Chapter 8

They say the promenade of the Core District never sleeps. In times of celebration, it was a parade ground meant to extol the virtues of the Guardians and show the people of the City the faces of their often-distant defenders. To see it empty was almost unheard of since the Red War.

Executor Hideo of New Monarchy walked alongside Lakshmi-2 of Future War Cult, observing vendor stalls decorated in neon lights that flickered intermittently as they passed. But there were no vendors, no proprietors. Hideo glanced over his shoulder at the four Future War Cult security officers that followed behind them at a respectful distance.

"Do you remember the last time this street was empty?" he asked.

"Yes," Lakshmi said with a heavy heart. "They called me a fool then as well." She did nothing to hide the contempt in her voice. "We make mistakes in circles, Hideo. Walking in a loop of our own self-made despair."

Before he could formulate a response, Hideo spotted the reason for their walk through the Endless Night: a towering behemoth of chrome and lavender cloth, hunched over in an abandoned plaza.

Saint-14 focused on the birds underfoot, scattering a handmade mix of seed on the ground while he cooed contentedly at the pigeons. "You have chosen poor night for walk," he observed as Hideo and Lakshmi approached. "Do you need escort back to Tower?"

Hideo shook his head. "No, Saint. We went to find you in the Hangar, and Ms. Holliday informed us that you had come here to…" He eyed the birds. "…contemplate."

"Birds are uncomplicated. Good conversationalists. They give me room to think," Saint said with a smile in his voice. "How can I help?"

"The Consensus has struggled, as of late, with some of the Vanguard's decisions regarding the City's security. We wanted to expand that conversation to include you," Lakshmi said.

"But not Arach Jalaal?" Saint asked, a more pointed and cunning response than either Hideo or Lakshmi anticipated.

"No," Hideo quickly confirmed.

Lakshmi verbally maneuvered around Hideo's answer like water around a stone. "This is about ensuring that the best interests of the City are at the forefront of the Vanguard's mind."

Saint fixed his helmed visage on Lakshmi. "The Eliksni." A statement, not a question.

"The Vanguard are a military force, and the Consensus does not doubt their commitment to defending the City beyond its borders." Lakshmi carefully worded her approach. "But we have come to doubt that a military force is the best governance for the City inside of its walls."

Saint squared his shoulders as if presented a challenge and looked between Hideo and Lakshmi. His stoicism twisted Hideo's stomach into knots.

"We would like to propose a restructuring of the City's leadership. Placing the Vanguard as the authority for what goes on outside the walls…" Hideo gestured toward the mountains. "And respective leadership here inside the City." He motioned to Saint.

"This is bad plan," Saint said without any attempt at obfuscating his feelings.

"Surely you understand that tactical options in the field do not always apply unilaterally in a civilian quarter," Hideo pleaded. "On top of that, the Vanguard is stretched too thin. They cannot be the leadership they need to be."

Saint balked. "Then why come to me? I am no politician."

"But you are a leader," Lakshmi countered as she placed a hand over her chest. "A hero. A symbol to the people."

Saint drew in a steady breath and grew silent.

"It may not feel like the right choice because of your personal feelings toward Commander Zavala and Ikora. Change can sometimes feel distasteful. But I know you aren't one to ignore your sense of duty."

Saint looked down at his feet, at the birds, at the seed. "I must speak with Osiris," he asserted.

Lakshmi briefly regarded Hideo and nodded. "Give your partner our regards."

"I will," Saint said stiffly, scattering the last of the seed in his hand to the birds before departing the plaza.

Hideo and Lakshmi waited under the watchful eye of the Traveler until Saint was gone.

"If he tells Zavala or Ikora…" Hideo said through clenched teeth.

"Osiris will stop him from doing anything so stupid," Lakshmi said, the softness in her voice gone. "And if he is so shortsighted as to refuse us as Saladin did…"

Hideo's stomach twisted again.