Part 15: The House of Wolves
Anyway, here's that Grimoire update I promised a couple of updates ago. Got a lot of cards to get through, so strap on in. Let's start with our new allies from the Reef.
Grimoire Card: Variks, the Loyal posted:They call me betrayer. They do not think I hear the words. “Bug.” “Insect.” “Fallen.”
I hear. House of Judgment always hears. No choice. Has to. To keep Houses together. Had to.
First, the Great Machine. Then, sky fell away. Whirlwind ripped away the past. All honor lost, all hope. Judgment not enough. Cannot keep Wolves from Kings, Scar from Winter. Fell to fighting. Fell to hate.
Judgment gone. Others slaughtered, slain. Death and docking. “Keep Eliksni together,” lost to pride and rage.
Traveled with the many houses before Wolves. We move, across the dark. Follow the Light. Advise Kells, worshiped Primes. House Judgment must survive, yes?
Found the Light. Too bright in Darkness to hide. House Winter, attack. House Devils, plot. House Kings, plan. House Wolves circle. House Judgment… wait.
Now at war. Fight for system, control the belt. Wolves Kell dead, dying.
Skolas wins control of House Wolves. Attack, attack, attack. Place of learning, place of healing, put to the burn. Then Siege of Pallas. Year of cruelty. Held the line to rescue butchers, murderers, Servitor. Ends with Wolf fleet scattered.
New tactics. Detonations. Blasts in civilian areas. Take the fight to them, he said. Cannot abide the hate. Uprising, they called it. Uprising on Cybele.
Reach out to Crows, to Queen. Cybele attack stopped. Skolas captured. Ended House of Wolves with words.
Paladins find me hiding, cowering. Nowhere else to go. No one else to be. I become Variks, the Loyal. House Judgement envoy to Queen of Awoken.
No choice. House Judgment must survive. Yes?
A little bit of backstory on Variks, and the Fallen in general here. In case you're wondering, the "Great Machine" is the Traveler. Keep that in mind, it'll come up a few more times.
Petra Venj, Queen's Wrath posted:To My Lady Mara Sov, Queen of the Awoken
My letter is a plea, my lady. A simple one. Please let me come home.
It has been years now since my appointment as your Emissary. Once, I was proud to call myself a Corsair in your service. My sisters and I were the sharp edge of your will, cutting across the stars in protection of the Reef.
It was your service that kept me from sorrow after Amethyst was razed. The loss of my sisters, my whole life, as our station burned… it took something from me.
By your will, it was given back to me.
Promoting me to the Corsairs, allowing me to strike back at the Wolves. Letting my fury find purchase in defense, in support, and in glorious battle. I know, as I’m sure you did, that without focus my heart would have grown toxic.
It was my pride in my position that sustained me through the Hildean Campaign. That led me to victory in battle against Veliniks, the “Forgotten Kell”, the last hope for the unchained Wolves. I know now that it was my willful pride that brought me low.
My lady, I offer again the only explanation I can: I did not know the Guardians would act as they did. All I had known, all I had ever known, were the ways of the Awoken.
The Wolves were entrenched in that valley. The approaches were blocked, all sight lines covered. An assault on their position was madness. We would have spent precious Awoken lives. For nothing. I saw the Guardians, knew they were on the move, but I assumed they saw the situation as we did. That it was folly to call in the Crows.
Prince Uldren’s fighter wing did a masterful job. The blast was pinpoint precise. The blasts tore apart the Wolves, and the Guardians, and their Ghosts. Three strike teams of Guardians, gone in an instant, on my order. The City’s anger, the Speaker’s condemnation—all earned. All fair.
But it has been years since the Reef Wars. The City, these— people. They are not like us. They do not understand their place in the world. And do not listen when I speak it.
Please, allow me to return home to my people.
To serve you once again.
This one shakes up how I thought the Reef Wars went. Before pulling all these together, I hadn't actually looked into the Grimoire for the House of Wolves, so having this little bit more insight into what went on is very interesting; especially the fact that there were Guardians present for the fighting.
Grimoire Card: Disciples of Osiris posted:ENCRYPED: Champollion Algorithm v.4
Despite all of Shaxx’s work with the Crucible, we must accept that the Tower may never be ready to accept the Trials. But, as many Guardians flock to the Reef, we are suddenly presented with not one opportunity, but two.
Go to the Reef. Tell Guardians your story. Give passage to any Guardian that requests it. If the Tower learns of this, do not fear. If they know of the Trials, the Tower will not suspect your other motive for dwelling so close to the margins between Light and Dark.
