As the “Puma” roared through the tunnel, a brightly lit sign announced that they were now entering the City… last bastion of humanity. This was followed by another sign advertising enlistment into the Titans. The pilot knew the Titan pictured on the advertisement and looked towards Elsibeth.
“When are they going to replace that stupid sign?”
“I don’t know.” Elsibeth said, her voice cracking slightly, head downcast. She turned her head away from the pilot and looked down at the road as it went rushing beneath them. The end of the tunnel opened up before them and the City came into view. It was after noonday in the City, and this portion was cast in shadow as the Traveler sat silently above them. During the day, the Traveler cast a shadow over the City at any given point. At night, it cast a faint glow like moonlight over the entirety of the City. It wasn’t like the reflection of the sun that a normal moon has. The light from the Traveler seemed to come from within, like a reassuring night light. Children often found comfort from monsters by relaxing in the glow of the Traveler. Adults often complained that the light was too bright, and ruined any night vision that they had been trying to develop.
The City sprawled out before them as the pilot maneuvered the vehicle towards its center. What started out as low lying buildings grew to become tall skyscrapers, some taller than the wall itself. On these skyscrapers were rows upon rows of windows, each either reflecting an image of the Traveler, or the Wall. The closer you got to City center, the buildings retained fewer and fewer windows, their sides a smooth facade of dull grey, similar to the Wall itself. That was the major way you could tell which part of the City was built first, because the materials were the same.
As they approached their delivery location, the buildings stopped, and a large courtyard was present, with trees and a grand fountain commemorating the first Titans. The fountain had a statue at its center depicting three figures. The figures were Titans in old patchwork armor, not a single piece matching. The figure at the center was standing with his weapon pointed high in the air. In his other hand, a small globe representing either the Traveler or the planet Earth, depending on your point of view. On the right, was a Titan in female armor facing forward in the kneeling position, with one elbow on her left knee, her weapon drawn, looking down the barrel. On the left was a Titan in teenage armor, standing with his back toward the left hand side of the Titan in the center, his head turned to the right. He carried two weapons, one weapon was a pistol which the Titan held, barrel pointing to his right, arm extended. The other weapon was a sword, raised above the Titans head, ready to strike down an invisible foe. All three Titans carried makeshift shields on their backs, protecting them from enemies that would attack the trio from behind.
A short distance away from the fountain, the beginning construction of another statue could be seen. This one proposed that all three guardians, the Hunter, the Titan, and the Warlock, worked together to protect the City. A painting that was displayed next to the statue had the Titan at the center, weapon at the ready. The Hunter was crouched, with two pistols drawn, ready to strike, the Warlock standing a slight distance away. A glowing ball was in his right hand raised high above his head, and a book in his left, held close to his chest. Proponents of equality had proposed that the Titan to be a Human, the Hunter an Exos, and the Warlock an Awoken. These three figures representing the three races that lived within the City walls. However, no matter which way you looked at it, the painting seemed to be comprised of three humans instead.
The “Puma” approached the largest building in the City, it’s top the closest to the Traveler. This building had a flat roof with cargo elevators ascending into the Travelers’ depths. The building had a fifty step staircase, at the top of it was the entrance to the building, it’s doorway approximately five hundred meters high. At the foot of the staircase was a tall statue, the same hight as the doorway. A Warlock was depicted here, covered in a cloak and cowl. The cloak was drawn back slightly, revealing a pistol in a holster on the left hip. The Warlocks’ left hand was outstretched forward, the appearance of lightning extending from his fingertips. In his right hand a book, opened and held out in front as if the Warlock was reading from it and casting a spell. These three things, “magic” represented by the lightning, “Technology” represented by the pistol, and “Knowledge” represented by the book. All were things that the Warlock was attuned to and represented. These things worked together in balance, to enable the Warlock to accomplish what they needed to do.
