1. Also Known as the Time Nicole Wished Physical Violence on a Warlock
It was the yelling that caught Nicole's attention. She left the inventory interface, letting the image fade so she could look out at her surroundings again. Her ghost spun at her shoulder, turning to look at the commotion occurring in front of the bounty tracker. She wasn't the only one interested; every guardian in the vicinity came over to see.
She had missed whatever had started the scuffle between the two guardians that now grappled with each other on the stone tiles. The warlock was being the loud one, and was clearly losing to his titan opponent. A slew of profanities and insults spewed from him, but that was the only offense he seemed able to offer. The titan exo was effectively using brute strength and his own weight to keep the smaller guardian pinned beneath him. He struck his helmet twice, sharp cracking sounds echoing with each hit. The first hit made the warlock pause his yelling, the second had him shutting up completely. By the third he had stopped kicking out and struggling to get away. The titan seemed too caught up in his fit of rage to see that his opponent wasn't fighting anymore.
Nicole glanced around her. Some guardians watched with wide-eyed expectation of something, other were shaking their heads in confusion and disgust. No one seemed willing to step in and help the warlock out, or at least try to stop the titan from killing him.
"Don't even think about it," her ghost piped up inside her head, making a soft sort of buzzing. "It's best we don't get involved."
The titan will kill that warlock, she replied in her own mindspeak.
"And his ghost will bring him back. Nicole."
The huntress was ignoring the ghost by now. She moved across the pavilion, breaking out into a quick jog, grabbing the titan by the back of his armor and using all of her weight to heave backwards. It wasn't enough to get the big lug off of the smaller guardian, but it got his attention. The titan's head whipped around, the front of his helmet a blank slate hiding the glare she knew was underneath.
The momentary distraction was enough for the warlock to get his head back from the daze the titan had knocked him into. Nicole moved back in time to avoid the fire thrown towards the titan. It wasn't quite a grenade, but certainly more than your average scorch melee. It caught the titan unawares, the blistering of his armor confirmation that the warlock's strike had hit home.
The titan backed off for a moment, desperately patting down his arm where the warlock had hit him. The sunsinger, finally free of the titan's weight was scrambling unsteadily to his feet. He managed to gain his footing but was leaning toward the railing beside him like he might still fall over.
The titan growled once he had managed to put out the sizzling on his armor. His arms fell to his side and he took several steps toward the warlock, who backpedalled in response. The titan's arms crackled with arc energy, ready to hit back with the same light that made his armor smoke.
The warlock looked ready to turn tail and run if he wasn't so unsteady on his feet. Nicole moved, much faster than the titan, and before the warlock could run. In the next instance she was between them, facing the titan head on, her own arc energy crackling around her feet. She spread her arms wide, ready to bodily stop the titan if she had to.
She could feel her ghost's exasperation, but she ignored him, meeting the titan's blank helmeted stare with her own glare. While her efforts had been noble, and while she was entirely prepared to actually fight off the titan, she still felt a mixture of relief and guilt when the commanding yell of the crucible handler cut the tension like knife.
"What the Hell is going on up here?"
Someone must have gone down to tell Shaxx, because not only did he come up to break up the fight, but a gaggle of civilians and a few more curious guardians had come up to join the crowd of spectators. Shaxx went straight for the warlock, grabbing the front of his armor and shaking him near violently. "Rest, why are you aggravating people again!" It always kind of amazed Nicole how Shaxx managed to project his voice despite the fact that he never took off his helmet.
The warlock must have been still pretty dazed because he offered no explanation past raising his arms in a surrender pose, showing off the palms of his hands and bunching his shoulders like a shrug.
Shaxx's attention turned toward the two involved guardians. Nicole, who was still somewhere between guilt and relief, tensed when the crucible handler's head swivelled toward her. She pointed to the titan out of pure instinct.
"Tarios-7." Shaxx let the warlock go to focus on the shrinking titan. Rest sort of just slumped to the ground without Shaxx holding him up anymore, managing to look relieved despite still having his helmet on.
Shaxx was too busy tearing into the titan to notice the hunter approach the warlock. She touched his shoulder, making him look up at her. He seemed awfully confused but it was hard for her to tell. She put her hands on both sides of his helmet in a steadying motion, but also as a request for him to remove the helmet.
