Your Guardian wakes up in the Tower. The normal Tower, just as it has been since the Red War. Tower workers walk with purpose to their posts. Civilians, citizens of the City, mill about the various pop-up kiosks that grow more numerous here every day. Your Guardian breathes a sigh of relief. The blank white room must have been a dream. The breeze feels cool. If a little… stale?
The Guardian’s eyes happen to catch on the Eververse booth. It’s empty. So is Banshee-44, the Gunsmith’s station. Master Rahool is gone too. Behind you, a familiar, hated voice.
“Welcome to your Tower, absent your kind,” the Dreg says. “Look at all the mortal humans. They’re carrying on without you.”
The Traveler still hangs in the air above the City. The Guardian turns to the Dreg. “So this is a simulation,” they say. “It’s just an AI simulation you’re using to fool me.”
The Dreg shrugs. “Believe whatever you want,” it says. “You’ve already fooled yourself into believing that you Guardians are the only thing keeping human society from finally falling into the abyss. Why don’t you take a walk around your Tower?”
The Dreg follows the Guardian as they walk. All of the familiar areas, sans the Vanguard. As the Guardian walks into the bazaar, they see a familiar face on a building’s roof. Hawthorne, the Clan Master. She’s still there. They turn to the Dreg. “What about her? You forgot to delete her from your simulation!”
A hint of a smile sneaks out from behind the Dreg’s ether mask.
“Is Hawthorne a Guardian?” It asks. “Let me rephrase that question: Is Suraya Hawthorne a Risen?”
“Then she belongs here. This isn’t a simulation, no matter how many times you insist otherwise.”
“Then why hasn’t anyone noticed us?” The Guardian says, beginning to feel panic for the first time in centuries. “Are we invisible? Am I dead? What in the hell are we doing here? Where’s my ghost? Who ar-”
“That’s quite enough,” The Dreg says. The Guardian stops almost immediately, though the panic continues.
“According to history, the Risen were not always noble,” the Dreg says. “Long before the Last City, long before the construction of the wall or the tower. The Risen used their powers, their practical immortality, to subjugate their brethren and amass power for themselves. Had your ambitions not been so small from the beginning, Guardian, you could have ruled the galaxy with the same brutal efficiency as a Hive God-King. Your Ghosts would have allowed it, too, if it meant protecting the Traveler.”
The Guardian is waving their hand in front of an unblinking, unbothered Hawthorne’s face. They turn to the Dreg. “So what? That was centuries ago. We’ve changed. Things aren’t nearly so dire as they were in the dark ages.”
The Dreg is irritated. It snaps its fingers, and suddenly they are back in the white room.
“Your blasé attitude, where does it come from?” The Dreg asks. “Everything is fine now, correct? Your Vanguard heralded the return of the Golden Age, did they not? And yet I look out across the solar system and see nothing but death and destruction. For everyone that isn’t Risen. Humans, Eliksni, the species that make up the Cabal… the bodies pile up every day. Guardian, do you know your Consensus’s rules? How does it govern? Do the citizenry get a voice? Do they get to leave the City freely and venture from its walls into the wilds?”
The Guardian looks down at the table. They haven’t thought about this before. “They… can’t leave. It’s still too dangerous out there,” they say. “But they have everything they need here.”
“Oh-ho, is that true? What about Hawthorne, another hero of the Red War herself? She was a fugitive and a bandit before the war, now she commands whole Clans of Guardians! How fancy for her, yes? But have you talked to her about how she feels about this arrangement?”
“Unsurprisingly, Hawthorne wants to return to the wilds. She lived there for years. She survived with nothing but her skill as a marksman. The world is dangerous, yes, but it is currently no less dangerous than at any other point in time,” the Dreg says. “So why do you lock your people behind a wall?”
“I don’t… I don’t know.”
“In the early days of the City, various factions fought each other for power, for control. Guardian against Guardian, mortal against mortal. It wasn’t until the Consensus was formed that life approached normalcy and safety for those inside the City’s walls. But now you have replaced one danger for another. You have centralized control of the City into a single power’s hands. The Consensus claims to govern all fairly but they clearly favor Guardians. The Vanguard gets to dictate civil defense policies. They have a network of spies who are authorized to ’eliminate’ individuals within the City walls who are causing trouble.” The Dreg says. “Just because the iron fist rests on a pillow of comfort doesn’t mean it’s not still there, pressing people down into the dirt.”
The Guardian looks crestfallen at this point.
“Look, Dreg. I don’t know what you want me to do about all this. It’s concerning, you’re right. This is the first time I’ve ever even thought about this, as much as I hated getting here, and… I guess I’m less convinced of the Vanguard’s inherent goodness now than I was. But I know what I serve. I know who I fight for. I know why I’m fighting. I can’t fight my comrades.”
“Who said anything about fighting?” The Dreg says. “Not every battle is won with pulse rifles and rocket launchers. There is a colony of pacifist Risen living beyond the asteroid belt. You could join them if you wanted. But it would mean turning your back on everything you have built here. Could you do that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”