act of murder.


 


When he charged the enemy line with the legion behind him and he was the only one left standing among both sides, the armor changed from yellow to black. Khor discarded the helmet, thinking it limited him. The gun was traded for a blade, concepts like range and accuracy becoming too complex for a creature like Khor. Instead he rushed at the enemy, laughing as he buries the machete in heretic skulls, and when the fight was done the commanders would take him and chain him down in the ship’s hold. No longer a soldier, but a beast to be unleashed.


 


He was the apex predator. Where the thing formerly known as Khor fell, none were left alive. He became just as dangerous to friend as foe, losing himself in mindless brutality to paint the world in a numbing shade of red. Nothing could kill Khor, because he had devolved into a primordial aspect of murder. His kin both feared and idolized him. They shied away from his small little corner of the universe, leaving him to rot in the dank pit carved below the holding bay. Khor didn’t care. They carved the crude glyphs of his name into their skin, hoping to gain some measure of his strength with meaningless gestures not fitting for true Grineer. Khor didn’t care. He only cared for the next fight.


 


New rumors, new stories began to spread among the Lancers. They whispered of a new enemy, something stronger than Grineer slowly carving its way to the homeworld. That this new enemy could turn aside entire armies, that with just thirteen in number they had halted the bloody advance of the Empire. Khor heard the whispers and some small measure of his twisted mind lit up in response. A new enemy. The greatest gift a Grineer could ask for.


 


One day the galleon stopped moving. The engines fell silent, the sense of sub-light inertia vanishing as Khor rose from the fetid cell floor and reached for his machetes. Silence meant the ship had finished its journey, which meant new battles, new blood, armored feet stomping across virgin earth. He began to hear screams. Grineer screams. The fight was in here, in this place so very close to Khor’s home. He strained against the chains that bound him, roaring his rage even as blood began to dribble down from the grate. To die caged was not the Grineer way. He needed to be unleashed.


 


Khor pulled with the strength of the insane, and eventually the chains snapped. They were metal, he was more. He was the apex predator and nothing could deny him. Khor crawled out of the pit, making his exit by ripping the grate open with metal hands. Blood was everywhere, on the floors, on the ceiling, on the doors, and down the halls. Corpses choked the narrow corridors, and all of them Grineer.


 


This was something new. This was a fight worth fighting. Something more than carving apart the hollow men and their machines, something more than seizing a heavy freighter and carving its crew into raw meat.


 


Khor did the only thing he had ever done, and followed the smell of battle. He was the apex predator, the greatest Grineer among all Grineer. He would not be denied.


 


More bodies as he made his way further into the ship. Bodies that had been shot and stabbed and sliced and mutilated beyond all recognition. Khor sneered in disgust at the slaughter. They were weak. He was strong. He would meet this glorious new foe, this Tenno, and he would add a strange alien skull to his collection.


 


He found his foe in the engine room with three Lancer squads. Khor was not impressed. It seemed so small, only half his size and with only a fraction of the bulk. All smooth surfaces and no angles, the reflective sheen of the Tenno’s skin reminded Khor of the hollow men’s mirror faces. A greatsword hung at its back and a Hek roared in its grip, and Grineer died in scores all around it. Strange lights dotted its armor and the second skin wrapped around it, points of bright red that shone through the dark like a living constellation. Khor could not conceive of the comparison, of course, only that this Tenno would die at his artificial hands.


 


Khor, mad warlord of the Grineer Empire, charged the Tenno with machete in hand. He roared the war chants of his people, half remembered scraps of memory that managed to rise past the red haze overtaking his vision. Perhaps this was what all the battles, all the wars, all the blood and carnage and death had lead up to across the uncountable years.


 


The Tenno was busy cleaving a Lancer lengthwise, the two steaming halves not even touching ground before Khor swung his blade. Monomolecular edges met, sparks flying from the first steps in a very short and very bloody dance. Khor fought with the fury screaming at his side, maddened swipes of machete parried again and again by a sword that didn’t just seem to move but teleport from one strike to the next.


 


What made Khor stronger than the others, what made him the apex predator, was that he could still think through the berserker rage gripping him. Every time the Tenno would move to offense, Khor would strike back harder and faster, forcing his opponent to give up precious inches in this war of attrition. When the Tenno stepped back to create distance and switch to the Hek, Khor would drag it back to striking distance with his Scorpion cable.


