(Kill urself. I've been busy.)
Fer grunted in annoyance and slapped Fenrir's hand away, flattening herself against the wall with reluctance.
"Try to keep up, shithead."
The sunsinger switched to her fusion rifle, checking the ammo counter built into her HUD. Precious few charges remained, only about a clip and a half. She took aim at the intersection, a little ways past the wall. The white-robed warlock blent into the tunnels like a dove in a tomb, even through the smoke of the hunter's shroud, though she didn't seem too concerned with stealth outside the moment.
(Inq, quit being yourself. Get in here already.)
A golden-orange glow illuminated the passages of the labyrinth as Ferla walked down its halls, casting the shadows back with a small orb of solar fire resting in the upraised palm of her left hand. Her Ghost, Spark, floated at her side, throwing its beam into the night beyond the sunsinger's fire.
As the warlock neared an intersection in the passages, a faint sound down the hall to her left caught her attention. She leveled her handcannon, peering into the blackness, wondering if she was going to have to put yet another stray Vex down before she found someone else.
Hearing Sara's comment, Varrus turned to the new arrivals.
"It's what we titans do after all, isn't it? Ha! Good to see you all in one piece."
As Avori dropped from the molten hole in the wall, the giant began pacing around the central conflux, inspecting the Vex data construct with cautious interest.
"Wasn't like this last time I was here. Conflux was smaller, and there were far fewer angry residents between me and this room. Reconfiguration isn't new, though. Same thing happened to me on my first visit. As for what exactly this is, Vigil knows more than I do. ...Vigil, your cue."
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Like I said before, this is a data node, an exchange junction for the planetary network. There are thousands like it, scattered across Mercury's surface. From here we can tap the Vex network, without the danger of corruptive feedback, and presumably find a way to send a signal or message back to the tower. Or at least Earth. Probably. Assuming this thing is connected to our reality, and all that. But yeah, this should work."
Varrus stopped his pace and gave his ghost a glance through his helm.
"And, why is this the plan again?"
"Because, unless I'm mistaken, this is all we got. So shh."
The giant let out a sigh and returned to studying the mass of energy streams. To his eyes, they appeared only as vague gray outlines, occasionally shot through with a strand of black.
"Well, I suppose we ought to wait here for the other two...assuming they made it. 15 minutes or so?
With a series of clangs and detonations that broke the silence of the central chamber like thunderclaps, a small section of metal wall up near the top of the room grew molten orange, then exploded outwards in a shower of half-melted circuits and twisted shards of metal. Through the rapidly-cooling entryway strode the figure of Varrus who stopped at the jagged ledge as his hammer of sol faded from his grasp with a flash of solar light.
"Told you it was this way."
His ghost floated up behind him, its shell scrunched up in annoyance.
"Was that really necessary?! You could have damaged something important, you know."
"If the Vex don’t care that a meteor punched its way through eight levels of their complex, I doubt one extra hole will disrupt things."
"This is a whole lot closer to- Woah, that's different."
The giant followed the gaze of his ghost to the room beyond, spotting Arxus after a moment.
"Arxus, good to see you made it! I hope that whole mess didn't give you too much trouble?"
The titan dropped from his ledge. The core was entirely spherical in shape, and its "floor” was composed of a glowing translucent layer of tangible Vex logic, or something of the like, halfway between the bottom pit and the domed ceiling. Regardless of their nature, the shifting, humming, overlapping blue squares caught Varrus's bulk with the same ease as a block of concrete.
Varrus pushed himself up off the ground from where he had roughly rolled into the trench, slowly rising to his feet. The labyrinth’s reconfiguration had not been kind to him, as he was one of the fireteam closest to the center. The blocks and bits had bashed him around relentlessly, and only prior experience kept him from tumbling to the black depths below. Even still, he was vaguely sore all over, and his wounds from siren blades were freshly re-opened, leaking a thin film of blood between his chest and his bodysuit.
