Chapter 5

Ikora approached Zavala at his post in the Courtyard. He was looking out at the City the same way he always did, even before he was commander: with a blend of fierce determination, love, and dread. A combination Ikora knew very well herself.

She stood next to him, resting her hands on the railing, looking up at the Traveler and the stars.

"They say that before the Collapse, cities were so bright that they outshined the stars," she said quietly.

It was no surprise to her when he said nothing. Living for hundreds of years didn't endow you with deep understanding of another person, it turned out. Close and steady partnership did. She knew him by now. He held his fears close to his chest, protecting the people he cared about. But with time, with patience, he would let her see. Sometimes. So she waited.

"I keep seeing his face," Zavala murmured after a long silence.

Ikora looked at him, her expression falling. When she spoke, her voice was soft with grief. "Cayde?"

"No," Zavala said. He gripped the railing with both hands, a gesture of frustration and self-doubt. "Uldren Sov."

Ikora straightened, surprised. That sharp feeling of being caught off guard , of realizing you'd missed something, froze her for a moment.

"What do you mean?" she asked cautiously.

"In the Tower," Zavala said. "In crowds…" He hesitated. "I saw him… in the gardens. He called out to me. To warn me about the assassin."

Silence again.

Zavala exhaled slowly. "Do you ever listen to the old Golden Age stories Eva tells during the festival? About apparitions of the dead?"

"'Ghosts,'" Ikora said quickly. "That's what they called them. But those are fairytales." Who needed ghost stories when the dead could already get up and walk?

She watched Zavala sidelong . Waiting for him to say it. Waiting for him to ask.

"I don't know why my mind goes to folk stories. I suppose because the alternative is…"

"Too hard," Ikora interrupted softly. "Too hard to imagine."

Zavala closed his eyes and nodded.

Neither of them said anything for a few minutes. Eventually, Zavala broke the silence. "But if he were back, we would know," he said.

Ikora stared straight ahead. She felt him watching her, checking her. He was so tired. So, so tired.

He would trust whatever she said.

She reached to put a hand on his shoulder and said, gently, as her gut twisted with guilt, "We would know."

Zavala placed his hand over hers.

They stood together, looking out at the Last Safe City of Earth, with a profound distance between them that Ikora had never felt before.