 


They held this balance for a few seconds, brutal cunning matched against cunning brutality, but although Khor landed blow after blow on the Tenno’s metal skin, his opponent would not break. It was like erasing a mountain stone by stone, fighting something indomitable, unstoppable, a impenetrable defense serving as deadly offense. Khor couldn’t stop himself from smiling, the feral grin rising in response to his first real challenge. He could not bring himself to hate this enemy, this Tenno who was not Grineer, because this was not a mere slaughter, it was a fight.


 


Khor hugged his enemy close, squeezing with enough pressure to bend steel, and as the Tenno squirmed he slammed it down into the metal plating. He drew his machete again, hacking and slicing and slashing against an armor that would not yield to starfire, and when the blade shattered he simply began to pound his steel fists into the Tenno’s headplate. He struck until the Tenno’s head was outlined by the depression pounded into the floor, and stopped only when the Tenno caught his hands with its own. He resisted with all he had, but soon his fingers snapped under the Tenno’s grip, the forearms bending and twisting as motor servos whined in protest. The Tenno pulled back as it kicked Khor forward, ripping his false arms right out of their sockets.


 


The Tenno stomped with enough force to freeze time and space, and Khor gently floated upwards like a leaf caught in the wind. Blood wicked off a frictionless surface. Fresh metal skin grew over the scars. The Tenno drew its greatsword, pausing for a brief moment before readying the killing blow.


 


It was over. He was no longer the apex predator. Khor knew he should feel anger, should feel hate at the usurper that had deposed him from his hard earned throne. Instead, for the very first time, Khor felt the strange alien sensation of satisfaction. He had been defeated, and it was glorious.


 


“A good fight,” Khor whispered, with the last words still left to him.


 


Heresy, but he no longer cared. Khor now understood just how wrong he and his kin had been, just how deluded the Grineer truly were to think they deserved the right to rule. He had fought Corpus machines that shook the earth with each step. He had killed Grineer many times his size and with a thousand more kills to their names. He had carved his contempt for the universe into its very bones, but it was only in his last moments, when a god with shining skin had him at its mercy, that Khor glimpsed true strength.


 


The blade passed through his chest and out his spine.


 


When the surgeons brought him back, Khor tore them apart. When the Lancers tried to stop him, he killed them too. He slaughtered every Grinner on the rescue ship to a man, and still he was not satisfied. They were all weak. They were not Grineer. Khor knew that there was only one thing in the universe that could end him, and it walked with shining skin.


 


The apex predator does not hunt to live. It lives to hunt.


 


Saryn


 


The triangle.


 


Grineer, tenuous link between organic baseform and cybernetic enhancement. Link implies exploit, exploit implies vulnerability. Disrupt support and organ failure follows. Optimal vector of attack, Veritas life-eater pathogen encased by a hard shell of T-form nanoshell. Nanoshell gives solidity for particulate to infiltrate outer shell, then detonates micro electronic pulse. Augment failure imminent. Artificial lymph node failure results in severely weakened resistance to toxin. Veritas spreads, host is eaten from inside out.


 


Corpus, reverse pattern. Interweaved system of measures and countermeasures. Step through the gaps or erase them entirely. Artificial MOA body with core processor partly composed of human neural tissue. Polymer outer casing shielded against electromagnetic attack. Core processor failure results in loss of autonomic control, directive shifts to manual under nearest designated Overseer. Not efficient. Optimal composition against Corpus forces would be Volt, Rhino, Banshee, Trinity. Compensate. Stretch Veritas to monomolecular film. Apply to blade edge, toxin combines with inlaid voltaic charge to create corrosive effect. Strike at junction between turret and legs.


 


Infested...complicated. Not truly infected. Technocyte plague a misnomer, not an actual virus or pathogen. Classification becomes almost impossible upon further observation. Almost like a sentient being, dividing itself a thousand times over and with each division reverted the host to a premeditated shape. Doesn’t infect. Infests. Scarabs of glowing light worming their way into the soft meat, twisting it in ways impossible by the natural laws of reality. The Children do not understand the gifts of the Orokin. Thermodynamics did not need to be discovered to light the first fire. Tendrils spread from a central point, someplace gray and dark and caught in the between.