He did so after a minute, the sounds of Shaxx's reprimand still occurring in the background. She looked over her shoulder briefly to see the titan looked as small as he possibly could, looking at the ground as if he wished the stone tiles would swallow him. She looked back at the warlock in time to catch him shaking his head free of the helmet. He blinked a few times then brought his gaze to her. He still looked very confused, and quite a bit troubled.
Her ghost appeared at her shoulder, always her voice when she needed him. "Are you alright, warlock?"
He nodded and winced, a hand coming to cup his forehead. His own ghost finally appeared at his side now that the danger seemed to have passed. It silently scanned the warlock, funnelling light into whatever injury he may have sustained.
"He'll be alright. No lasting damages." Nicole's ghost intoned softly.
The warlock's ghost finished and turned to them. "Yes, he'll be fine," it replied tersely, it's voice neither strikingly male nor female. "Thank you for breaking up that fight." It turned its eye to Nicole, bobbing a short nod of gratitude before turning back to the warlock. "We should go now, Aydin," it said rather pointedly, more a command than an actual suggestion. It seemed like a normal thing for them. Rest nodded, still for the life of him looking a bit dazed. He stood just fine however, so Nicole made no move to stop him.
He made it no further than a few feet before the vanguard chose that moment to finally emerge from the Hall of Guardians. Or at least Zavala did, looking for all the world like he'd been the one to draw the short straw and see what all the commotion was about. Shaxx noticed only after Nicole stood straighter and saluted her leader. Rest also stopped, but made no actual acknowledgment of Zavala.
The titan vanguard made a beeline for Shaxx, who paused his lecture only to stare silently at Zavala.
"What is going on up here?"
"Fighting in the Tower." Shaxx supplied.
With Zavala around, guardians and civilians didn't exactly want to be caught loitering and the crowd started to disperse around them. The usual Tower chatter came back, for a moment surprising Nicole with the fact that she hadn't even noticed it had been gone.
Zavala spied the titan half cowering behind Shaxx before looking over his shoulder where Nicole and Rest were standing. Nicole nodded to her leader. Rest did not seem to react at all. Zavala's eyes narrowed in on the warlock and a tired knowing look washed over his pale features.
Rest opened his mouth to explain but Zavala cut him off before he could even get a breath in. "No, I don't want to know why you have another guardian hell bent on killing you this time. The three of you, down to the Hall. Now. Thank you for your intervention, Lord Shaxx."
Wait, wait! I'm not involved! Nicole shook her head, waving her hands frantically at the titan vanguard, but he had already turned away to shoo the crucible handler off. She heard the warlock laugh behind her, a short derisive noise that sounded in no way amused or remotely friendly. He even had the gall to slap her shoulder.
"Looks like you're in trouble now, sweet cheeks."
She moved away from his hand, glaring after him as he passed her to follow the titan vanguard down into the hall. She trailed after a moment. Zavala was practically dragging the titan. Rest went without complaint. Nicole wasn't going to dare disobey, so she followed too. Shaxx brought up the rear of their dower procession but split off once they were down the stairs to offer help to a hunter waiting for him at his table.
Upon entering the hall, both Cayde and Ikora looked up from the guardians they were helping and excused themselves to be able to also follow Zavala into a more private side room. The three guardians were commanded to sit while the three vanguard found perches around the room that managed to make them look even more commanding. Especially with their scowls and crossed arms. Nicole wanted to sink into the floor.
"Explain." Zavala barked.
The warlock opened his mouth to do just that but once again Zavala cut him off before he could get a word in edgewise.
"Not you, Rest. I don't trust your explanations." Zavala pointed to the titan even as the warlock made a rather loud noise of indignation, managing to look quite offended.
It only served to make Nicole curious. From what she could gather, this was not this warlock's first time pissing a fellow guardian off. She wondered what she had gotten herself into.
The titan in question, that was now the center of everyone's attention, made a rude noise back to the warlock, a smug little smirk on his face plates. "I caught him conspiring with a Fallen, commander."
There was a three second window of silence that felt like a bomb had been dropped and the only one to not realize was the titan who'd said it. Zavala and Cayde swivelled their heads around to a very shocked looking warlock and Ikora's eyes bugged out a little and she made a short coughing noise in her throat that she covered with her hand. Even Nicole looked over at the warlock, her heart skipping a beat.
