And We're All Adrift Together (ha ha, is that a pun?) - Chapter 22 - CardinalGoldenbrow (2024)

Chapter Text

When this particular Ivara commed, the Lotus sat bolt upright and listened.

Despite being arguably the stealthiest warframes, most Ivara were garishly colored. Why not, when their immense energy stores meant they could prowl unseen amidst their enemies for hours or even days at a time?

This Ivara was not. She's jet black and Kuva red, and it wasn't because she's one of the edgelord Tenno. When her Operator transferenced out, she wore the black armor of a Kuva Scorpion with her face painted white and scarred to match the Grineer. She's one of several Ivara who's one duty was to patrol the Kuva Fortress and keep a close eye on everything the remaining Grineer Queen did.

The Lotus nearly lost the Operator to the Elder Queen's botched attempt at body-snatching him to extend her life through Continuity. The Worm Queen wasn't getting any younger either. Another attempt will not happen again.

"I've got two bits of bad news." Ivara held up a Prex card. "The Worm Queen's chosen a new target."

"Who?" Please let it be one of the older Tenno. Please. Strange though it was to pray that one of her children be targeted, that was just a fact of life in this wartorn System. Any of her older Tenno would say the same, just as they did when they protected the younger children on the Zariman when they threw themselves into hunting and fighting their own parents or during the Old War.

Ivara said, "Voruna."

Voruna. That's a name she hadn't thought about in ages.

Ivara asked, "Wasn't she with the Yuvan Clerisy?"

"Yes."

Abruptly, a number of pieces fell into place.

One, Drusus had recently sent her a request for more credit donations to his Leverian Museum, where he presented the history (well, legends, really) of the warframes to her Tenno. He'd needed money and permission to dig around on Lua. Specifically, he dug around the Clerisy temples at the Circulus and Yuvarium.

Second, the warframe Voruna had guarded the ceremonies at those temples in which the Orokin invoked both Kuva and the Void to obliterate the soul of an innocent youth and replace their consciousness with their own: Continuity.

Third, Voruna and her Operator vanished at the height of the Collapse when the Tenno took bloody revenge on their Golden Masters.

Oh, she didn't like the picture that painted. The vast majority of Operator/Warframe pairs who didn't stay in the Second Dream and cryostasis during the time she'd kept them asleep were dead now. But Drifter's example proved it was possible to survive when lost in the Void. The Clerisy temples operated during hard storms called Void Conjunctions. Perhaps Voruna and her Operator were merely lost…and the Worm Queen had a lead on their location.

"Keep me informed if the Queen's fleet moves out."

"That's the other bit of bad news. She dispatched the fleet to Lua. Every dropship had a full complement of drahk hunting dogs and their handlers."

sh*t.

Heh, Drifter's habit of swearing must be rubbing off on her.

That was the last humorous thought she had for quite some time, because one of her children was in danger. She needed to know what Drusus found and she needed it yesterday.

When she emerged from the Leverian Museum, Drifter was waiting for orders. Good man.

Then he said, "The Void's surging on Lua."

Not only were Grineer dropships converging on the two temples, her instruments showed the tumultuous Void Conjunction spinning up inside the Circulus. When the Void and the real world met, anyone trapped inside risked devastating encounters with their own emotions made manifest. Even the Entrati experts resorted to locking themselves in isolation vaults until they regained rationality.

It was incredibly dangerous without the rituals the Orokin used: the Void texts, the Soprana singing, and above all, the battle-tested calm of their warrior-guardian Voruna and her wolf pack. The Worm Queen didn't care about the dangers to her troops, not even when the Circulus' active Neutral Sentry corrupted them all.

She said, "She wants Voruna, no matter the cost."

Fortunately, she had just such a warrior guardian herself. If anyone could get in there, find Voruna, and bring her out to safety without becoming lost in his own emotions or killed by the Corrupted, it's Drifter. "Bring my child home," she pleaded.

He caught her hand, kissed it, and left to do just that.

No sooner did he land boots (and paws) on the ground than she was desperately impatient to start looking for her lost child.