 


The Saryn observes the shifting code, the isolated Infested specimen brought back from the dead ships of Jupiter. The Lotus has deemed her most capable of studying this new and unknown enemy, to try and determine its origin and if possible, its end. A cure is not even considered. There is nothing to cure. They are little more than rotting husks driven forward by the parasite, empty bodies used as housing for a nest of glowing lampreys.


 


It is the last gift of degenerate gods. The flesh mutates. The mind boils away under the mental weight of ten million psychic screams. Lucid thought is eaten to feed a newborn blasphemy. Infestation adapts. Each has a part in the pattern even if they have not been absorbed into the whole. Grineer become Chargers, the tooth and claw of the faceless horde. Corpus, with their own weak flesh, are fit only as living weapons. All designed to serve and protect the Ancients.


 


These are the true mysteries. The source of Infestation. Dated to be no older than a few weeks, yet possessing genetic keynotes not seen since the test subjects of the Old Empire. Saryn appends the label “Ancient” before considering a reclassification under “Infested”. They are different than the Horde. Not in terms of complexity, or evolution, but in basic design.


 


Specimens with both human hosts and something else, something strange even to Tenno. In the place of the rhyming rhythm of the human genome, two strands transmitting and receiving counterparts of data in an endless dance of measure and countermeasure, there is instead a five-note lattice that sings instead of dances. Very easy to manipulate the specifics without changing the core framework. Corrosion can become Disruption can become Regeneration.


 


Saryn consults the archives. She scours through the medical records of any recorded nonhuman or transgenic variant alive during the time of the Old Empire. Granok, Draken, Auren, Vost, Inua, a thousand other offshoots of humanity seeded across the galaxy by the golden ships. None different enough from the universal genetic pattern to warrant further observation.


 


The Saryn sifts through ten thousand years of history and beyond, dissects the entire genetic map of humanity, and still she finds nothing. She even reviews what scant data is available on the lost Orokin, penetrating deep into the shadow vaults of the shattered derelicts littering the empty Void, but to no avail. Everything else falls to the wayside. If only she can find the source of the Ancients, obtain a baseline and potentially an understanding of the true nature of the disease, then perhaps she can surmount this impossible task the Lotus has given her. Perhaps if the Saryn could find the beginning of Infestation, she could find its end.


 


It isn’t until the Ancient speaks to her, when the great heaving mass of shifting limbs and burning red eyes looks to her and lurches back to life. Her fellow Tenno raise gun and blade to finish the Golem, but the Ancient remains intently staring on her. One skull surmounted over dozens, a king lording over his subjects, and with each of its dozens of empty eye sockets filled with writhing worms.


 


The great beast rumbles from deep within itself, shapes sounds into cohesive words with little more than crude percussive movement. It does so to speak a sentence when it has no mouth to do so, to say something that is more felt rather than heard.


 


We are your flesh,” the creature designated as J3-Golem rumbles, then dies as the Ember burns it to ashes.


 


Saryn barely heard it. Tenno rarely ever listen to their enemies, to the hateful snarls and deranged war cries of Grineer, to the mechanical chitter and mindless bellows of Corpus. Yet never before had an Infested spoken, never before either Charger, Runner, or Ancient displayed the capacity for sapient thought. It was an occasion to be noted and later reviewed, so Saryn stored the words and carried them back to the Lotus.


 


It wasn’t until many cycles later, upon dissected what little remained of a recovered Ancient, that Saryn began to notice the parallels. How the voltaic charge of a Disruptor’s strike was carried on the same carrier frequency as a Banshee’s Silence or a Volt’s Shock. How a regenerative pulse of a Healer released a similar version of the nanite cloud utilized by the Trinity’s Blessing. How a Corrosive Ancient’s signature attack so closely resembled the Saryn’s own Veritas pathogen. She couldn’t connect the links though, the Orokin designed specific mental blocks to prevent such lines of questioning, but she could still record them and send them to the Lotus for review. To the Lotus, who had never been touched by Orokin hands.