Yet here he stood, and he wasted no time pondering his situation further. After the COMM proved as silent as the halls stretching before and behind the titan, he summoned his ghost with an outstretched palm.
"Vigil, anything you can do to raise the others?"
"Nope. I can't get a signal beyond this corridor."
"Hmm. Might as well make the best of it, then. Can you re-map the place?"
"Already working on it. We're still near the core, I think, but the others could be anywhere."
"Well, they know what they're looking for. Best place to meet back up is there."
"How do you know they'll find it?"
"I trust their ghosts, don’t you? They'll find their way through the dark."
The giant paced down the hall towards what was likely the core of the labyrinth, directing the occasional burst of fire at the floor in front of him.
As more and more of the platforms recombined, the space began to fill up with solid matter again, swiftly growing more and more cramped. Varrus saw this and shouted over the COMM.
"It's almost done, get to cover! If you get caught outside a corridor, you'll end up nothing but a smear between molecules! MOVE!"
The giant wasted no time in heeding his own advice, dropping to a rapidly forming floor beneath him and sprinting for a trench. Even as the fireteam made haste towards half-formed corridors, the cavernous expanse around them surged with vex architecture, the booming sound of great masses of stone and metal slamming into place echoing around the rapidly-shrinking chamber.
Varrus clung to his makeshift railing as the chunk he was on flew and spun, leaving the titan dangling from the bottom of the mass of stone and circuits. The giant dropped onto a passing platform, landing on his chest rather than his feet as the relative gravity inverted. Navigating block-to-block was nearly impossible, as the entire mess moved and changed at a seemingly random pattern, throwing off many attempts to maintain position, both for the guardians, and the Vex not on the outer platforms. Worse still, each piece had its own separate gravity, further complicating any attempt to make progress in any single direction.
"The center, ooph, doesn't change. The rest does this at random intervals."
Varrus managed as the piece he was riding flipped and accelerated upward, forcing him to drop and cling to the side of another.
Fer, despite her relative agility, found herself battling a goblin for a block that could barely fit the two of them.
"This is fucking ridiculous! Who the hell designed this place?!"
The closer to the center one was, the more chaotic and dangerous the movements became. Some pieces, however, began to fully refit together, forming chunks of stone hallways and masses of bronze circuits. The storm of metal and stone was nearly past.
The fireteam raced along the corridors, some on alternate walls, battling the Vex as they went. The inconsistent gravity, disappearing terrain, claustrophobic environment, and near-total darkness outside the beams of their ghosts making the trip a surreal and dangerous experience.
"Up ahead, just a little ways more!"
Varrus exclaimed as his hammers blasted to ruin a minotaur who had stepped into his path.
But just as Argus neared the central chamber, a bone-shaking rumble reverberated throughout the walls and floors of the labyrinth. After a moment, the shaking stopped. And then with the sound of stone and metal grinding against each-other, the entire complex began to split apart. The whole underground world was torn into chunks, no two the same, which began to drift and rotate between each-other, growing distances apart to allow others to pass.
One such crack split directly between the front and back of the group, opening at such speed that the guardians had to brace or be thrown to the ground. Varrus gripped a metal rod that made up part of the wall, and looked back at the other half of the fireteam.
"Damnit! Stay where you are and try not to get crushed!"
All around the guardians, blocks and towers and stranger shapes slid, twisted and spun in the air, some crashing together while others grazed by each-other by mere inches. The entire complex was reconfiguring itself. And by the look of the Vex hulls smashed between sections or falling into the blackness, the event was beyond their direct control.
Varrus muttered as his advance was halted first by Pariah's warning, then an abrupt change in direction. The giant fell to the right, catching himself with one arm as he didn't exactly have time to shift his weight.