That was quite an accusation to make. And seeing as how the warlock was being forbidden to speak in his own defense, could mean seriously dire consequences for him. But he looked so shocked by the accusation that Nicole hoped this was just a really big misunderstanding.
"And what exactly makes you believe that, titan," Ikora asked, being the first to recover.
Rest looked up at Ikora pleadingly, then brought his gaze around to the other vanguard leaders. Everyone seemed to be pointedly ignoring him except Nicole. This had to be misunderstanding. A Guardian of Light, conspiring with a force of the Darkness? Impossible, preposterous! The warlock looked so taken aback that it couldn't be true.
The gravity of his accusation seemed to suddenly hit the titan like a ton of bricks. His shoulders slumped a little and he looked over at the warlock, the smugness gone. But if he felt any remorse toward what he was about to condemn his fellow guardian too, he didn't act on it. "We were patrolling a portion of the North American deadzone-" There was a collective sigh among the vanguard that only the warlock seemed to understand the reason behind. He winced and shrunk into the chair a little. The titan only paused for a second to observe the goings on around him before plowing on. "We split off at some point. Aydin disappeared down some tunnels. I finished a scout objective and when he hadn't returned, I went looking for him. The whole place seemed really creepy and my ghost was having a hard time getting a bead on his location. But I finally tracked him down. And he was talking to a Fallen. I tried to shoot it but he stepped in front of my shot. Took it straight to the helmet. Next thing I know there's about five million dregs and this asshole is just gone." His anger resurfaced suddenly, the titan stood and made a grab for the warlock. "He defended a Fallen and then left me there to die!"
Rest leapt from his chair, ducking beneath the titans grasping hands even as Zavala physically lifted the smaller titan and slammed him back down in his chair. "Sit. Down."
"I didn't leave you to die," Rest yelled back as he moved away. "You're a big boy, and I'm no good at close quarters fighting. I knew you could handle it. And you did. You're just fine, you big lug."
"I knew something was up with this little bastard. Always trying to give me the slip. I was assigned to you and you did nothing but make my life harder. And now I know your secret, you tried to kill me!"
Rest was quiet for a beat, sucking in a sharp breath and redoubling his glare into something downright hateful.
"What? You mean you weren't hanging out for my charming personality and excellent conversation skills? For shame Honey Bear," he snarled back from his new corner of the room. Cayde was attempting to shoo him back to his chair but the warlock was doing an excellent job of ignoring the hunter. "Y'know, and here I was thinking you actually wanted to be my friend." He looked like a caged animal striking back at his captors. He was terrified, hurt, and grasping for straws.
"No one would want to be friends with a traitorous, annoying little shit like you." The titan was standing again but Zavala's iron grip on his shoulder was enough to make his armor creak.
If the comment had hurt, Rest made no sign. Instead, he turned his attention to the three vanguards. "So you trick me into thinking I had a friend only so you could spy on me? Really?" He clapped his hands together a few times in the most condescending applause Nicole thought possible. "So can I defend myself now or is this still blind accusation time? Because if it is, then I accuse this jerk of farting in the tower elevator when he picks me up in the morning. It's disgusting, okay."
Nicole wasn't sure what the warlock was aiming for with a random comment like that but his whole demeanor changed. Like a solution was handed to him on a gold dish; all of a sudden, it was the warlock in charge and the only ones who seemed at all aware were himself and Nicole.
There was another three-beat pause before Cayde finally responded, a half chuckled and whispered, "What?"
"I'm serious. The elevator stinks like ass every morning. If it ain't him," he threw a gesture at the titan, who had begun to sink back into his seat flabbergasted, "Then we have a morning fart bandit and he needs to be caught."
The whole room was caught off balance now. The warlock was running the show. "Furthermore, I would also like to accuse him of overreacting."
Ah, so that had been his intention. Throw off the room, gain control of everyone. Deliver his side of the story while everyone was still reeling. Nicole wanted to clap for him. He was a clever little warlock.
"Rest," Ikora started.
He actually had the balls to cut her off. Sauntering back to his chair, he sat down looking much more relaxed than he should have been given the circumstances. "Don't I get to explain? He got to say his piece. It's my turn." He said it with so much force that Ikora finally waved for him to continue.