 


But most curiously of all, Saryn noticed, was how study of the Ancients brought to mind certain similarities with the Tenno, specifically in their basic design. Tenno were, of course, the same core framework differentiated by a manipulation in their specific Warframe patterns. Potentially interchangeable, if not for the small sample size of available candidates capable of surviving Void integration. Hypothetically Saryn could become Volt, and Volt could become Trinity.


 


They were the same. All that mattered were the details.


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Trinity


 


The tambourine


 


The prisoner was woken by a series of flashing lights. Red, yellow, green, bright colored lights flashing in a repeating pattern until he finally gained the consciousness to notice.


 


He blinked rapidly, and at each color shift would squeeze his eyes shut or weakly shield them with a lifted arm. The prisoner had lived with high-grade neural augments since birth, never perceiving the world in anything but a thousand streams of separate data overlapping the physical world. His underdeveloped sensory organs struggled and failed to adjust to the unfiltered sights and sounds, the wall of solid light was like staring directly into the sun, and every errant scrape of his ceramic plugsuit against the metal floors like jackhammers being driven into his skull.


 


Eventually his vision adjusted, and the pain at least somewhat subsided. Through blurry eyes the prisoner could now make out his surroundings. His cell was much like those of Corpus prisons, small, grey, and featureless. He couldn’t make out a door or any living accommodations, just six smooth surfaces joined together to form a cube.


 


The prisoner extended one arm while shielding his face with the other, lightly brushing fingertips with the closest wall. At his touch, the wall bent inwards, as if made out of a material no stronger than clay. The prisoner pressed deeper, and the impression deepened in response. He only stopped pushing when he met a kind of resistance, at which point he stopped. He hadn’t been hoping to escape, only confirm a theory.


 


It was only when turning back to the wall of shifting color that he noticed the Tenno kneeling opposite him, sitting in a perfect lotus position. The prisoner leapt back in shock, his back pressing against the wall with nowhere to run. He could have sworn it wasn’t there when he had first woken up, but he hadn’t noticed any sign of an entrance either. It was as if the Tenno had sprung up into existence in the blink of an eye.


 


Blank curving faceplate carved with heathen glyphs that made his vision double if he focused for too long. Armor plates superimposed on a featureless grey underskin. Segmented metal lengths forming a skirt, each piece blanketed out to conceal the legs as a whole. He couldn’t make out the model, although he now dearly regretted not memorizing the thousands upon thousands of pages of research Corpus had compiled on each Tenno. It probably didn’t matter. He was going to die, who would be his executioner was irrelevant.


 


Yet they had kept him alive. That implied that he was of greater utility alive than dead. A vulnerability, if an infinitesimal one, and if there was one thing Corpus prided above all else in its employees, it was in their capacity to exploit the weak link.


 


“Why am I here?” he asked, his voice sounding naked and raw without the control disk implanted around his neck.


 


The pattern of changing color stopped, with the wall in front of him shifted to the same blinding white as the rest of the room. A hum he hadn’t noticed had been ringing since his awakening suddenly ceased with it, and the accompanying silence came to the prisoner like a gunshot.


 


The Tenno remained motionless, which understandably unnerved him. The prisoner distracted himself by rifling through the back of his mind for any stray information he might have retained during his apprenticeship with Alad III, but that had been decades ago. Although he remembered a few of their skillsets and specializations, broad generalizations like pyrokinetics, sonics, biologics, but none of the specific details. He could recall a few Tenno helm designs, but none matching the alien lettering carved on this one’s blank mask of a face.


 


“Why am I here?” he repeated, putting emphasis on the location.


 


The wall exploded into life. Thousands of basic shapes of varying size and color, triangles, circles, squares, diamonds, began to flash across the screen in rapid succession, then more complex structures like cubes and pyramids. The wall returned to a featureless white for a moment, then letters of every conceivable language in the human lexicon, some alive, some dead, began to flash behind the Tenno. Letters, then randomized sequences of letters, then finally, words. Each shot up in large black lettering before being replaced by a new word less than a second later.


 


WHY, was the word frozen on the screen. Then, CAUSE, then MYSTERY, then MOTIVE. The last word hung there for a few moments longer before the screen was wiped clear.


 


“Yes…” the prisoner ventured, trying to avoid sounding patronizing, “Why. Why did you bring me into the mindscape?”