The titan stood up on what was just the wall, now turned floor, and glanced back down the hall. The gravity had shifted nonsensically throughout the corridors, turning side-passages into floors, holes into windows, and dead-ends into pitfalls. Many other passages had different gravities in relation to one-another, as emphasized by the Vex advancing across what was now the ceiling of an intersecting passage. Varrus laid fire into the goblins and shouted with urgency to the rest of the group.
"What just happened means the whole place will reconfigure any minute! We need to move!"
Fer had just finished picking herself up, when she was thrown to the left, landing beneath the dead frame of a siren.
"Are you kidding me!?"
She pushed herself up, and retrieved her fusion rifle, while observing the fact that Varrus and a few others seemed to be standing upside-down on the roof down the hall from her.
Varrus stepped forward as swiftly as he could, and rammed his foot into the damaged siren’s mind core, staining his lower leg white. Fer noticed that the giant had left The Summoner behind, and kicked it up to him in time for him to turn and empty half the magazine into an onrushing siren, shredding its midsection to scrap.
"We're about a third of the way there. Keep shooting and keep moving, you'll know our destination when you see it."
Fer let an empty charge pack fall from her fusion rifle, and reached down to her handcannon. Drawing hawkmoon, she put four evenly spaced rounds into a siren that dropped behind Sara, blowing off its right leg, then shattering its core. Holstering the pistol and slamming a new charge pack home, she shouted to those at the back of the group.
"Come on! We've gotta move now or we're going nowhere soon!"
The warlock turned and started towards the front of the fireteam, but got no farther than a step before a bladed hand shot out of a gap in the floor behind her, and locked her ankle in a cold grip. Fer fell forwards, her freshly loaded fusion rifle skittering out of reach as she caught herself.
She twisted her body, and managed to scorch the siren as it pulled itself up. Unfortunately, the blast only caught the head of the machine, melting it off and sending it into a frenzy. The siren stabbed frantically at Fer's quickly depleting flame shield as the sunsinger struggled to draw her handcannon from between her waist and the ground.
"The hell are these things?"
Varrus remarked as the fireteam's progress was slowed by a group of Vex units he had yet to see in action. While most of the machines were rendered busy with the others behind him, one siren crawled to the front of the group, and dropped from the celling directly in front of the titan.
He dropped his rifle, as the Vex was too close for the weapon to do anything but encumber him in melee, and took a swing at the bronze hull's upper torso. Unfortunately for Varrus, the siren was quite nimble, while he was exceedingly slow to strike. The Vex ducked under the giant's fist and sunk its blade into a seam in his chestplate.
The strike did not puncture very far, but it certainly stung. Varrus brought his right elbow back towards the siren's head, but it twisted its body around, the joint of its arm rotating far beyond the breaking point of that of a human, and instead sliced its other blade across the underside of Varrus's forearm.
The giant roared, more out of anger than pain, and seeing that the Vex was stuck for the moment, took the opportunity to drive his right knee up into its mind core. The thing let out a wail as it flew backwards against a wall, crashing to the ground with its cracked core leaking white fluid onto the ageless stone.
"Haste means death down here! Watch your step!"
Thankfully Pariah's more direct warning reached Arxus faster than Varrus's verbal reaction, saving the titan from a long, long fall into the depths of the labyrinth. Varrus moved into the darkened corridor, lit only by the beams of ghosts as the Vex cared little for interior lighting here. Moving at what could be described as a cautious fast walk, the bulky titan took the lead, stepping into a side-corridor behind Arxus and motioning for the others to follow.
"Fer, cover the right flank."
"The place we're looking for is a few hundred meters this way...ish. Stay close, go slow, watch each-other's backs, and step where I do. We can shoot Vex all damn day if need be, but if you fall it could be anywhere from a few feet to a few miles, don't lose your footing."
Varrus scooped up The Summoner from where it landed, thumping his other hand against his chestplate once in conformation to Arxus's command.
"Aye, down we go then."