The rest of the vanguard seemed to settle in a little better now that the focus was back on topic. Even Tarios was calm now. He even seemed a bit taken aback.
Rest was quiet for a few moments, letting everyone settle. By the time he started talking, he was completely serious again. All talk of a fart bandit was gone; his confidence had dwindled away again until he seemed like gravity was weighing on him harder than it should.
"She had a kid with her." His voice was so quiet it was almost a whisper. The room collectively leant in. The warlock bowed his head so that his forehead rested against his thumbs for a moment, leaning his elbows on his knees. "Just a little tiny thing. Its mask must have been busted or something. I could hear it wheezing. Little coughs, like crying. When I found them, the bigger one was trying to siphon her air supply to the little one. They both couldn't breathe." He fell quiet for a moment, letting the room digest the story he was giving them.
"Then why did you step in front of my bullet?" The titan asked. He was much calmer now, his question neither patronizing nor accusing. Just curious. In fact, the whole room seemed much calmer. The flurry from before seemed so much more heated now than it had when it was happening.
"I couldn't kill them." Rest looked up to the titan. "I just… I couldn't." He sighed his admittance.
Nicole's heart hurt a little. Sure, it was a Fallen, an enemy. Pirates that scavenged their lands, sharks picking at the bones of the long dead. Their job was to protect the innocent people of the City, and of the wilds. Occasionally, that principle was thrown into question when you saw the same innocence in the creatures you had to kill. The same monsters in the people you were tasked to protect. She'd seen the human monsters before, had to work for them a few times. She knew that nothing was black and white so when the warlock admitted to his own confusion, she felt for him. He must have been young. Nicole had dealt with that idealistic crap a long time ago. Nothing was black and white. No one lived forever. Nothing was ever so simple.
Her ghost shook her from her thoughts with a small blip, catching her mind wandering to bad things and putting a stop to it. She silently thanked him and tuned back into the conversation as the warlock started talking again.
"I wasn't about to let some kid die. Even if it was an alien."
"Rest, I understand your confusion," Ikora interjected. "But a Fallen is still an enemy."
"They weren't even armed!" He suddenly stood, his voice getting much louder. "Did you actually expect me to let that kid die? You weren't there! You didn't hear the sounds it was making!" His head dropped to his hands again and he let out a frustrated almost sob. "You didn't hear it suffocating..." he whispered quietly, his voice breaking.
Nicole looked over to the titan, who seemed very much troubled by all of this. He must have been pretty young too, Nicole decided.
Zavala seemed to have had enough of this whole display. He sighed heavily. "Rest, I would be more inclined to let you off the hook on this one but considering past allegations against you, I'm not so sure that's wise."
The warlock looked up, the sorrow and confusion that had been written all over his face only a few seconds before was nearly completely gone. "What? Past allegations? Because I don't always sleep in the Tower? Whoop-di-doo. Maybe I should have been a hunter." He made a wild gesture to Cayde. "You don't get all uppity when a hunter decides to disappear for a bit."
"Yeah, but none of my hunters consistently disappear like you do. And furthermore, you aren't a hunter," the exo replied back without missing a beat.
The warlock's complete emotional turn around had made Nicole pause. It seemed weird, having witnessed it so closely. It made his story earlier seem brittle and stale. She frowned and couldn't quite keep the suspicion off of her face.
"Speaking of hunters," Cayde continued after a moment. "We have a delinquent warlock," Rest snorted rather loudly in protest to that. "An overreacting titan," this time it was Tarios's turn to make a noise of indignation. "And a hunter that seems to have popped up out of nowhere. So what's your story, kid?"
Suddenly on the spot, Nicole felt her whole face heat up. Everyone was staring at her. The exo titan with his intense red optics, the human warlock with his angry gaze, and the commanding stances of the vanguard all around her. She swallowed roughly and wondered if she'd have to break her vow this time. She always wondered when it would happen. If this would be the time when she had no choice but to speak up or if the stone in her throat would stay lodged, her voice locked away behind it.
Her ghost came to her rescue, feeling her mounting panic and materializing beside her shoulder. "We're not really involved," he started. "We just saw them fighting in the pavilion and tried to break it up."