 


He had studied this some months ago, in between trying to pry out the details of Alad’s sick little science project and developing a reliable method to control Infested. This prison wasn’t real, at least not in the physical sense of the word. This was part of a shared artificial reality constructed by the enigmatic Lotus to hold prisoners of value. It made sense. Tenno had no prisons, no formal holdings for their enemies to strike. Their base of operations was speculated to exist in the nebulous Void, entering and exiting that ill-understood dimension at will.


 


But if the Tenno came from the Void, an environment that no other sentient being could survive, that probably meant he was dead. A body wasn’t needed for an upload, only a mind, with the flesh disintegrated and the original consciousness uploaded into the secondary Warframe memory unit. The prisoner wasn’t really here, only the core memories and personality of himself.


 


FORCE / RULE / AUTHORITY / COMMAND / JURISDICTION / WARRANT / WEIGHT...CONTROL


 


“Because I have authority? Control?”


 


AFFIRMATIVE


 


The prisoner wore his best salesman smile, the kind that could convince you to sell your land for but a few colored beads. “Hardly. I’m not even associate director of Solar Rail Management and Repair. If you were hoping for a ransom, I’m sorry to say that Corpus will hardly even note my absence, much less devote any kind of effort to my recovery.”


 


Each wall flashed an angry red. The Tenno made no move, but its dark outline against the bright crimson gave it an added air of hostility. The prisoner noisily swallowed, even though he lacked a physical throat. Thin ice, he reminded himself.


 


DECEIT / DECEPTION / DISTORTION / EVASION / PERJURY / SLANDER / FICTION / FALSEHOOD…


 


“Frohd Bek,” spoke a voice from seemingly nowhere and everywhere, as if the entire room were communicating directly to him. It was flat and colorless, only able to placed as feminine by the smallest inflection in its tone, “Prime Overseer of Pluto Solar Rail Salvage and Reconstruction Project. Promotion given upon successful completion of ODRSJOT Protocol and implementation of P.H.O.B.O.S. Project, resulting in tripling of returns in Third Circle Investments. Recently inducted to Corpus Board of Directors, confirmed to be in direct communication with Corpus Chairman.”


 


LIE, in three letters that were plastered on each of the six surfaces of the room. More worrying however, was that a sword could know be seen lying at the Tenno’s feet. She remained motionless.


 


The letters vanished, replaced with an empty circle back on the front wall. It lingered there for a moment before the wall was wiped clean.


 


“So then it seems that you already know everything about me and my work. Considering how I was no doubt a secondary objective to the destruction of P.H.O.B.O.S., one must ask what more information my capture can give you...”


 


The letters returned. GREED / AMBITION / COWARDICE / PETTINESS / JEALOUSY / ENVY / SPITE / HATE


 


“Unless you want what everyone else wants,” The prisoner smiled again, “You want the Chairman.”


 


Another gamble in a long series of gambles. The position of Chairman had been nothing more than a figurehead for over two centuries, reduced to a shiny bauble meant to distract the smaller fish while the sharks had free reign over the ocean. The current Chairman was holed up in a bunker twelve miles under the Martian surface, a rotting hulk kept alive only through cybernetics expensive enough to build a cruiser.


 


NO


 


The circle returned, but this time with a straight line running down it.


 


“What could possibly be more important than that? You kill him, and the corporation follows.”


 


CONVICTED / CONDEMNED / DAMNED / DOOMED…


 


GUILTY


 


“Alad?”


 


No response.


 


“I don’t know, in all honesty. I doubt any one member of Corpus does.”


 


Red again, then a circle with a line running down and a line branching out to the side.


 


LIE


 


“It’s true! Even if I could tell you where I thought he was it wouldn’t make a difference. Alad was always one to cover his tracks well, and now he has good reason to. He knows what he’s done, he understands just how severe the crime and how brutal the punishment, so he’s thrown himself into the very heart of Infestation to escape it.”


 


AREA / BEARING / POINT / POSITION / REGION / LOCUS…


 


LOCATION


 


“All I know is that the project was centered somewhere around Jupiter before the entire planet went dark. In all likelihood he’s probably dead, although that would depend exactly where he was hiding.”


