Destiny's story has been a punchline for a year now. Story? What story? Destiny has a story? Good joke! And yeah, ok, yeah. Fair enough.
Of course, there is a lot of careful world-building going on in Destiny. You just wouldn't know it from playing the game, unless you paid very close attention. Most of the best lore is buried in what are known as "Grimoire Cards," which you unlock and read on the internet separately from the game.
There is some pretty good stuff happening in those Grimoire Cards. Despite the fact that they placed it all outside the actual game, the stories Bungie's writers came up with can be pretty cool.
I've been reading through the Destiny Grimoire for the last couple of months, and I have one favourite story that I wanted to retell here. Big thanks to the people who run Ishtar-Collective.net, where they have done a fine job of organising and cross-referencing Destiny's Grimoire. For this article, I've grabbed the relevant Grimoire text from that site.
Before we get started: This is pretty long, as Kotaku posts go. It's a fun thing for you to read! But if you don't wanna read a long-arse collection of nerdy Destiny lore, well, this probably isn't the article for you. Everybody good? Let's do this.
So there's this gun called The Last Word. It's a nice-looking mega revolver that can dominate people in PvP. When I first got it, I checked it out in my inventory and saw this epigraph in the item description:
I laughed. It sounds silly, when you see it just sitting there like that. "Shin Malphur" and "Dredgen Yor" sound like names a teenage dungeon master would create for companion characters in his first D&D campaign.
If you read the Grimoire Card for the gun, it adds a little something extra: The fact that those fateful words were spoken "during the showdown at Dwindler's Ridge."
The best way I could describe that when I first read it was that "it sounds made-up." Which makes sense. It is made-up, all of this is. But those guys are legit Destiny characters, and as it turns out, the story leading up to the fabled showdown at Dwindler's Ridge is a pretty good one.
Prologue: The Villain
The first thing you've got to know is that Dredgen Yor is a Guardian who fell from grace into darkness. He's kinda like Darth Vader, I guess? He had a gun called "Rose," and he used it to do great deeds, but when he turned evil, his gun lost its petals and became an eeeeevil gun called Thorn. He's mentioned in a lot of item descriptions as this great Guardian killer; here's the most relevant excerpt:
The noble man stood. And the people looked to him. For he was a beacon - hope given form, yet still only a man. And within that truth there was great promise. If one man could stand against the night, then so too could anyone - everyone.
In his strong hand the man held a Rose. And his aura burned bright.
When the man journeyed on, the people remembered. In his wake hope spread. But the man had a secret fear. His thoughts were dark. A sadness crept from the depths of his being. He had been a hero for so long, but pride had led him down sorrow's road.
Slowly the shadows' whisper became a voice, a dark call, offering glories enough to make even the brightest Light wander. He knew he was fading, yet he still yearned.
On his last day he sat and watched the sun fall. His final thoughts, pure of mind, if not body, held to a fleeting hope - though they would suffer for the man he would become, the people would remember him as he had been.
And so the noble man hid himself beneath a darkness no flesh should touch, and gave up his mortal self to claim a new birthright. Whether this was choice, or destiny, is a truth known only to fate.
In that cool evening air, as dusk was devoured by night, the noble man ceased to exist. In his place another stood.
Same meat. Same bone. But so very different.
The first and only of his family. The sole forbearer and last descendent of the name Yor.
In his first moments as a new being, he looked down at his Rose and realised for the first time that it held no petals: only the jagged purpose of angry thorns.
This guy Dredgen Yor goes around killing people with Thorn. In another Grimoire card we get a chilling transcript of a conversation between him and some hapless jerks who happen to cross his path. That all matches up with what happens in the actual game, as it happens: Thorn is a gun you can get in Destiny, and the journey to acquiring it is very cool and requires you to ruthlessly kill a whole bunch of other players. Thorn is evil in more ways than one: It's easily the most hated gun in Destiny, because it does crazy damage and has a comically overpowered ability to "burn" other players over time. Bungie is nerfing the gun starting next week, and the majority of Destiny players welcome the nerf with open arms.
Anyway! On with the story.
Chapter One: The Narrator
So now you know who Dredgen Yor was. That gets to the other, parallel story -- the story of The Last Word, and a heroic badass named Jaren Ward. That story is told over the course of a few Grimoire cards by an unnamed narrator that by all appearances is Shin Malphur, who would go on to become a "renegade hunter" and would be quoted in The Last Word's item description.
