His voice is calm, almost monotone. Yet, Warlock knows Saladin is short-tempered. He makes his way up the stairs, “Lord Saladin, I request…”
“I will honor no request from you, Warlock.” He looks over Warlock’s armor, “You haven’t been tested, have you? The Iron Banner reveals the true value of every Guardian. The pain you feel will lead to your reward. Do you accept the challenge?”
Warlock has heard stories of the Iron Banner arenas. Only the strongest Guardians, well-equipped in weapons and armor, succeed.
“No limits. No mercy. Only survival,” Saladin finishes.
Warlock equips the best in gear and weapons available to him. Normally, in The Crucible, when Guardians challenge other Guardians, Lord Shaxx levels the playing field. However, in the Iron Banner, Lord Saladin believes in one rule: Only the strong survive. Champions of the Iron Banner win by superior strategy combined with brute force. If an Exo could sweat, he would be.
Lord Saladin maintains his pose.
Warlock walks through the flaming iron medallion.
The announcement is made: Alpha Team. Bravo Team. Warlock glances around at his five companions. No one says a word. He musters up his courage; six against six. Is there a plan…a strategy for his group? Maybe not, as his team begins to separate. One goes solo; two go left; two push straight ahead. Did I miss the briefing?
Apparently, yes, as a sniper bullet pierces the tall trees on the mountain range hitting Warlock square in the face. He’s down. Where did that come from? Fighting the enemy is easy in comparison. They are more predictable. However, these Guardians are more ruthless in their tactics while changing their position to stay hidden.
Warlock pushes forward, his energy regained. I have to be more careful this time. He runs within the mountainside through automatic metal doors which lead into a base of some kind. A few steps more, bullets whirl by, he’s down again…teleported back to square one. He pounds his fist on the gravel road.
A few more teammates are teleported back as well; he decide to stick with them for a while. Perhaps, together, they can stand a better chance. He can be wrong as a Nova Bomb flies into their midst; back to square one. Warlock likes to fight under more control. This is much different. He has to change with the moment to survive.
He switches from a hand cannon to a pulse rifle. Follows the team, yet, hangs back a bit. Double doors open…sure enough another wave a gunfire take out two members of his team. This time, Warlock is out of range and returns fire on the enemy team. One…two…three down. Payback. Where are the other three?
His question is answered as the other three flank him. He leaps into the air charging up his Nova Bomb to defeat all three at once; they shoot him out of the air. He’s down.
The Time Limit is up; the arena changes. His team lost. Time to do it all over again. Corridor to corridor, mountainside to giant platforms, Alpha and Bravo team go at each other without remorse. Three straight challenges, his team loses. The winning team boast in another victory.
Warlock is teleported back to his ship. He wants to give up, though another side of him sees improvement in his tactics. He looks through The Vault, changing weapons and armor. Back to the Iron Banner.
Before Warlock realizes it, his team is demolishing the competition. He is not the strongest of the group, but he’s not being caught by snipers perched on mountainsides anymore. His Nova Bomb connects taking out multiple Guardians. He chooses when to stay with the group and when to hang back with more success.
Time’s up. His first victory. The teams are teleported back to their individual ships. Warlock has never felt so proud of himself. He had success against some of the strongest Guardians in the Iron Banner. Setting a course for The Tower, Warlock’s ship dives towards the Earth’s surface.
Lord Saladin seems to have been frozen in place the entire time as he stands in front of the blazing medallion of iron. Warlock walks up the steps with more confidence than he’s ever had. After a while, he wonders if Saladin is going to say anything.
Lord Saladin reaches out his hand and burns an emblem onto Warlock’s chestplate. A symbol of a golden wolf, the first mark a Guardian can earn from the challenges. “Welcome to the Iron Banner, Guardian.”
Warlock gives a short nod while feeling emboldened by his new rank.
“I thought you were one of the weak,” Saladin continues. “Valuing power over strategic planning. Power is only useful under control.”
“Understood,” Warlock mumbles.
“You will fully recovery in time.”
Warlock eyes the damage to his armor. It’s never taken such a beating. If these Guardians fight him like this, the enemies don’t stand a chance.
“Factions? You mean those squabbling bureaucrats who seek nothing but position for themselves?”
“I answer to no one, Guardian.”
“They will force Guardians to choose a side. They already have!”
Lord Saladin pauses for a moment, “Anyone who has allegiance to the Iron Banner, whether from the New Monarchy, Vanguard, even Dead Orbit…” he steps closer to Warlock, “will forsake all to will follow the Iron Banner.”
Warlock takes a step back from the, still, intimidating figure, “What do you fight for?”
Lord Saladin grows impatient, but it’s a fair question, “You mean, do I want control of the city?”
“I, too, am a Guardian, Warlock. My role is to weed out the cowards, the weak, the pretenders. Then, Champions of this Banner will go out, not only into the city, but into the Cosmos and defeat whoever dares to test us.”
Warlock considers how valid his sincerity is.
“I win when you do,” Saladin continues. “I won today…because I challenged you…and you didn’t fail me. Now, you will go from system to system wreaking havoc on those responsible for the destruction of Earth.”
How much does Saladin know about the Golden Age of this world. Warlock decides not to interrupt.
“I will leave, again, soon,” Saladin continues.
“Your presence would bring more stability to The Tower, Lord Saladin!”
“I’m a Guardian, like you. I only come to recruit Champions who will defeat our greatest threats.” A visual appears, “If you improve your skills, Warlock, you can earn this armor and more. It will help you, at least, for a time.”
Warlock is intrigued by the offer, but his current wounds make him think twice.
“Today, you earned these.” Lord Saladin lays four weapons from his armory on the table.
“Slightly unique in its design. Less cumbersome than an ordinary fusion rifle. Quick reload. Decent range, but, as you know, stay on the move while firing,” Saladin concludes.
“Nearly rivals the Exotic Scout Rifle, doesn’t it? Unique design. It combines the stability of a scout rifle with a rate of fire similar to an auto rifle. I viewed your profile…since you favor these types of weapons you’ll have use for this one.”
Warlock is overjoyed, “Thank you!”
Lord Saladin’s voice grows stern, “These are not gifts, Guardian. Either you earn them…or you don’t. Today, you earned these weapons. Now…the question is: Do you want more?”
Warlock also glances at the Hand Cannon and Sniper Rifle on the table. They could be useful in a tight spot. “When will you come back?”
“War is unpredictable, Warlock…especially when a dangerous enemy issues a challenge.”
“You know about Oryx.”
“Who doesn’t know? This is the greatest threat we’ve faced so far.”
“Where does his power come from?”
“He has learned how to wield The Darkness itself. He plans to overwhelm us with brute force. We’re going to need all the Guardians to have a chance of defeating him.” Lord Saladin walks to his original position and holds the same stance.
Warlock knows his time with Saladin is up.
He places his heavy hand on Warlock’s shoulder, “You’re going to need more than brute force to stop him, Guardian. You have more power than your brothers, Warlock, but lack the control of a Titan and the precision of a Hunter. Take care not to become a detriment to those you love.” Lord Saladin nods.
Standing in the distance, he watches the iron medallion burn, amazed at how the fire never dwindles. Suddenly, Titan enters his mind. What has his brother been up to while he was away?