Hunhowl the Raksa might be old, but he was modded for bodyguard duty anyway. Sahasa was so newly matured for combat that she ran around the landing platform sniffing at all the new scents before Drifter called her to heel. This was her first hunt, so she licked his face instead of smelling the prex card.

“Here, girl,” he scolded, showing her the card again.

The comms chimed. The Worm Queen spotted him, and she wanted a word.

Normally, the Lotus would shut her out without a second thought. But it was just possible that the Worm would let something slip, so she had to sit there, clenching and unclenching her fingers from her throne armrests as the Worm taunted her man, “Pick a card, Dreamer! Ooh, the Asphyxiation of Hearts. Lucky draw!”

It’d take more than a little gloating to shake his resolve. He ignored her.

Sahasa sniffed, marked the scent, and then took off like a bloodhound, sniffing around for the matching scent. It must be terribly muddled given the many grineer that arrived and were promptly Corrupted by the Neural Sentry, but she found it.

The Lotus made herself relax. “Good girl.” Then she waypointed the Circulus for him. It was a high domed temple. “About five minutes away.”

He followed Sahasa, who sniffed her way along the Grineer tracks. “I agree that’s a likely place to look. But according to that Leverian, Voruna left the temple. I don’t want to miss an extraction pad that we don’t know about.”

He was right, as little as she liked to admit it.

The Worm laughed at them. “We gave our little rabbit a wee head start… and then off we go, hounds! Woof! Woof!”

She bit her tongue. Sahasa didn’t understand the urgency. He did, and he likewise bit back the urge to rush his kubrow.

The Circulus was only five minutes away…at the speed that Tenno bullet-jump and fight, which is to say, leaping into the air, pointing a Kuva Zarr at their feet, and blasting at the floor until everything else in the blast radius died. Drifter cleared each room methodically so Sahasa could track the scent.

The part of her that wasn't clinging white-knuckled to her chair appreciated the skill with which he used his arcanes and Vazarzin Focus School techniques to lock up enemies and meticulously gun them down with precise shots. The rest of her wished he’d hurry it the f*ck up.

Then, with a familiar ringing chime, a pair of Sentient Oculyst drones appeared and scanned him.

He said, “Hi, Hunhow.”

She demanded, “Father, what are you doing here?”

Her father’s voice was forbidding. It sent a chill down her spine. “I don’t appreciate you two unearthing long buried Orokin evils.”

“Hey,” Drifter protested, “It's not like that.”

She explained, "We’re trying to find one of my Tenno in the Circulus."

Her father considered that. If anything, his voice got colder. “Like I said, “unearthing ancient evils.””

She’d leashed herself for Drifter’s sake. Finally given a valid target, her wound-up tension slipped that leash all at once. She shrieked, “How dare you? She’s a child! My child!”

The Oculysts vanished.

She sagged on the somatic throne. Her hands clenched into claws but there was no foe to rend or tear asunder.

There was just Drifter and his kubrows. Hunhowl backed up against Drifter, growling to warn off an unseen threat. Sahasa's tail tucked between her legs and she whined to her master for support.

Cautiously, he asked, “Are you doing okay?”

Every moment he worried about her was one more moment that Worm got closer to capturing Voruna. She snarled back, “I swore no one would come between me and my children, so get moving.”

She regretted the harshness of her tone afterward, but not the order.

“Come on, Sahasa.” He got moving even though his face was set in a deep frown.

The closer they got to the Circulus, the stronger the scent that Sahasa picked up. The Void also got stronger, pushing and pulling at him like crashing waves followed by smooth water that hid a riptide. He slowed down, picking his path carefully, even though he was nearly to the arched doorway leading to the ceremonial chamber.

“Go on,” she urged.

If it weren’t a very active combat zone, he’d be tugging at his hair, trying to figure out how to tell her something she didn't want to hear. “Void travel is only safe so long as we control our emotions.”

She had enough self-awareness to recognize the warning. He’s quite literally one of the top three experts on how the Void makes strong emotions its plaything. He’s warning her that her strong emotions were feeding the storm and making it harder for him to maintain his own calm. She should listen to him.