 


DEFINE / DETERMINE/ EXPLAIN / ENUMERATE / INDICATE / SET / SETTLE…


 


SPECIFY


 


“Probably in the arcologies, so somewhere in Jupiter’s lower atmosphere. Infested like it cold and dark, so he’ll stay in a temperate zone of around nine-thousand degrees.”


 


BEREFT / DEVOID / DEFICIENT / DESTITUTE / IMPERFECT / INCAPABLE / INCOMPETENT…


 


INSUFFICIENT


 


The growing symbol flashed again, with the addition of a reflection to the branching line.


 


“Look, everything is stored in the Corpus database. Everything. Every transaction, every purchase, every sale, every report to the Auction House or the Board of Directors, not a single credit goes unmarked. You only need to look deep enough.”


 


“Searching: Alad V. No results found. Searching: Zanuka Project. No results found. Searching: Frohd Bek. One result found. Frohd Bek, born 12.32.43.6A, employment begun 17.224.98.0C, deceased 90.57.13.4J.”


 


Another branching line, this time at the base of the first line and pointed downwards.


 


Frohd began breathing a little heavier. His speech became a little more hurried.


 


“And while you might not have found any record of Alad or his precious project, I can assure you that the record does exist. Corpus does not destroy potential investments, and all data can be a potential investment. Where you need to look can’t be accessed externally.”


 


ANALYZE / CLARIFY / DEFINE / DESCRIBE / DEMONSTRATE…


 


EXPLAIN


 


“You would need simultaneous approval from every Board member in order to unlock the Deep Archives. Even then, it would only be single file access so as to prevent one decision made in poor judgement to be the undoing of Corpus.”


 


Frohd stood up, forcing himself to break eye contact with the Tenno. He shifted his gaze from wall to wall in uncertainty, unsure where he should be speaking, before continuing. “And I can get you that, but not from here. There are favors to call in, strings to pull, meetings to hold and moves to make.”


 


TRANSMIT / TRANSCEIVE / DIRECT / DISPATCH / REPORT…


 


COMMUNICATE


 


“Not from here. A vote like that can only be made through a communal gathering of the entire Board and its Chairman, and in order to cast my vote I would need to be physically present. Even then it wouldn’t be easy. No amount of pull with the Board could get what you’re asking for, no, to get that you would need to offer them something worth risking the entire company.


 


IDEA / PLAN / PROGRAM / OUTLINE / OVERTURE / STRATEGY / SUGGESTION…


 


PROPOSAL


 


“Then let’s hear it.”


 


ERADICATE / EXTERMINATE / DISPOSE / PURIFY / CRUSH / CLEANSE…


 


PURIFY


 


The word remained frozen on the screen as the image of an Infested Charger was superimposed on the foreground. It hissed and spit at him with a mouth of wriggling worms, the picture and sound quality so lifelike that Frohd briefly wondered if it wasn’t just a mere projection, but instead a fellow prisoner.


 


“Could you actually do it?”


 


DOUBT?


 


Frohd looked at his surroundings, and reminded himself that yesterday he had wielded enough power to literally reshape worlds, and in the span of a few hours had been reduced to a metaphysical construct capable of being stored on a simple holofile.


 


“Point taken.”


 


PROPOSAL


 


“I’ll bring it to them. It will send stock prices skyrocketing with the reclamation of one our most profitable enterprises, especially after the Gravidas debacle, and in exchange the Board will hand you Alad V’s location. He might not be there, but I can personally guarantee that Zanuka will.”


 


ACCEPTED


 


“All that’s left is giving me back my body.”


 


NEGATIVE


 


“Protocol dictates I need to be there. We’ve been over this!”


 


“In times of emergency vote, eleven of twenty votes on the Corpus Board of Directors are required to ratify or reject a proposal, with the Chairman acting as arbitrator in times of stalemate. Protocol dictates that each Board member be physically present in order to cast a vote, although in cases of extreme circumstance the Chairman may overrule protocol and allow an electronic ballot.”


 


Silence. Damning silence. Frohd tried his best to keep his composure. He kept reminding himself that he didn’t actually have sweat glands, yet he felt moisture pooling in his skinsuit all the same.