The titan shuffled his feet for a moment, looking a little ashamed. "At first I thought you were one of Aydin's friends come to defend him. Sorry for almost punching you," he laughed a little. Nicole nodded in acknowledgment of his apology. The titan didn't seem so bad now, really. Just a bout of misplaced anger.
The warlock made a bitter noise from his position on the other side of the room. "I have no friends, remember?" He spat out. "All I got are people who spy on me."
"For good goddamn reason, you prick." The titan snapped back.
"Enough, both of you!" Zavala cut in, silencing their argument before it got out of hand. "Rest, your take on the hunter?"
He shrugged. "What about her, another nosey pup with a knife. As far I know she was actually just trying to help." He didn't look at her, didn't even acknowledge that she was in the same room, sharing the same space as him. Anger in every line of his frame but Nicole was too busy deciding whether or not she found him offensive.
On the one hand, he did confirm that she was only trying to help. On the other, she was very obviously much older than him, if not physically then most certainly mentally. He had no idea of how hardship or loss changed world views. He was confused about his place in this world and if he had even half her life experience, then there wouldn't even be a whisper of doubt in his mind. You killed the enemy before they got to someone you loved and the fact that he called her a pup, let alone the jab at her general identity as a hunter (just like a warlock to act superior) raised her ire.
While his naivety could be almost considered cute in the same way a puppy was cute when it tripped over its own paws, she decided that the titan was quite correct in calling him a prick. A manipulative prick at that. He would figure it out soon enough, or he could be killed in the process. But those were the trials young guardians faced and there was nothing she could for him.
"Well, that's nicely convenient." Cayde said after a short contemplative pause, clapping his hands together. "Ikora, Zavala? Don't you think she's perfect? No fireteam, known specifically for her excellent reconnaissance reports. Outstanding record and a spotless incident report. And they've already met. We couldn't ask for more, really."
Nicole looked around the room at the other vanguard, confusion furrowing her brow. What was all this about? What were they getting at?
Ikora and Zavala looked at each other too, but with significantly less confusion. They seemed to contemplate Cayde's words for a moment before silently deciding something amongst themselves. There were a few more shared looks and nods, to which Nicole was starting to feel the churn of nervousness in her gut. She'd never really been in real trouble before and while she didn't really believe she was in trouble now, the guilt in her was unmistakable. She risked a glance to the warlock, who was looking equally as troubled but Nicole figured he had every right considering he was the one actually in trouble.
"Tarios, you're dismissed." Zavala spoke at last. The titan in the chair seemed to nearly deflate, slouching down. "But don't think you're off the hook. You still failed your mission and you started a fight in the Tower pavilion. You will be reprimanded, but at this time we have more important things to deal with." He looked pointedly to the warlock as he said this. "Report back tomorrow morning, and you will be confined to the Tower for tonight."
Tarios-7 stood stiffly and saluted his leader before leaving the room.
"As for you two," Ikora started once the door was closed again. "We have something a little different in mind." She addressed the warlock directly. "As you know now, although I suspected you've known for a while, we assigned Tarios to you to try and find out where it is that you disappear to, and the information we gained from that endeavor was… enlightening in ways we were not expecting."
Rest baulked at her for a second before finding his voice. "You don't actually believe I'm a traitor, do you? I couldn't kill a bloody kid, and I'm sorry. It won't happen again; I swear to the Traveller. I'm not a traitor!"
"Calm down, kid," Cayde put his hands up in a placating manner, chasing the warlock back into sitting by stepping forward. "We're not sure what to believe right now, so we're going to set up some measures to try to keep you in line. Behave and we'll let you off the hook. It's simple."
"We're assigning Nicole Foxwell to your fireteam and we're putting you on probation." Ikora cut in once Cayde had successfully made the warlock sit. "Which means that you are not allowed to leave the Tower unless accompanied by your fireteam."
"Who's Foxwell? I swear, I'll behave unless it's another goddamn titan."
Zavala was too regal to roll his eyes but he sighed heavily and let the jab glance off of him. Nicole was trying very hard not to be annoyed by the warlock; she had to squash the urge to glare at him. Who's Foxwell? I am, you dweeb. The one who saved your ass from the titan you pissed off.