The giant paced towards the edge of the maw, having managed to walk off the worst of the effects of the previous transit. The data node appeared as little more than a few short pillars and irregular Vex structures above ground, but the maw itself manifested as a rather large hole blown in the sand and rock by an errant meteor or the like. In their typical fashion, the Vex hadn't bothered to patch it up, as it apparently made no difference to them whether they had a new skylight or not.
Varrus walked to the edge, testing the ground with care. Down the hole, many layers of platforms rimmed the pit at various levels, which itself seemed to stretch down unto eternity. On one of these, the third down from the surface, the titan sighted his rifle and fired off a short burst. When the bullets pinged off the uneven Vex metal, the giant took a few steps back, cast a glance back at the fireteam, and leaped from the crater to the third level, his landing softened by a short burst of light.
If Varrus was an exceedingly skilled warrior, he was an equally terrible pilot; he did not handle rapid jerky motion at high speeds well. So, naturally, the giant hit the ground like an unbalanced, nauseous boulder, losing his rifle during the fall, and his lunch onto the sands shortly after. With a groan, the titan sluggishly picked himself up, sliding his helmet back on as his center of gravity slowly returned from whatever new orbit it had adopted.
"Ugh. On second thought, I wish we walked."
Fer took the trip a fair bit better, managing to slow her fall with her glide, and then a roll in the sand. She sat down on the side of the dune, clutching her head and muttering to herself.
"You have no idea how much I hate you right now. Stupid disciple bitch"
Fer found her way to the others a short while after, clearly mad over something. Whatever it was, she kept it too herself as she waited.
Varrus's voice crackled over the comms as he made his way through the trench.
"She's right you know. This is nothing compared to the labyrinth. It’s...Vigil, how would you describe it?"
"Direction is subjective down there. You could be walking upside-down opposite the surface even if the tunnel you entered right-side up never changed. Some things aren't even there; you might see bridge across a gap, but in our reality it's just a mirage, a reflection of somewhere and somewhen else, visible but intangible. And the place changes layout every once in a while. I still have no idea why. Probably just because the Vex just hate common sense."
"It's called the labyrinth for a reason."
Varrus remarked as he emerged before the gate with the others.
"This would have been nice to know on my first trip. But I suppose the journey was part of the test, no?"
Varrus remarked to Pariah as he meandered off, searching for the described portal.
Fer was about to follow him, then stopped, seemingly caught in the middle of a mental argument. After a couple seconds her ghost, Spark, materialized in front of her, and gave her as stern a look as it could with one eye.
With some reluctance, the warlock set off towards where Sara was searching as the fireteam spread out.
"Indeed, we may get the transmission out, but by no means should we expect to solve our problem entirely. The Vex are more complex than we can imagine, I doubt they would tie all their key jamming systems together so conveniently."
Varrus took the slower way down, dropping from blocks of Vex stone a little at a time, trusting his weight to the solid platforms over the shifting sands.
Fer, on the other hand, simply glided from the crest to the base of the dune, her ability far more lasting than those of tians or hunters.
Of those present, Varrus was the first to break the silence.
"Well, if we really can't afford to walk all that way..."
The titan unslung Invective, a shotgun he had used for quite a while now. He began, with Vigil's help, to strip the outer casing and retrieve the small shard of exotic matter that lent power to the weapon, then stopped partway through.
"I'll do this on one condition. No more petty arguments for the rest of this trip. Unless you value your ranting so much as to dismantle your own weapons..."
The giant stood there, shotgun in hand, his helm and ghost staring blankly, waiting for a promise from the others.
"The usual; centuries old stone, machines of unknown purpose, uninsulated power conduits, sheer drops that go for miles, extremely confusing and likely changing layout, and probably a whole lot more Vex than my last visit. That, and a few confluxes of course. I'll tell you what it doesn't have a lot of: lighting and accessibility. So yeah, a walk in the park."
"We'll be on the move, so it'll be harder for the Vex to pin us down. Were we to sit in one place, we'd be an easy target."
The giant gestured to the sea of bronze corpses outside the lighthouse.