“Awooo!”

Hope surged through her like a live wire. “Voruna?”

No, just the Worm.

The Worm cackled, “Ah, a lovely little song… all for me! Did it drown out the desperate barking from the friends you left behind, Dreamer? Sit, Voruna, sit! Hahaha!”

Panic replaced hope. “Get in there!”

But he turned away from the door, because he heard the chime of her father’s Battalysts arriving.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked, and honestly couldn't have said who she yelled at.

Her father answered. “Stopping this folly.”

Drifter was caught between the lashing Void whirlpool and Battalyst lasers. Then the riptide whipped around him, dragging at his limbs. While he’d do almost anything for her, he wasn't emotionless. For a moment, he lost his composure.

She had a moment of pure, utter horror to realize that she’d pushed him too far. That she’d expected him to unquestioningly trust that she had this mission under control, and oh, she doesn’t, and he knows it.

And then the Void took his doubts and made them real.

Hulking, grotesque Grineer rose out of the void like a nightmare from Duviri. These ancestor phantasms carried double-headed scythes meant for reaping people like wheat. They surrounded him. The only reason he wasn't cut down instantly was because his Raksa howled a bloodcurdling howl that froze them in place.

He rolled free and away from the pack. But she saw clearly how afraid he was, how his eyes darted from them to the Battalysts without a trace of his methodical approach from earlier. Maybe he couldn't focus his void powers, either because he simply couldn't focus or because every second they came for him they drained something vital from him.

She was kilometers away, helpless to save him.

If she didn’t get herself and this mission under control right this instant, she’d lose him and Voruna both.

Clarity descended like a pane of glass between her and the roiling storm of her fear. It was still there, just locked away to deal with later.

“Father,” she said crisply, choosing to believe that her father hadn't betrayed her promise. “Save him and I'll hear you out.”

Those deadly lasers flashed out from each battalyst and cut the hulking phantasms to ribbons.

The Void wasn’t done with Drifter just yet. They rose again like Spectral Eidolons, insubstantial, yet no less able to batten onto his life force. Wearily, he asked her, “Do you mean it?”

“I do,” she promised.

He mustered calm and focus. This time, he locked them in place with his arcanes and gunned them down with his amp. Though the exhaustion etched across his face told her how much they took out of him, he spent the energy to say, “Thanks, Hunhow.” Then he checked the two kubrows for injuries. They were both fine. “Thank you too, Hunhowl.”

Her father rumbled. "Did you really?"

"You bet."

"Vainglorious whelp." Then the bemused affection drained from her father’s voice, replaced with the full weight of his disapproval. “Daughter.”

No shrieking this time. In trying to rush them, she’d only endangered the mission. She’d do this right, or she might not get another chance. “My daughter, Voruna’s operator, is in danger. Your granddaughter,” she reminded him. “I will uncork any ancient evil if that's what it takes to save her. As you well know, Father, seeing as how you were one of those ancient evils.”

He couldn’t really argue with that, having in fact tricked her into revealing Lua in order to save the Operator. “I only hope you don’t uncork a genie worse than you handle.” With a chime, the Battalysts left.

She wanted to sag into her throne with relief. That was as good as him saying that he didn’t approve but he won’t oppose them. She couldn't relax yet because she still owed Drifter. “I’m sorry.”

His face was clear and his voice as steady as an anchor. “We’ll discuss it later, after I've found Voruna.”

Even though guilt curdled in her stomach, she couldn’t argue with those priorities.

The Circulus was the site of the Continuity ceremony reserved for the mighty Seven, bracketed behind four guardian busts of Voruna's wolves. A void portal spread across the roof. A rotating mirror twice as tall as a man focused the Void’s raw power from that portal down into a globe. A clergy member would've channeled it while the Soprana sang. The Seven considered this place the perfect harmony of science and dominance. That was ages ago.

The storm rising here went uncalmed by any Soprana.

