Chapter 3

The Warlock could handle the war beasts. The Cabal Legionaries were slow enough that she could thin their numbers in the open. Even the massive Centurion wouldn't be an issue once it was alone. But there were three Psions up on the ridge with their rifles trained on her position, and if she moved from behind her boulder, she was finished.

Druis knelt in the coarse red sand and cursed under her breath. She hadn't expected this much opposition. She didn't have the energy to teleport. Getting out of this was going to be painful.

She took a deep breath, formed a roiling Void grenade in her hand, and—

An explosion erupted from somewhere on the ridge. Gunshots – not the ozone pop of Cabal Slug Rifles, but the sweet crack of old-fashioned black powder.

The Centurion barked orders at the Legionaries, but panic quickly won out over commands. Druis heard their guttural cries as something picked them off. Another explosion and the baying war beasts fell quiet.

The gunfire drew closer, the Centurion bellowed… and then nothing.

Druis cautiously poked her head out from behind her boulder. The Cabal squad lay in heaps around the gully. Remnants of Psions littered the ridge. The air was heavy with thick smoke and the smell of black oil.

In the midst of the carnage, a lone Hunter holstered his weapon and stepped over a corpse. He walked with tight efficiency; no movement wasted. He was graceful, even for a Hunter. Druis stepped into the open and raised a hand in greeting.

"'Hoy, Guardian!" she called. "I appreciate your handiwork! The name's Druis, and you just saved me a lot of trouble."

The Hunter's expression was hidden by his heavy helmet. He gave a perfunctory wave and knelt to examine the Centurion's weapon.

Now that she was standing, Druis realized she was a full head taller than the Hunter. Suppose everyone seems tall when you're cowering behind a rock, she thought.

She pulled off her helmet and let the fresh air cool her slate-blue skin. Her dark hair limply unfurled from where it was piled atop her head. She fixed the Hunter with her golden eyes and smiled.

"I signed up for a simple salvage run," she said. "Transmat some supplies, run 'em to the City. I've had a headache all morning and didn't want anything loud."

The Hunter nodded without looking up and pulled a sparking catalyst from a Slug Rifle.

Druis chuckled. "It's okay," she said, nudging the body of a fallen Legionary with her boot. "You don't have to talk when you can shoot like that."

The Hunter paused, then stood and faced her.

"I am… they call me Crow," he said, "and I am glad I could be of some help."

The Hunter's voice was soft and refined, and while it had a frosty edge, it was not unfriendly.

"Not as glad as I am," Druis said. "The last thing I needed today was to take a rez with this headache. I told the Cabal that, but they wouldn't listen. Rude of 'em."

Crow laughed politely. "That I can understand. After being brought back, I feel out of sorts for hours."

He turned to look for more Cabal weapons and something caught the Warlock's eye. She whooped. The Hunter looked up, ready.

"I'll be damned!" cried Druis, pointing to his arm. "You're Reefborn, aren't you? Earthborn here, but you and me, we still go way back!"

Crow looked down. A strip of leather had been torn from his gauntlet, and beneath it, his own grey-blue Awoken skin could clearly be seen.

When he looked up, Druis had nearly closed the distance between them in a few long strides. His hand hovered over his weapon before the Warlock clapped him on the back.

"Figured you for one. It was your voice and the way you move." The tall woman playfully juked from side to side.

Crow was quiet.

Druis wished she could see the helmeted Hunter's expression. To her relief, there was a beep from the tracker on her belt.

"Finally, some good news," she said. "We're right on top of the supply coordinates." She scanned the area and located the tiny supply ship half-hidden by a rockslide. "Since you kept this cargo out of the hands of the Cabal, I'd say you're entitled to a cut."

"That won't be necessary," Crow said. He shifted his weight and hid his exposed arm behind his back. It was the first awkward movement Druis had seen him make.

"I didn't say it was necessary," she replied. "Just a kindness between two bright-eyed Awoken. Won't be a minute."

She ducked into the sand-filled hold of the tiny ship and found the shipping crates. Dim red lights blinked on their panels—the seals had broken long ago. She pried the lid off of the closest one. Inside the grime-covered bottles, the liquid still shone with a gentle orange glow. She uncorked one, wiped the neck clean against her vestments, and took a sip. It was bright with honey and salt and burned her throat with a clean, gingery sweetness.

"We're in luck!" Druis called as she hopped outside with the bottle. But the Hunter was gone.

Druis placed the bottle on a flat stone and took a seat next to it. Though she did not expect her companion to return, she waited, busying herself by picking dried blood from the velvety hem of her garment. Finally, she sighed, slapped her palms on her thighs, and reached for the drink.

"To Crow," she shrugged.