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  • Writer's pictureAaron Corcoran

04 : Vengeance

“Ace,” Mal’s unexpected, quiet voice caused Ace to twitch slightly, the sniper round from his weapon merely grazing the shoulder of his target. The former lieutenant of the House of Wolves dove to the ground, hiding from view and ruining the effectiveness of his Ace’s perch.

“Shit!” Now Ace would have to deal with all of the Captain’s compatriots.

Normally, Mal understood the need for quiet when Ace was dialed in for a shot. There must be a pressing need for Mal to choose to speak at that particular moment. Unfortunately, the small wall he had been crouched behind practically disintegrated under the combined volley of return fire. Void energies swelled from within as Ace rolled away from the rapidly crumbling wall. He could sense the transition as his body achieved transparency.

“What is it?” Ace whispered harshly. He raced toward the duct that he had previously selected to enact his extraction plan. The building his target has chosen to hole up in had no business continuing to stand. All six floors of the building had been mostly reduced to rubble that covered the floor of the ground level. The four walls and most of the ceiling remained intact, but Ace would swear that he could feel the building shift when the wind gusted a few moments ago.

All things considered, a building collapse would not have been the worst thing to happen right now. It would help eliminate the great majority of the Fallen soldiers currently hunting after him. Ace had even considered bringing the building down on purpose, but he needed proof of the kill in order to claim the reward from Petra Venj. The plan had been to deliver a video of the sniper headshot.

“Get to cover first,” Mal answered.

The building was quite large. Several columns rose up at regular intervals from the floor to meet the ceiling. Small sections of the floor levels survived whatever had caused the majority of the collapse. Ace had positioned himself in the remains of a corner of the fifth floor. He suspected that this area had once held a pair of maintenance closets. The walls leaned against each other near the entryway to the still-intact stairwell that climbed the westernmost wall.

Ace could already hear footsteps in that stairwell as he quietly slipped, still invisible, into an opening to the air conditioning duct. It was an extremely tight fit, but Ace didn’t plan on traversing the duct. He needed only to remain out of sight long enough to slip out in the inevitable confusion. Ace felt the Void energy that caused his transparency dissipate.

“Ace, Sundance has been destroyed. Cayde has just died.”

Despite the gentleness in his partner’s voice, Ace flinched as if he had been physically struck. His helmet banged against the duct wall behind him. “Died?” disbelief caused his voice to break.

“His final death,” Mal answered.

In the eternity that was the next couple of seconds after the ghost’s quiet statement, memories of Cayde flooded his consciousness. He thought of their first meeting, Exo to Exo. He remembered Cayde giving tips to Ace, entirely in the form of amusing stories of bravado and stupidity, how to survive in the wilds. The image of his first cloak came to Ace’s mind, a reward for successfully completing his first official mission in a nondescript cave tucked away in Old Russia’s Cosmodrome. Ace’s hand reflexively caressed the hilt of the long knife Cayde lost to him in a poorly placed bet. That knife had a twin that Ace had won three days later when he bested Cayde a second time in the exact same bet. Thousands of small acts of kindness the Hunter Vanguard had shown him over the years of his Second Life, from encouraging support during missions that tried Ace’s patience to the breaking point, to counseling when grief threatened to break the younger Guardian’s spirit.

Exos were not physically capable of crying, but Ace’s vision swam as he stepped out of his hiding place. The blurred vision did nothing to affect his aim as he squeezed the trigger. White hot rage burned through him, into the rifle in his hands.

Every round bursting forth served only to intensify his anger even more.

The six Dregs who had climbed the stairs to search his sniper perch fell with six sharp retorts. Stepping swiftly to the edge of the ruined floor, Ace looked down at the Fallen below through his scout rifle’s holo-sights. Four more flashes of light from his weapon’s muzzle and four Vandals fell to the floor with vaporous ether explosions. Paradoxically, Ace’s vision continued to swim as it centered with startling clarity on the Wolves Captain.

One thought burned brightly in Ace’s mind as Void energy swelled to an explosive crescendo and knives suddenly appeared in his hands, “Vengeance.”

Invisible as death, AC-013 stepped over the edge. He could no longer see anything at all. That fact did nothing to slow him.

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