The pilot drove the vehicle to the back of the building, where the rest of the artifacts that the Warlocks collected were delivered. Several flat-bed vehicles stood positioned near each dock, ready to be dispatched to various parts of the Earth, collecting artifacts for study. The pilot parked the “Puma” near the lowest loading dock, which was reserved for vehicles that were not as tall as the rest. The pilot and Elsibeth exited the “Puma”, walked towards the back, and lowered the tailgate.
A slight female initiate in dirty coveralls exited the door and approached the vehicle. The initiate had abandoned her birth name long ago. She was of slight build and, like all initiates, had a shaven head. The girl looked to be about fifteen years old, and had probably been an initiate for about five years. Most individuals entered the Warlock order shortly after their tenth birthday. There were children younger than the girl, who were either orphans with high “magical” affinity, or were left at the doorstep of a Warlock monastery by parents who could no longer take care of them. Vary rarely were children conscripted into the Warlock way of life, but it did happen.
“Did you bring more wonders Hunter?” The female initiate asked as she reached the vehicle, her eyes wide with anticipation.
“No Pluck.” The pilot said to the initiate as he started up the anti-grav lift. “Just something for Darmata.”
“Oh.” Said the initiate, whom the pilot had nicknamed “Pluck”, due to her attitude when he dropped off a delivery. “Is it something very special, only for her? Do you need me to call her down for you?”
“I am already here child.” A soft voice from the shadows said. “Please bring the item inside Hunter.”
The cryo-tube was lifted from the truck and floated on the anti-grav lift towards the door. As the four people walked through the door and into the next room, it opened up to reveal an opulent room, with vaulted cathedral like ceilings, and statues of important Warlocks throughout history. Each statue depicted a different Warlock. There was the Warlock who had first entered the Traveler, the Warlock who had first displayed the Travelers’ wonders to the populace. There was even a statue of the first Warlock to ever relieve himself within the Traveler, the pilot had to shake his head at that one, and at this the initiate snickered.
Darmata turned to the initiate at the sound of her snickering. “That will be enough child.” She said with a slight sound of annoyance in her voice. “You may leave us.”
“Yes Mistress.” The initiate said, her eyes downcast in embarrassment. The initiate bowed slightly and left, returning to the shadows.
“Must you always embarrass me Hunter?” Darmata said as they continued to an elevator. “I do not see what is so funny about it.”
“Because darlin’, I just think that it’s rather obscure that with all of the seriousness within the Warlock Order, you would have something that reminds you of that.” The Hunter said. “Besides, there was a time when even you found it funny.”
Darmata bristled at the remark. “That was in the past Hunter, things are… different for me now.” The trio approached an elevator, one that led to only the sub-basements below. When they arrived, Darmata pressed a series of hidden buttons and the elevator doors opened. The inside of the elevator was not much brighter than the room they had just left, but it was bright enough that you could make out more of Darmata’s shape.
Darmata was a statuesque woman, and maintained a desirable figure, even though you could barely tell beneath her cloak. When the elevator closed, she pulled back her cowl to reveal long flowing brown hair which beautifully framed her face. She had high cheek bones and a long face. Her nose came to a sharp point, and if she would ever leave the order, she could easily be mistaken for royalty. In her younger days, she had an almost flawless olive complexion, but living within the dark conclave had caused the skin to slowly loose its color.
Years ago, Darmata had been a precocious teenager with wonderment in her eyes and a sunny disposition. Upon the loss of her master however, Darmata had changed. The pilot had known Darmata when she was younger, as they had grown up together. The pilot, an orphan, was raised within the walls of a Warlock monastery. They would often play together, but when Darmata had been assigned to her master, the play had stopped. The Warlock leadership had discovered that Darmata had a great “magic” affinity, and it was decided that she would be entered into the order on her tenth birthday. The first person that Darmata wanted to tell was her best friend since primary school.
“Hey, they want me to be a Warlock!” An excited Darmata had almost run into him as she bounced up and down on the balls of her feet.
“Wow, that’s soo cool Mata!” Her friend said as he took her hands. “I sure wish I could be one, that way we could go together.”
“I know, but the last time you were tested they said that your “magic” affinity was too low to measure.” Darmata said to him. “But hey, we still have about eight years until you have to leave. We’ll get to visit bunches of time before then.”