The Worm scoffed as soon as he crossed the threshold. “Look who showed up to the Void Conjunction. Now you wanna be a skin donor? Too late, Yuvan. You're not wanted anymore. Because you're bitter. And jealous. And ugly. And old."

Sahasa bayed as she picked up the scent. She ran forward toward the mirror, where a humanoid shape was starting to become visible…and ran right into a pack of Corrupted drahks, who fell on her with vicious teeth.

Hunhowl barreled into them right behind her. The drahks were solid muscle and accustomed to brutal survival-of-the-fittest fighting in their kennels. Raksa were Orokin-bred, Tenno-trained bodyguards. Even his growl sent them slinking back for a moment, despite the Neural Sentry.

But only for a moment, before the Sentry overrode their instincts and drove them into a frenzy.

The Worm cackled, “Looks like musty ol' Drusus neglected to mention a few things about Void Conjunctions… safety not guaranteed! HAHA!"

One man couldn’t break up a dog fight that vicious, not without risking a shot that would hit his own or getting mauled himself. The best Drifter could do was use his Vazarin abilities, shielding his own dogs, and pulling some of the drahk away with tendrils of Void power.

Meanwhile, the human shape grew even more distinct in the void mirror: a female warframe with the wolfheads of her pack draped on her hips and shoulders. Voruna. Even as she formed, the Void conjunction tore at her, ripping off pieces and whirling them away.

The Lotus was kilometers away, helpless to do anything but watch and beg, “Save my child,” even though she knew what that could cost him.

Drifter dashed through the void, through the pack. Hunhowl and Sahasa’s wounds closed as Vazarin healed them and they fought with new strength. He reappeared on the far side of the fight, right at the bottom of the Void mirror’s golden frame, and flung himself inside.

She held her breath.

Void travel was only safe as long as they controlled their emotions.

She breathed in and out. She promised herself, “We’ll discuss it later, after you’ve saved my daughter.”

And then he practically fell out of the void portal, hauling Voruna out with him. She gasped in relief as they sprawled on the floor.

Then the drahks turned on easier prey. A single, fallen man? They hunted colonists like him for sport. Their bloodthirsty charge opening their flanks for Hunhowl and Sahasa to rip and tear, but that wasn’t going to be enough to save him.

Voruna rose up from her crouch on all fours. She howled with five throats.

The drahk pack stood no chance at all against an enraged warframe defending two kubrows and their master who’d just given her a helping hand when she needed it most.

He got back to his feet, slowly, moving like he’d feel those bruises tomorrow, and pointed back the way he’d come. “Extraction’s that way.”

This time it only took five minutes to get there from the Circulus because Voruna cleared the way.

It took hours to shepherd Voruna through the explanations, the crying, the hugging, and the reunions with all the Tenno who’d known her before the Collapse. Plus the congratulations from all the Tenno who just wanted to shake her hand for offing Executor Tuvul. That line went out the door.

After the Lotus got the girl settled down in a good clan who’d get her up to speed in a System that'd changed a lot since she was lost during the Collapse…

After she spoke with her father, apologized (as did he, because he had a new grandchild now), and promised to reflect on how her enemies might use her willingness to do anything to save her children against her with Palladino later…

After the Worm commed to taunt, “If you don’t have a collar that fits your dog, I’ve got one you can borrow,” she wasn’t sure whether she meant Voruna or Drifter, and decided it didn’t matter…

She finally made time to have that promised talk with Drifter.

They met in her lotus garden next to the water ponds. It was the most relaxing setting she had, with little fish to watch when it got too uncomfortable to look someone in the eyes. Usually her Tenno sat here confessing their secrets. Today, she was unable to look him in the face.

For the first time, her promise hung between them like a sword. “I swore no one would come between me and my children.”

He was always so very careful to never act like Ballas. He never complained about finding scraps of time for each other in between her time with her children and her work. If anything, she was afraid she’d just taken advantage of him. But then there was the part of her that said, 'He knows what's important to me. Of course he'll agree with my priorities.'

A part of her replied, ‘He's not a tool. That way lies Ballas. He has boundaries and you crossed them.'