This isn't immediately going to be relevant, but this is another thing you should keep in mind. May come up in the future.
Grimoire Card: Vestian Outpost, the Reef posted:“Looks like the Queen wants Guardians close… but not too close.”
Located on the Reef’s sunward side, the Vestian Outpost marks the flightpath any Guardian must take to access the Queen’s realm. Beyond it lies the Vestian Web, the heart of the Reef built around the asteroid 4 Vesta.
Grimoire Card: Hunt for Skolas posted:Variks: My Queen, my Kell. It is Skolas they say.
Petra: That’s impossible. My Lady, you assured us all that Skolas would never be seen again.
Queen: Has it been confirmed?
Variks: What does it matter? They always fear him—dead or alive. If not this Skolas then another Kell. It is why the Queenbreakers rise, and the Prison breached. No one will call you Kell when a true heir makes a claim.
Queen: Petra, report to my brother for any intel from the Crows. Variks, see to your channels. Find the one who calls himself Skolas.
Variks: Yes, of course, my Queen, my Kell.
Petra: Your Grace, I will not relent until it is done.
Queen: I know. That’s why I’ve called you back.
Grimoire Card: A Kell Rising posted:Queen: So it is no lie, it is Skolas?
Petra Venj: Yes, my lady. A Guardian got eyes on him in the Ishtar Sink, I used Ghost telemetry to confirm. Same pelt. Same awful voice. We drove him from Winter’s Lair. How did he—
Queen: And you would have me consider this a success? What of Winter itself? Your report is unclear…
Petra: You are correct, my lady. I would not call our mission a success. Skolas managed to win over—well, a substantial number of Winter soldiers have taken up the Wolf banner. He calls himself Kell of Kells now.
Petra: We found him once, we can do it again. I have a plan in place. As soon as the Guardian returns—
Queen: Then go. Continue the hunt. Petra, you must not fail.
Grimoire Card: Gone to Ground posted:Petra paces back and forth before the console. At the controls, Variks efficiently moves through a decryption sequence. Four arms interweave as his claws dance across the interface. She shakes her head. His cybernetic arms whine—almost imperceptibly, tiny high pitched noises as the servos manipulate the limbs.
Variks: No sign of Skolas, but the Silent Fang. He has unleashed the Fang. They hunt the Devils. On Earth.
Petra: The Fang on Earth. Devils. And Kings? Nice work, Variks.
Variks: Pleasure is all mine.
Grimoire Card: The Silent Fang posted:Queen: Ha! I had not thought it would be so easy, my brother. The Silent Fang brought low.
Uldren: I do not see why this is funny. This Guardian may have dealt with them on Earth, but my Crows say we still have much to fear. More of the Fang survive, nearly every one of them made it out alive.
Queen: I find no humor in any of this, brother.
The Queen rises and descends to the bottom of the stair, turning in place to take in the chamber.
Queen: So empty, now. No Wolves to sit at my feet. My guards—
Queen: Talk to Petra. Set more bounties, hunt down any of the Fang your Crows can track. They may have escaped the Prison of Elders, but they will not escape my Wrath.
Grimoire Card: The Ruling House posted:Variks stares up through the shielding surrounding the Vestian Outpost. The thin filament of energy almost imperceptible, keeping in the heat and atmosphere within the confines of the hollowed out ketch hull. His mandibles idly opened and closed as he contemplated the view.
Variks (to himself): Goes after Winter. Devils, Kings. Seeks power. Kings deny him. Kell of Kings hides well. Perhaps he will take back the Great Machine. Perhaps I chose the wrong side. It is not too late—
Petra (over comm): Variks, Crows are reporting Skolas is back in the Ishtar Sink. They’re all over the Vex networks.
Variks: Yes. Right away.
Grimoire Card: The Kell of Kells posted:Petra: So— any other Fallen houses hiding he’ll try to convert?
Variks: He may seek to gather the Exiles, but they will not follow. They follow none, no Kell, no Archon.
Petra: What about this House of Rain, the Prophecy you keep quoting?
Variks: House Rain lost in Whirlwind. No survivors, but I keep their prophecies. You think many claim to be Kell of Kells, but none have. House Judgment closest thing to peace the Fallen ever know.
Petra: Heh. Maybe you are the Kell of Kells.
Variks (distracted by screen): Looks like Skolas returns to Venus.
Petra: I’ll find the Guardian.
Grimoire Card: Wolves' Gambit posted:
Uldren: Nearly the whole fleet, your Grace. Back in the Ishtar Sink.