“Mata, you remember what happened to all of the others.” He said. “Everyone who becomes an initiate is never seen again.”
“Yes but I will be different.” She said. “I won’t let that happen, and my new master is one of the few in the order who has a family. He knows that you’re the closest thing that I have to family, so I’m sure I’ll get to visit lots.”
“That may be, but I’ll still miss you lots.” He said as he released her hands. “Hey Mata, I have a going away present for you. But you have to close your eyes.”
“Okay.” Mata said, closing her eyes and holding out her hand.
“Don’t open them.” Her friend said as he waved a hand in front of her face to be sure that her eyes were closed. Her friend stepped closer, leaned out, and quickly kissed her on the lips.
Mata stepped back startled and opened her eyes. “What was that? It felt funny.”
“It’s something I saw two adults do at one of the space ports. It happened just before the man stepped on the lift.” He said. “It’s something called a kiss, and it is something two people do when they say goodbye… I think.”
“I liked it.” Mata said. “Can we do it again?” She leaned closer, her eyes closed. But just before their second kiss, a voice from the shadows called out.
“Initiate it is time to go.” A deep voice called out.
“On my way.” Mata replied. “Sorry, I have to go but I’ll see you again real, real soon.” Mata waved goodbye to her friend and trotted towards her new master, her steps a lot lighter than they were a minuet ago. That was the last time the pilot had seen her as a child. Five years later he met her again.
“Hey.” Mata said as she skipped towards her friend. “Notice anything different about me?” As she reached him, she spun around like a ballerina on top of an old music box.
“Your boobs finally started to grow in?” Her friend said as he rose and dusted the dirt off of his coveralls. Her friend had been working in the cloister, making sure the garden was well maintained. He beamed her a large smile.
“Five years and that’s the first thing you notice?” Mata said as she lightly punched him on the shoulder. “I meant my armor!”
“Oh yeah.” Her friend said, looking her up and down as she spun around again. “It looks good, what kind of weapons does it have in it?”
“It doesn’t have any weapons.” Mata said. “I get to carry a pistol at all times and sometimes a rifle, but mostly I just use my “Magics”.”
Her friend looked her up and down again, this time with a little more scrutiny. She wore heavy leather boots and metal spats. The boots stopped mid-calf, with no additional armor above them. She wore heavy cloth trousers and a thick leather belt. The holster was also leather and housed her pistol. The pistol was an antique black-powder semi-automatic. If he remembered correctly it was called the 1911 or something like that. Her tunic was also cloth, but was mostly obscured by her body armor. The body armor was of the female design obviously. The front plate was a single piece of metal, that covered her upper body from her waist to her neck. There was a neck protector, but she let that hang loose off to the side of her neck.
The back plate was also a single piece of metal, but had attachments for a cryogenic re-breather. The tank for the re-breather had an oval shape and sat flush against her armor. Two tubes stretched out from the top of the tank and over her shoulders. The hoses connected to two ports on the sides of her helmet at the cheek. The helmet was a visor-less model, and was just as simple as the rest of her armor. The two halves of her body armor was connected by carbon fiber nano-tube straps that held the two pieces together. There was no armor on her arms, save for a pair of heavy leather gauntlets that came to only her wrists. The gauntlets were fingerless, so that she could generate her “Magics”.
No one knew just how the Warlocks used their “Magics”. It had been theorized that Warlocks were secretly genetically engineered humans, created by the Titans to enable them to interface with the Traveler. This was later debunked by the release of a research paper, describing subtle changes within the human genome which was influenced by the Traveler. Several people left the safety of the Traveler and the Titans because of this revelation. Most of them had set up colonies in the depths of the solar system and were believed to have become the first Hunters. The others were never heard from again, and some believe that they had transformed themselves into the Exos.
His examination over, Mata’s friend stood back. “You look fantastic in it.” He said, nodding his approval.