Were those tears? She was crying already and she hadn’t even managed to choke out how sorry she was or how glad she was that he’s okay.

He took her hands and said, "Something’s eating you up inside. The middle of battle wasn't the best time for me to ask you. Now that it's over and she's safe, can you tell me?"

And just like that, their first major fight was no longer her vs him, fighting over boundaries and priorities. It’s them against the problem. She sagged in relief, and he held her while she told him.

She'd lost Tenno before. Their absence is a hole in her heart, because the Tenno aren't supposed to die. The bargain with the Void was supposed to save them.

But her children have agency and with the power to choose freedom comes the power to choose to bind themselves inextricably to their warframes. And while the Orokin made their warframes nearly indestructible, even capable of reviving from certain death several times…the warframes have mortal flesh at their heart. They can die.

Rell bound himself to Harrow to hold back the threat only he could see. She never even got to know that brave child, because Margulis couldn't cope with the differences that made him truly special.

There are others, who's names she never learned and who's stories she holds dear. Inaros, who bound himself to his god-king form rather than let her put him to sleep in the safety of the reservoir, saying, "But then who will defend the children of the sand?" Centuries later, her Tenno unearthed the truth buried in Baro Ki'Teer's legends: that Inaros lay scattered across the Martian desert after saving the merchant's ancestors from the Infestation.

Mirage, who died laughing in Hunhow's grasp rather than return to Orokin service. Sevagoth, who spent all his strength rescuing others so that, by the time his Shadow led her Tenno to his lost cryopod, all that was left was the hollow shell of his warframe. Protea, who gave her all only for Parvos Granum to use her sacrifice for his own gain.

And then the near misses. Gersemi, who's Operator refused to abandon her tortured warframe and rose again as Valkyr. Xaku; three of her children thrown into the Void, miraculously returned to her as one-and-three. Hildryn, Garuda, and Baruuk unearthed from frozen tombs not by her hands but by Solaris workers. Not to mention the Operator himself, who’d stumbled out of frying pans into fires from the moment Vor woke his Excalibur and slapped a mind-controlling Ascaris on it.

She is their mother, yet she sends them into battle, and sometimes they lose.

He handed her a handkerchief. She wiped up her tears, blew her nose, and felt purified. As though telling him everything emptied out guilt that’d curdled like sour milk, and now she was ready to fill herself with good things.

Good things like joy for her child who’s taking her first steps in freedom. Good things like his supportive presence and the quiet satisfaction of supporting him in turn as Mission Control.

“I love you,” he said. “I love that you are their mother. I don’t expect they’ll ever accept me as their Space Step-Dad after the last one…”

She laughed. It was weak and teary, but a real laugh nonetheless, because there was no competition between him and the last one. None at all. She wasn't surprised that many Tenno were still ambivalent about him, but that was only because the scars run so deep, not because of anything he’s done.

He encouraged her, “You found and rescued her. Now go be happy with her.”

She held out her hands. He took them, kissed the back of them, and then gasped in surprise when she hauled him up to his feet. She said, “You have to come with me.”

“Okay?”

“Someone’s got to wrangle Hunhowl and Sahasa,” she lied. “I’m sure she’d love to meet them under happier circ*mstances.”

“Ah,” he said.

Voruna looked up at the sound of paws on the floor. Sahasa burst into happy barks at her scent. “Aww, who’s a good girl who found me? Who’s a good girl?”

Hunhowl wanted nothing more than to flop against Drifter’s side. Drifter wanted nothing more than to lean on Hunhowl, rest, and watch Voruna play fetch with Sahasa.

Unlike the other Tenno, Voruna didn’t have the trauma of Ballas kidnapping Space Mom and brainwashing her against them. She didn’t have any problem trusting the man who leapt into the Void to haul her out of it.

It was a small start, but it's no longer him vs the Tenno, cordially fighting over her time. For the first time, she felt like she could have both, and with that realization, a small knot dissolved as if the last chain Ballas locked around her heart finally burst asunder.

And We're All Adrift Together (ha ha, is that a pun?) - Chapter 22 - CardinalGoldenbrow (2024)
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