Queen: He fails at his little prophecy, so he’ll look to rule from
Simiks-fel, now that Draksis is gone—
Uldren: I thought the same thing, but my Crows say he’s not there. We’ve found more of his Guard leading parties into the Vault of Glass.
Queen: Tell Petra I have changed my mind. Skolas is to be brought in alive.
Grimoire Card: Queen's Ransom posted:A bellow erupts from the barred grate at her feet. Bony fingers claw at the bars, their sharp points just inches from her toes.
Prince Uldren chuckles. At the edge of the room the Techeuns circle, their implants glowing faintly blue in the shadows.
“He’s been… amusing… since Petra bring him,” Variks injects, practically purring with glee. “He say ‘Kell of Kells,’ over and over. And other such nonsense.”
Skolas bellows again. Variks strikes Skolas’ grasping fingers with his staff.
The Queen’s expression remains mild. She looks down her nose at the glowing eyes burning in the shadows beneath the grate.
Skolas falls abruptly silent. Then a low, soft growl—almost like a whine—echoes from the cell below. Variks’ mechanical hands click as he snaps them together in surprise.
“What’s he—” begins Uldren.
Variks interrupts with a burst of guttural clicks directed at the grate.
The Queen does not react. “What did he say?”
“He says…” Variks hisses under his breath. “He makes no sense, my Queen. He speaks of…Light-Snuffer. Dark-binder.”
The Queen aims her eyes at Skolas, her expression unchanged. “I see.”
“He will not say more—”
“He does not need to.” She turns toward the door.
“My Queen—what of this one?” says Uldren. “He awaits your sentence.”
“You would not sentence a rabid dog, or a Hive Thrall, or a bomb. The Queen’s justice is wasted on one such as it.” She paused. “Variks.”
“Yes, Your Grace…”
“Skolas is yours. Let the children of Light have their play with him.”
“Ahhh…you are might and justice, my Queen, my Kell.”
The Techeuns gather at the door as the Queen approaches it. Prince Uldren holds it open with a small bow, and the Queen touches his shoulder as she passes. “Send a Crow to Mercury. And another to our new friend in the Tower.”
In case anyone was wondering, this explains why we had to fight Skolas again. At least it GETS explained.
Grimoire Card: The Shadow Thief posted:“The Wolves have sent a mercenary to Luna. Taniks, the Scarred. He would steal from the Hive all they know. Would align the Fallen with the shadows. You will stop him… but he will rejoice in your interference. Embraces conflict does Taniks. Revels in the trophies he collects from all he defeats. End his games.” – Variks, the Loyal
Grimoire Card: Skolas: Captured posted:Variks keeps a ragged piece of armor in his pod. It’s human tech, Golden Age. Shattered in some ancient battle, pre-Collapse, and left to drift. He found it and he brought it to his quarters so he could sit on it. It’s nothing like a throne. Variks doesn’t want a throne.
He sits on his ancient shrapnel, unmasked, and whittles at an amethyst with the dead edge of a shock dagger. Music plays (something ancient, pre-Whirlwind, beautiful). The ether in the air is rich and it fills him up with strength. Skolas has been captured, mad Skolas who would have ruined everything. Variks should be happy. He’s not. With his little knife and his two arms and his stolen shining thing he feels like a Dreg. He feels ashamed.
He betrayed Skolas twice. At Cybele, and again, now. He will betray Skolas’ dream ten times more. Variks will never be strong like Skolas, big like Skolas, a leader like Skolas. Variks will work for the Queen, oversee the Prisons, watch his fellow Fallen (they are Fallen, it’s a good name now) fight and die as gladiators who want nothing except a chance to hurt Guardians. Even Skolas.
He tried to use the Vex, word has it. He tried to use their machines. Has that ever worked for anyone? Maybe one. Maybe a few: the Osiris cultists are Variks’ favorite people. Maybe that’s how you survive this alien star where dead gods slumber and dead heroes walk. You cozy up to powers you barely understand and make yourself useful, or at least inoffensive. You become a parasite, a scavenger, a servant.
That’s dreg strength. That’s the strength that keeps Variks alive. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I have to assume that Variks, despite his decisions to stop Skolas, actually kind of admires him in a fashion. Or, at the very least, admires his resolve.
Grimoire Card: Mystery: Fate of Skolas posted:The cell cracks open. Skolas, Wolf Kell, stumbles out and crashes to his knees.
He tries to leap at the creature before him, the shape in the fog, to show it why it should be afraid. But the weight of grief smashes his legs against the cell. The rage upon him beats him to the floor. He falls on all four hands, his mighty armor thundering against itself.