Mata blushed slightly, and then lowered her head in embarrassment. “Th-thank you.” Mata stuttered. She then shook her head slightly, her short brown hair bouncing from side to side. “I-I have to get back now. Have you given any thought to where you are going to go after you leave? You only have a few short years left here you know.”
“I know.” Her friend said. “I had been thinking about joining the Titans or perhaps the Hunters.”
Mata looked her friend up and down. “I think you’d look good as a Titan. Maybe we could be paired up together on a mission sometime.”
“That’d be cool.” He said, a smile growing on his lips. “After all you would need someone to watch your back since you don’t have eyes in the back of your head.”
Mata punched him again in the shoulder. “Hah! I’ve been trained on how to expand my presence so I know what’s going on in all directions.” She stood there, her head down, fidgeting with her helmet. “So uh, this would be goodbye then.”
“Yes, it would.” Her friend said. “What. Do you want another kiss?” Mata’s face grew a deep shade of red and she nodded. “Well close your eyes.” Her friend leaned closer and placed a hooked finger underneath her chin. Lifting her head up, he turned his head slightly. Her lips trembled as his lips brushed against hers. She placed her arms around him and drew him in closer, their lips pressed firmly together. Mata dropped her helmet and it clattered to the floor. She released him and held him at arms length.
“I felt something else too.” She said with a big grin on her face.
“I-I’m sorry.” Her friend said as his face grew bright red. Now it was his turn to be extremely embarrassed. “I-I have to go.” He turned to leave and walked quickly away. When he reached the entrance to the monastery, she called out to him.
“I love you, you know!” Mata called as he hurried away. She put a hand to her mouth and giggled as her friend stumbled over the stoop of the doorways’ entrance. Mata placed her helmet on her head, reconnected the re-breathers’ hoses, and walked out of the monastery.
The elevator reached the bottom of the shaft and the Warlock Darmata raised her hood. “Come.” She said as the doors parted. “The others are waiting.” The trio walked down a dimly lit hallway, with low light torches on either side. In a different time there would be a series of burning torches lining the hall, their lights flickering as the people would walk past. When they reached the end of the hall, the doors slid back to reveal a brightly lit room. If not for the light filters in their helmets, the two Hunters would have been blinded by it.
Darmata blinked, but this was an subconscious response, her eyes had been replaced with bionics after an “incident” long ago. Most times she just kept her eyes closed, using her “Magics” to determine where she was. However, because she was dealing with him she kept her eyes open. It was always difficult to read her old friend, and it was something that had even boggled the leadership of the Warlock Order from the time he was a child. The room was bright and cool. It was cool partially because of how deep underground it was, and partially because of the cooling system that had been put in place.
Rows upon rows of computer banks lined the room, their lights blinking, some in succession, and some randomized as the trio past their locations. Not too many in the outside world got to see this part of the Warlock Order, but the Hunter and his partner were special cases. Due to his past friendship with Darmata and his fellowship with the Warlock Order, the pilot was allowed to see places where the Warlock Order had kept its many secrets. Within the computer banks were all of the Warlocks’ secrets. Everything they had learned from the Traveler was stored within. At the end of the room stood a guard in full Warlock heavy armor. This armor was similar to the armor worn by the Titans, but had the distinction of being developed and equipped by select members of the Warlock Order. These members were so powerful, and had such skill with their “Magics” that they were a threat to the outside world. These “Heavy Combat” Warlocks often had their “Magics” sealed by cybernetic implants and were “released” when the Warlock Order had need of them.
The guard stood a little straighter as the trio approached. He acknowledged Darmata with a salute which wasn’t returned. “I didn’t think there was a council meeting today ma’am.” The guard said in a thick accent. “What are these two Hunters doing here?” A slight tone of disgust in his voice.
“These Hunters are guests of the council.” Darmata said, her voice stern. “This one will stay with you,” She pointed to Elsibeth. “and this one will accompany me further.” She pointed to the pilot.
“What’s in the cryo-tube ma’am.” The guard said, pointing his weapon at it. “I can’t let unknown items in the chamber.”
“That is none of your-“ She began, but was cut off.