 


LIE


 


The figure flashed, one circle with five lines in a familiar pattern. A primitive rendition of a human body, sketched out with every blatant lie.


 


“Hangman.”


 


Frohd was thrown against the wall. He managed to scream once before the air was knocked out of his lungs, and the rest petered out of his mouth as a single pathetic gasp. A unseen force held him there, pinning him against a surface that had lost its plasticity and become as hard as steel.


 


Normally this would terrify him at the thought of having his mental effluence slowly picked apart electronic angstroms at a time, but that was inconsequential at the moment. Because worse than his entire reality growing angry at him, was that the Tenno had risen to her feet.


 


He tried to scream. He couldn’t. She raised one hand to his cheek while gripping her sword in the other, and Frohd could begin to see his skin glow a dull blue. It was less his skin though, and more a layer clinging slightly above it, a solid azure wave composed of thousands of minute fractals that hurt his eyes the longer he stared.


 


The Tenno placed an open palm on his chest, then pulled. This time Frohd was allowed to scream. He roared and wailed and screeched until his voice gave out, and when it did he hung his head to his chest and quietly sobbed. She ripped away the blue layer like a knife through fine silk, and Frohd felt like he was having his soul flayed apart.


 


He realized which Tenno was now torturing him. He remembered from watching surveillance footage of a raid on Mars, the way soldiers would be frozen in pulsating spheres of sapphire and emerald, their animaic wavelengths stretched out and stolen as raw energy for the Tenno and her comrades. She was the Trinity, the Healer, the Lifestealer, and while her siblings could shoot and stab and burn and drive you to insanity with but a gesture, she was the one you ran from.


 


DESPAIR / DISMAY / DREAD / HORROR / PANIC / TERROR / TREMOR…


 


FEAR


 


The Trinity held the link for a few more seconds, an eternity to Frohd, before cutting the connection.


 


“You…” he gasped, heaving and sobbing simultaneously. “You can’t touch me. Torture me however you like, but you still need my cooperation.” It took every inch of his willpower and fraying sanity to not break. The pain upon first opening naked eyes seemed so very small and far away now. Nothing could compare to an attack on the most fundamental aspect of the self.


 


“This is not a request.”


 


RECOVERY / RECYCLING / REDEMPTION / REPOSSESSION…


 


“This is Reclamation.”


 


ACCEDE / ACCEPT / ACQUIESCE / APPEASE / BOW / BUCKLE / SUCCUMB / SURRENDER…


 


“Submit.”


 


The hand of the Trinity now glowed a bright green, an open palm closing into a fist as a cloud of nebulous green dataether coalesced around her glove. She raised the pulsing orb of energy up to Frohd’s temple, and pushed.


 


His will broke soon after. When the Trinity withdrew her finger from his exposed grey matter, Frohd Bek couldn’t stop listing any unrecorded transaction, dealings, meetings, strengths, weaknesses, and any other relevant information on his employer that he still had the neurons to remember. When his throat began to ache with divulging so many secrets in so short a span of time, he fell to his hands and knees and begged his invisible captor for a quick death.


 


Frohd stared up at the Tenno, forced to look at the pathetic little wretch of a man reflected back in the blank faceplate. She raised her hand again, he began screaming, and the Trinity resumed her holy work.


 


Her task was to heal, and she had only just begun.


 


Valkyr


 


The lost.


 


What is madness?


 


Madness is an asking price of five million credits and upwards. Madness is an auction that lasts a sum total of twelve hours as twelve faceless men bicker over her like meat with the final sale set at price so high the amount is meaningless to anyone not in direct control of the currency supply. Madness is a fading memory of the great triumph at Anur Phaetos, carrying the standard high as an army chants her name in victory. Madness is a woman clad in shining golden armor wielding a great javelin and shield, and her name was the Morrigan. Madness, ultimately, is waking up to the smile of a psychopath.


 


What is rage?


 


Rage is the stabbing of syringes and the cutting of knives. It is despair as monomolecular whips slash across her skin a thousand times over. It is watching her golden armor peeled away in layers, knowing that the best parts of her are being torn away to be reforged into an abomination. Rage is unsteady feet as they stumble out of the stasis pod, hands trembling as they struggle to aim a rotting pistol with vision that seems to double and triple. It is the breaking of the tall lance as the strange new enemy overwhelms her. Rage, ultimately, is a prisoner asking herself a thousand times over why no one has come to save her.