His House of Wolves is enslaved! His people have been played! And it was his hubris, his would-be cunning that did it! While the other Houses fought for their future on Earth, throwing themselves at the Great Machine, Skolas wasted his people in games of betrayal and ambition. Bitter pride brought a bitter end!
If Skolas were a Kell he would ask his Archon to dock him. Ether hisses in his mask and it tastes cold, so cold.
He looks up. At the tiny hooded shape before him. The cell’s mist is clearing. He can see.
“I believe that I am here,” the creature says. To Skolas’ ears it has a strange voice, a strange accent. It speaks his language. “I have a clear purpose. I cannot explain it. Forgive me.”
From beneath its hood, tiny fingers of shadow probe the air.
Skolas rises up to smash it, to show his strength, because the alternative to violence is waiting for violence to come from a universe that has neither respect nor compassion. But he checks himself. His ambitions have brought him here, to this cell in this strange place… only it’s not so strange, is it? It’s the hold of a Ketch. “The Queen,” he says to the thing. “You work for the Queen.”
“The Nine made me aware of my purpose,” the creature says. “If am here, then it is because the Queen sent you to the Nine, and they wish you sent back.”
“I will do no one else’s work.” Skolas has been a pawn long enough. A Dreg told him, once, that she would play in a game as long as the game made sense. Nothing makes sense now except the thought of Variks’ throat shattering in his fists. Variks! Variks the utterly disloyal, Variks who should be welded into a Ketch’s prow atom by atom and left there as a figurehead to burn away.
“I am comfortable,” the creature with the moving face says. “A part of me wants to go somewhere warm. Now I will certainly tell you what you have been given.”
Skolas looks at the shrapnel gun in his hands. Skolas imagines what he would do with it if he could reach Variks, or the brother of the Queen, or the alien Queen. Will it save anything they’ve lost? The worlds docked from them? No. It cannot change the past. Only the future. Only the chance that his people might one day know themselves as more than pirates and scavengers.
He should never have tried to be Kell of Wolves. He should have tried to be Kell of everything. Everything wants to kill his people, the machines and the militants and the green-eyed Hive. The dead soldiers that hoard the Great Machine and come out crusading to wipe all hope away.
“The ship will be yours,” the creature says. It hunches over itself as if burdened by its own shape. “If you speak, you will be heard. I will go now. You are free.”
He tries to follow it. He fails. Somehow it is gone. He goes up to the throne room, and sets his weapon down on the great seat. Skolas, Kell of Kells, goes to the ship’s comm and looks for the sign of a Servitor, for the way to plot a course.
Grimoire Card: Skolas: Defeated posted:Skolas is dead.
Variks sits carving at his piece of amethyst. His undocked arms are weaker, less precise, but it is a comfort to feel the crystal press hard into his palm. The knife slips. He cuts himself. “Ai,” he says, and of course right then the door opens, Variks has no privacy, Variks wants no privacy, Variks lives to serve the Queen.
It’s Petra Venj. She’s masked against the ether air. “The Prince wants to speak,” she says, and then, seeing him unmasked and bleeding, she chuckles. Petra depends on Variks for intelligence and Variks, frustrated with her insane risk-taking and bravado, sometimes gives her tips meant to get her killed. Petra has figured this out. Petra and Variks know each other’s agendas and each other’s strengths and to Variks that’s as close as any two people can get. Petra is smart: she sends Guardians now, people who can die as much as they like.
“You slipped,” she says.
Variks holds up the amethyst in his bleeding hand. It’s a Reef gem. “I wound myself,” he says, “to make this more beautiful.”
She stares into the gem with a distant Awoken eye. What does she see? Variks knows she has visions and he knows those visions haunt her, drive her. The Awoken are twinned to powers that terrify Variks. He’d dock himself again before he’d let the Queen’s witches near him, the witches who raised Petra.
The unfairness of it makes him want to roar. Why does everyone else have this patronage? Why do the Hive have gods and the Vex have sprawling time-bent minds and the Cabal have reinforcements? Why do the Awoken whisper to the stars and listen for the whisper back, the voices from the Jovians, the song in the dark? Why do the Guardians get the Great Machine’s blessing, was it like that before the Whirlwind, were there Fallen heroes crowned in Ghosts who strode the battlefield fearless and full of Light? Why do they tell stories about reclaiming the lost glory of humanity, and no stories about the lost glory of Variks’ people, the House of Judgment that once kept codes of dignity and law?