“Oh come on Mata.” The pilot stated. “It’s not like he’s going to tell anybody. He’s stuck down here for the rest of his life remember.” The pilot placed a hand on his hip and cocked his head to one side.
Darmata, visibly frustrated with the candor that the pilot was showing in front of one of her subordinates, sighed with frustration. “Fine, but remember-“ She was cut of again.
“Commere bub,” The pilot beckoned. “this’ll knock your socks off for sure.” The guard moved closer to the cryo-tube and the pilot wiped away some of the frost to reveal what was inside. The guard recoiled in fear, the grip on his weapon tightened.
“You-you can’t bring that in here!” The guard exclaimed. “Those things are killers without a soul!”
“It’s okay bub.” The pilot said, tapping a finger on the cryo-tube. “He’s on ice and dead to the world… or at least I think he is. Its been a long trip and this is an old tube.”
“It is alright.” Darmata said, holding up a hand to steady the guards nerves. “We have taken every precaution and you have been made aware of the nature of the item.”
“Yes, but I never thought it would be one of them.” The guard stood back and resumed his place at the door. “You, and your escort may proceed but I’ll need to confiscate his weapons.” The pilot looked as if he was ready to aggressively protest, but Darmatas’ hand on his forearm stopped him.
“It is okay, I am here.” She said through sub-vocalization. “I know that your guns and the kukri blade are not your only weapons,” The pilot relinquished his weapons to the guard and handed him the kukri blade hilt first as was the proper way.
“You got this Kid?” The pilot asked his partner.
“Just get going.” Elsibeth said, angry that she wasn’t allowed to proceed. “I’ll be here when you get back.” Darmata and the pilot proceeded through the door, the cryo-tube between them. As they entered the doorway it was black, the light seemingly swallowed up by the darkness. Even the pilots low-light filters had a difficult time compensating within the extreme darkness of it all. Within other portions of the building, he could see bright as day, but in this place, he could barely make out the shape of Darmata who was only seven feet in front of him.
As they reached what could only be the center of the room, the lights began to fade in. There were several figures surrounding them, all facing toward them in a small circle. The pilots bravado waned a short while. He had grow up hearing stories about the Council of Elders, but he never really believed it until he had met them years ago after a certain “incident”. The individuals within the room pulled back their hoods, revealing their faces to him. When he had met them before, they kept their hoods up, as a means of displaying anonymity. This time however, they pulled their hoods back, both as a sign of respect for their leader, and as a means of acceptance to the man who had done what no other in the history of the Warlock Order had ever done.
There were twelve within the Council of Elders, four of each race that occupied the City. There was always twelve, and when one died, another was chosen. The method of choosing a successor to the council was something that was a mystery to most, but many within the Warlock Order say that it is not by democracy that the person is chosen, but by the Traveler. In addition to the even number from each race, there was also an even number of males and females. The leader of the council was decided by a democratic vote however, and Darmata had won by a “landslide”.
The council members raised their hands and spoke in unison. “Knowledge is truth, through truth we gain enlightenment. Technology is a gift, through gifts we gain humility. “Magic” is grace, through grace we gain acceptance.” This was the mantra of the Warlock Order, and everyone who was within the order received instruction in this mantra from the day they entered. Even the orphans who were raised in the monasteries knew the mantra. They were expected to say it upon awaking each day, prior to each meal, and before bed each night.
The pilot had begun to hate saying the mantra after he discovered that he wouldn’t become a Warlock, but he murmured this mantra out of an old habit. One of the council members noticed this and stepped forward. “How do you know of our mantra outsider?” The member asked, she was a young Awoken female and had obviously not been briefed on just who would be accompanying Darmata to the council chambers.
One of the older council members, an Exo spoke up, his electronically enhanced voice echoing in the room. “This hunter is a friend to the council, and has worked with us many times in the past. He is the one who has done that which we cannot. He is also a personal friend of Elder Darmata, a rarity in times such as this.” The pilot raised his hands up, palms outward.