 


What is hate?


 


Hate is a creature of extremes serving a coda dedicated to balance, a single untempered impulse standing alongside sentinels carved from unfeeling stone. It hides herself in the empty chambers of the lost Morrigan, carving unfamiliar names and runes into the walls and floor. Hate is the thoughts of forgotten battles and victories scratching at the animal mind, and when crude scrawlings aren’t enough hate becomes the screams that grow so strong that even time itself ceases to coherently function. Hate is the sensation of looking for something you could not name or recognize, yet it drives you onward all the same.


 


Valkyr stands apart from the orchestra, a broken instrument left there only out of sentimentality. The others shun the Valkyr like the animal she is, sometimes overtly and sometimes subconsciously. Trinity does not heal her as a dozen rifles tear into her. Frost does not shield her as she charges into the legion, running off with his brothers while the mad whirlwind tears apart the dozens behind them. Ash occasionally attacks her, his Blade Storm registering a threat and driving a glowing heat sword through her chest. She reflexively retaliates, and for a few brief seconds Tenno fights Tenno before the Lotus pulls them apart.


 


Each of her kin can only recognize her as something different and alien, vaguely familiar yet hostile to their binary perceptions. It is the guiding will of the Lotus that stays their hand, again and again forced to remind themselves that the Valkyr was once something more. She no longer has the capacity to care. Clan and kin mean nothing to her now, golden memories of a different name fighting different battles little more than hazy memories so easily swallowed by the red haze of her legendary killing fury.


 


They run when she screams. A single note, raw and red and insane, echoing out and around her as the Valkyr sings her hateful dirge to any who crosses her bloodstained path. She is the uncaged beast with lives ending with every step of the calamity. Each shout grows louder than the last, until at last her cries seem to more devour sound than overtake it. They collapse as the sonic pulse overwhelms all higher senses and processing function, unable even to scream as she falls upon still living corpses. Her fists fly out in microcosm, a thousand blows all contained in perfect loops of entrapped moments in a nonlinear timestream. Time was once her domain, the passage of entropy and decay, and now it fuels her fire so that the Valkyr might revisit the smallest iota of her vengeance upon her captors in the brief span of an infinity.


 


What is pain?


 


Pain is the attack dog Zanuka, clad in fragments of Warframe etched with the sigil of a great javelin. It is the left hand rage and the right hand fury, screaming as she charges and Zanuka roars. It is the sensation of flight as she vaults up to meet her foe mid-leap, slamming it back down into the bulkhead and exerting all her strength to tear Zanuka apart. Pain is the instant, the single immutable moment that exists apart from the false concepts of there was and there will. It is the blood spattering in red rain as she slowly strides toward Alad V, his pleas of mercy mingling with the warbling death cry of Zanuka and the scream heralding the her triumph. But pain, ultimately, is inflicting the a potentially infinite amount of punishment on her tormentor, giving Alad a death measured in angstroms, and still scratching a nameless name onto the walls.


 


What is Valkyr?


 


Valkyr is battles and victories passing by unnoticed. It is serving Reclamation more out of duty than any sense of belief. It is killing your own mad god, and the universe giving nothing in return. It is still carrying the visions of false memories, the glimpses into a life never truly lived. It is fighting without her golden armor, with naked red muscles exposed to the world and revealing every battle wound, every surgical scar, every time her rage was not enough to overcome her enemies. It is welding two halves of a broken collar to her neck, a symbol of her torture swaying in a non existent breeze. It is still being broken, because a whole mind would not suit the Corpus cause.


 


Valkyr is not the Morrigan. She is the half life just barely burning, a shadow remnant of a Tenno that met its end under the surgical knife. She is a thing forged as an afterthought to the masterpiece that was the Zanuka Project. Valkyr is knowing all of this, of having the mindless killing rage always thrumming yet still retaining the capacity to comprehend that she could be so much more. It is realizing that Zanuka is more Tenno then her. It is knowing that she is an abomination in the eyes of other Tenno. Valkyr, ultimately, is having no mouth but still having the capacity to scream.


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