Cayde pointedly ignored Rest's question to address her. "Sorry, Foxwell. I hate to throw you under the bus on this but we need someone we can trust to get the job done. You've trained young guardians before. It'll be just like that, except with less training. And probably more yelling."
Rest looked over at her for a few seconds, his eyes assessing her. He then turned his attention back to Ikora. "Do I really need a babysitter?"
"What happened to 'I'll behave if it isn't another titan'?" Cayde interjected, smirking.
"I meant a warlock. I'd have been cool with a warlock, y'know. Someone who understands the pursuit of knowledge. How else am I supposed to get any research done? It was bad enough with a titan, but a hunter? Give me a break. That's like herding a cat."
"I'm sure you'll make do, Rest." Ikora chastised him.
"What's the point of this? I gave the titan a slip. So I'll have to try a little harder with a hunter, big whoop. How is this going to change anything?"
"Because now if you give Foxwell the slip, you'll be the one in trouble," Cayde replied. "You see, now we are all in the knowledge that you like to bug out, we've collectively given up trying to figure out why or where. But maybe we can try to stop it. Preferably before you get yourself killed. And with these allegations against you, I don't know if I feel safe letting you just disappear anyway. This is our way of giving you incentive to stop, warlock. You get it now?"
Rest frowned deeply but seemed to let that point go for another. "And what about my order? We're not exactly friendly to outsiders. Not to mention that I barely get to keep my clearance to the Reef. I'm not allowed to bring anyone else."
"I'm sure you can figure it out, Rest." Ikora replied, showing him no mercy. "You managed to get yourself in, I'm sure you can convince them to let in another."
"But I don't have time to negotiate with the guard. I have a report due soon."
"Then you shouldn't have gotten yourself in trouble."
Rest opened his mouth to argue more but all that came out was an angry little noise. Nicole watched his face contort into several different emotions before he closed his mouth and sat back down. It reminded her of her own internal arguments with her ghost and she smiled a little, knowing that that was probably just what happened. His ghost telling him to shut up before he dug himself deeper.
"You two are dismissed," Zavala said once Rest had finally calmed down. "Report to the fireteam board for your assignment tomorrow. Rest, you know the drill. You are on probation. That means you are not allowed to leave the Tower unless accompanied by your fireteam. That means the City too."
A fresh wave of anger crossed the warlock's face but he was tightly silent. He stood stiffly and left the room without even an acknowledgement. Nicole stood as well, saluted her leaders and left the room. Rest had stormed off by now. He wasn't even in the pavilion when she climbed the stairs.
Not that it really mattered to her. She was in charge of keeping an eye on him only outside the Tower. She took a little offense to that fact that she was effectively his ball and chain so they couldn't just keep him locked up in the Tower indefinitely, but in the end, she decided that Cayde was right. It would be just like training a young guardian. She was there to watch and make sure they didn't get themselves killed on the first day. She was not required to be there long. A week at most. Don't get attached, don't get personal. Do the job and go home.
She sighed and went back to her apartment. She planned to go out and patrol Venus but now she was just too tired. Besides, she had a long day tomorrow, and she had to mentally prepare herself for the no doubt shit storm an angry warlock could cause.
Afterword: So uh, this is a thing. That I've actually been working on for a little over a year now. Well, me and a friend, actually. Started as a roleplay but then Aydin became my baby and I love him very much and want to tell his story properly. Nicole belongs to friend. She's letting me use her. And yes, this is a long ass story that is more than just a crap ton of little oneshots. I'm actually writing a cohesive story for once.
Something that I would like to make clear as we go forward that I'm not sure gets directly mentioned, but is important nonetheless. All guardians have one subclass that they cannot switch from. It takes them months and years to master their respective forms of light. By which I mean a hunter is not bladedancer and gunslinger. They are either/or unless particularly powerful or very old. That's the only time they can switch on command. By that logic the guardian that is Guardian you play in the game is like whoa powerful. A sunsinger can, for instance, channel arc energy, but they cannot generate it.
There's a few other things that I'll probably end up explaining plainly in post chapter notes but for the sake of spoilers, I'll leave it alone for now.
One last thing; we started writing this before House of Wolves came out, so that is when the story starts in the timeline. Which you might have caught but will become clearer later, but for now, just remember that that is also a thing.
Edit: Quality Control edits thanks to Cheesesack.