“Hey I’m just a normal guy.” He said modestly. “There’s no need to make a fuss out of me.” The other members of the council nodded silently.
“Oh I would not say that.” A voice said from the top of the circle in front of them. “We all heard about it from Elder Darmata.” The figure moved from the shadows towards the pilot. The figures’ name was Sal-Drega, a human from the outside colonies whose parents had been visited by a Warlock when he was young and had been talked into letting their son join the Order. He was an imposing figure, standing six-five and well muscled. If you met him on the street, you may have thought that he was a member of the Titans.
Sal-Dregas’ shoulder length red hair was slicked back, his pale sharp features practically glowing ethereally in the low light. His sharp, piercing grey eyes, looked the pilot over with obvious disdain. “We know of your greatness sir Hunter.” He said, faux reverence emanating from his voice. “How you had done a great thing, but upon being asked to repeat what you have done you refused and stormed out.” Now standing next to Darmata, he slipped a hand around her waist. “Why even Elder Darmata here often speaks of you in private chambers.”
For some reason the pilot did not like the idea of this scum-bag touching his childhood friend, and liked it even less that he knew about what she did in private. “Well if there is nothing else I’ll be going.” The pilot said as he turned to leave.
A small young male Exo stepped forward. “How dare turn your back to Elder Sal-Drega without permission you common Hunter.” He said angrily. “He is a member of this council and he is betrothed to-“ but before he could finish the sentence he was cut off, a knife at his throat.
“Look kid.” The pilot said as he withdrew the blade “I’ve done things that would make the milk curdle in your Cheerio’s. I don’t need snot-nosed young punks like you giving me any lip. This could have gone real easy if you had just kept your mouth shut. I bow to no man. That’s part of the reason why I’m even allowed in here.”
“That is alright sir Hunter.” Sal-Drega said, placing a hand on the pilots shoulder. “Elder Mon-Krega is young and looks up to the rest of us. He takes offense when he feels that we are not being treated with proper reverence.” Sal-Drega steered the pilot back the way he and Darmata had come in. When they had left the circle and were in shadow, Sal-Drega dug the fingers of his hand deeper into the pilots shoulder. “Remember Hunter, at a word, I can have everything you love cut down and ground to dust.” Sal-Drega dug harder into the pilots shoulder as he hissed. “With my power I could make you writhe in pain and pray to the Traveler that you had been left as a stain on your fathers’ sheets.”
The pilot shook off Sal-Dregas’ hand easily as he moved through the doorway. When he returned to the guard he angrily took back his weapons.
“That’s an awesome knife you carry.” The guard said as he handed back the knife in the same way that he had received it. “Your partner said that he’d be waiting up top. Nice guy.”
“Thank you.” The pilot said as he sheathed the knife. “You take care. Oh, and what’s your name?”
“I don’t have one.” The guard said. “It hurts too much to try and remember, so I stopped.”
“Hmm, shame to hear that. I guess ‘Magic’ ability isn’t all that the Warlocks try to repress with those implants.” The pilot said as he turned to leave. “See you around ‘no name’.” With that, the pilot began walking toward the elevator.
Within the council chambers, the other members had left through entrances only they themselves knew of. The only two who remained were Sal-Drega and the Exo, Mon-Krega. Mon-Krega was still rubbing his neck where the knife had been only moments before. “How did he move so fast?” Mon-Krega asked, dumbfounded. “And what in the name of the Traveler are Cheerio’s?”
“The Traveler has many mysteries young one.” Sal-Drega said as he approached the cryo-tube. “Needless to say that man is not to be taken lightly.” He placed a hand upon the tube and stroked it gently. “Soon however, many mysteries will open up before us. With this gift we will learn more about the Traveler than we currently know.”
“But how will we deal with what we know about Elder Darmata and that man?” The Exo asked, standing next to Sal-Drega.
“In time, young one.” Sal-Drega said as he removed his hand from the tube and placed it on the young Elders’ shoulder. “Come, we have much to prepare for.”
As they walked to their doorway, the Exo spoke softly. “Yes, my Master.”