Why can’t the Fallen have that strength? But no, that strength is not for them, not for Variks. Just this bleeding, sad pragmatism. Just dreg strength. Hanging on.
The alternative is Skolas’ strength, fighting together, raging against extinction. Look where that’s gotten the species. The House of Devils’ Prime is dead. The House of Winter’s leadership devastated. The poor Exiles trying to claw out some security against the Hive. In the last few years the Fallen have lost so much—and everything is escalating around them. There are gods and powers converging on this system, old machines waking up, old bones whispering flatteries. They need a new way.
“Put your mask on,” Petra says. “The Prince gets sullen if he’s kept waiting.”
“Not like us,” Variks says, oh so mild. The wound on his hand will heal. His work in the Prison of Elders, setting up trial by combat, building an audience and a relationship with the Reef’s scavengers and armories, will bring him a little closer towards rebuilding the House of Judgment. Skolas’ fury has guttered out. The Fallen may yet accept peaceful, lawful rule. They may yet survive. They’ll hang on. “We’re very patient, yes?”
Petra looks down on him with pity and contempt and a strange fondness.
He puts on his mask.
Grimoire Card: Taniks, the Scarred posted:“It is the lone wolf, once cornered, who has the worst bite.”
Taniks, the Scarred, a mercenary known for the theft of Aksor from the Prison of Elders and the murder of Hunter Vanguard Andal Brask, sells his services to any Fallen House willing to pay the right price. It is believed by the Fallen that he is undying, a living huntsman whose physical self is joined with a mix of technologies, each pilfered from legendary treasure troves. But treasure is not the only currency of value to Taniks. His true ambitions rest in the challenge of the feats in front of him, and the rewards simply allow him to exist free of any Kell’s rule.
Grimoire Card: Prison of Elders, the Reef posted:Cayde-6, overhead in a Tower lounge
Didn’t anyone tell you about the Prison of Elders? Weren’t you on the strike team that killed that Archon Priest, the one who escaped? Okay, okay, I’ll tell the story about the Prison of Elders…
The Awoken will tell you that a long time ago the Queen conquered the House of Wolves. What they won’t say, because they are very serious important people, is that the House of Wolves did a lot of the job for them. After the Queen killed the Wolf Kell, the Fallen started competing for the throne. One of the first battles was called the Eos Clash and I wasn’t anywhere near it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not making this up. A Fallen named Skolas wiped out one of his rivals in the Eos Clash. But the battle cost him so much he got to thinking: if the Reef killed my boss, and gave me a chance at the throne, maybe I can use the Reef to kill all my rivals too!
Pretty good, right? When they told me I had to be a Vanguard I went to ask some Fallen how I could get out of it, but they just told me to kill all my friends and then myself. Anyway.
Everyone involved in the civil war started trying to play their rivals against each other, and the Awoken too. No one wanted to become so strong that they’d be a target. No one wanted to bleed their own forces dry doing someone else’s dirty work. Cutthroat politics! And who’s the best at cutthroat politics? That’s right, her Majesty, the Queen of the Reef.
At the end of the wars, the Queen had played her way into the strongest position, and she had a collection of Fallen nobility and servitors she thought might be useful to her. Of course she thought so! She’d just used them against each other and won absolute control of the Reef, the Belt, and the House of Wolves. She wasn’t about to just toss away her playing pieces.
She kept them frozen in her prison, the Prison of Elders, and she gave the keys to that prison to my buddy Variks, a Fallen who showed her loyalty. The Prison of Elders is a really curious thing. It holds creatures of enormous power. Not just Wolf nobility— all kinds of beasts, captured by Corsair expeditions or lured in by the Queen. And it holds them well. The Queen, she can do things I don’t understand. There’s a power behind her, or in her, that values that Prison.
But I hear there’s been a few prison breaks. Some old Kell got the old House of Wolves back together.
Now, she’s started to wake up her captives. Variks is inviting Guardians out to the Reef to do battle with them in an arena — show valor, earn rewards. It’s been their Crucible. Maybe the Queen wants her collection thinned out. Maybe the Queen wants Guardians in the Reef, to deter more unrest. Maybe the Queen wants intelligence on how her prizes fight.
Maybe she wants intelligence on how WE fight.
Whatever happens — I want you to remember that she knows, more than anyone else I’ve met, how to set one foe against another.
Had I known about this card before the last video update, I would have worked double time to make sure this got posted before that. Though I suppose it doesn't quite matter now that we'll not be seeing a payoff for the last line there, what with the Queen having decided to take up fistfighting with Oryx.
Or maybe, just maybe, we're starting to see the payoff.