They obeyed without hesitation, slinking through the shadows and the rubble as silently as they could. They had little hope of emulating the Guardian, but they tried. Their lives depended on it.
He set a steady pace, his eyes searching the darkness for an unseen threat. They had already had to stop a dozen times when the enemy patrols had gotten too close for comfort. The Hunter had only needed to draw his gun twice. The Cabal had paid the price for their curiosity both times.
They kept moving.
There were nine of them, including the Guardian. All but three were little more than children. The first three, siblings, had been running from a pack of psions when they had stumbled into the Guardian. He'd saved them wordlessly, then asked them to follow and keep their eyes open for other survivors. They'd listened through shock and fear and the group had grown steadily as they moved toward the sounds of gunfire.
Though he said little, they trusted him explicitly. In return, he’d gathered them without hesitation, binding their wounds and whispering encouragement when it was needed. He'd even carried the youngest child for a while before one of the others found their voice and offered to help.
It was slow going, but they made progress.
Not for the first time, one of them whispered in fear. "Where are we going?"
The Hunter did not answer. He kept his eyes trained on the shadows, unarmored head cocked.
It was one of the children, a small girl, who answered. "We're going to where it's safe. Macen promised." She had been crying when they'd found her. There'd been several bodies nearby.
Safe. He would take them somewhere safe. But what could be safe when the City burned around them? When the Traveler itself seemed wreathed in smoke and flame? When Cabal warships roared overhead and explosions rocked the ground every few minutes?
It seemed impossible.
But the Guardian seemed determined. He moved forward with definite purpose. And while they were filled with fear balanced on the edge of hysteria, his presence was enough to keep them going.
One step at a time. Just a little further. Someone, somewhere had to be alive. The Guardians... he couldn't be the only one left.
And then they saw it.
The group came upon a wide plaza, swarming with Cabal. A few of the children whimpered, the older ones holding them close, whispering to them the way Macen had. All eyes were on the Hunter.
He gestured for them to stop, a simple raised fist they'd learned quickly meant danger. Then he was gone.
"Did he leave us?"
"They're going to find us!"
A few of the children started to cry behind dirty little hands clamped to mouths. One of the adults, an Awoken woman with blood matting her white hair against the blue skin of her forehead made a soft, angry sound.
"Stop it!" She hissed. "Why would he bring us all this way to leave us?" Her icy blue eyes glared at all of them. "He's coming back.”
She looked out on the plaza, watching the Cabal march and growl. “But if we don't keep our heads, he won't be the only thing to find us."
It was enough to quiet them.
A few interminable minutes passed before they all released the breath they'd been holding. The Hunter returned, his gun drawn.
"With me, quickly.”
They exchanged worried looks, but still followed through a shattered building on the edge of the plaza, moving in a tight clump.
The Hunter was checking his weapons, gearing up for a fight. Tension filled the group, but they knew better than to question him. After a moment, he spoke again. “We won't have long now. They’re busy, but they could still turn if they see us. There’s help nearby, but I need you all to stay sharp, you got me? Be prepared to run on my signal."
It was the most he’d said to them at once and the mention of help was enough to steel their resolve. Safe. They might once again be safe. Injuries and fear forgotten, they looked to each other in silent support. They could do this.
The older children carried the younger. A child of ten even stooped carry an injured boy only a few years his junior, silencing the younger boy’s protests with a simple. "I’m strong. And I won’t leave you."
Fear dripped off of each of them as they moved through the shadows, but Macen seemed different now. Though they moved in darkness, it was almost as though his Light were a visible beacon. He kept their feet moving, even though they were close enough to hear the sounds of concussive rounds shattering concrete, rockets whirring through the night, and Cabal roaring vicious war cries. More than a few of the children began to cry, but their tears fell soundlessly. They knew what was at stake.
After an eternity spent passing through a nightmare, they felt the sounds of the fighting recede slightly. Up ahead was a makeshift barricade set up across a wide avenue. On the other side, Guardians screamed and fought, their cries indistinct, yet full of rage.
It was a fearsome sight, but for the small group, nothing had ever looked so beautiful.
Off to the side, cloaked in shadow, stood a smaller group of four Guardians, two of which were gesturing toward them.
The Hunter stopped the group and turned to look at them each in turn. "When I tell you, you're gonna run like, hell. Ok?"
They all nodded, but the Awoken woman squirmed uncomfortably. He looked at her, brown human eyes holding hers. "No.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t, please. You lead them, you understand?"
She opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by the Hunter's sudden movement. The other Guardians were signaling. "Go! Go!!" Macen cried.
They shot forward, legs churning, trying hard not to look down at or trip over the armored bodies littering the avenue.
It wasn't easy. There were so many.
Once across, most moved to follow an Exo warlock who gestured quickly to a massive plasteel structure that might've once been a financial building. A few stayed behind, near the barricade, their eyes searching the wall for the figure of the man who had just saved their lives.
After a few moments, a sick realization hit them. It was the little girl who asked, her eyes filling with tears as she pulled at the tattered sweater of the Awoken woman.
"The Guardians in the street. They're... they're not getting up, are they?" Her little voice was broken by the weight of the realization.
The Awoken woman released a ragged sigh and decided lying to the child would be crueler than the truth. "No."
"And the Guardian... He was alone."
The little girl nodded, letting her tears fall. She shivered a little. "I wanted to ask, but… I was afraid... I'd never seen a Guardian without a Ghost before."
The Awoken woman looked toward the wall, knowing what she wouldn’t see. Who she wouldn’t see.
"None of us have, little one."