A Grimoire Card about The Last Word begins with Malphur describing his childhood living in Palamon, a settlement some distance away from the relative safety and civility of The Last City:
I'm writing this from memory - some mine, but not all. The facts won't sync with the reality, but they will be close, and there's no one to say otherwise, so for all intents and purposes, this will be the history of a settlement we called Palamon and the horrors that followed an all too brief peace.
I remember home, and stories of a paradise we'd all get to see some day - of a City, "shining even in the night." Palamon didn't shine, but it was sanctuary, of a sort.
We'd settled in the heart of a range that stretched the horizon. Wooded mountains that shot with purpose toward the sky. Winters were harsh, but the trees and peaks hid us from the world. We talked about moving on, sometimes, striking out for the City. But it was just a longing.
Drifters came and went. On occasion they would stay, but rarely.
We had no real government, but there was rule of law. Basic tenets agreed upon by all and eventually overseen by Magistrate Loken.
And there you have it...no government, until there was. I was young, so I barely understood. I remember Loken as a hardworking man who just became broken. Mostly I think he was sad. Sad and frightened. As his fingers tightened on Palamon, people left. Those who stayed saw our days became grey. Loken's protection - from the Fallen, from ourselves - became dictatorial.
Looking back, I think maybe Loken had just lost too much - of himself, his family. But everyone lost something. And some of us had nothing to begin with. My only memory of my parents is a haze, like a daydream, and a small light, like the spark of their souls. It's not anything I dwell on. They left me early, taken by Dregs.
Palamon raised me from there. The family I call my own - called my own - cared for me as if I was their natural born son. And life was good. Being the only life I knew, my judgment is skewed, and it wasn't easy - pocked by loss as it was - but I would call it good.
Until, of course, it wasn't.
Until two men entered my world. One a light. The other the darkest shadow I would ever know.
Chapter Two: A Hero Comes To Town
Following so far? Sounds like we're going to get a hero and a villain, and we already have a pretty good idea of who the villain is. Let's go on with another card:
The man I would come to know as Jaren Ward, my third father and quite possibly my closest friend, came to Palamon from the south.
I was just a boy, but I'll never forget his silhouette on the empty trail as he made his slow walk into town.
I'd never seen anything like him. Maybe none of us had. He'd said he was only passing through, and I believed him - still do, but life can get in the way of intent, and often does.
I can picture that day with near perfect clarity. Of all the details though - every nuance, every moment - the memory that sticks in my mind is the iron on Jaren's hip. A cannon that looked both pristine and lived in. Like a relic of every battle he'd ever fought, hung low at his waist - a trophy and a warning.
This man was dangerous, but there was a light about him - a pureness to his weight - that seemed to hint that his ire was something earned, not carelessly given.
I'd been the first to see him as he approached, but soon most of Palamon had turned out to greet him. My father held me back as everyone stood in silence.
Jaren didn't make a sound behind his sleek racer's helmet. He looked just like the heroes in the stories, and to this day I'm not sure one way or the other if the silence between the town's people and the adventurer was born of fear or respect. I like to think the latter, but any truth I try to place on the moment would be of my own making.
As we waited for Magistrate Loken to arrive and make an official greeting, my patience got the best of me. I shook free of my father's heavy hand and made the short sprint across the court, stopping a few paces from where this new curiosity stood - a man unlike any other.
I stared up at him and he lowered his attention to me, his eyes hidden behind the thick tinted visor of his headgear. My sight quickly fell to his sidearm. I was transfixed by it. I imagined all the places that weapon had been. All of the wonders it had seen. The horrors it had endured. My imagination darted from one heroic act to the next.
I barely registered when he began to kneel, holding out the iron as if an offering. But my eyes locked onto the piece, mesmerised.
I recall turning back to my father and seeing the looks on the faces of everyone I knew. There was worry there - my father slowly shaking his head as if pleading with me to ignore the gift.
I turned back to the man I would come to know as Jaren Ward, the finest Hunter this system may ever know and one of the greatest Guardians to ever defend the Traveller's Light...
And I took the weapon in my hand. Carefully. Gently.
Not to use. But to observe. To imagine. To feel its weight and know its truth.
That was the first time I held "Last Word," but, unfortunately, not the last.
So we've got this classic western setup: The good townspeople are being oppressed by an evil magistrate named Loken. A badass stranger comes to town, with a gun on his hip finer than any the narrator has ever seen. Obviously, a showdown's brewing.
Part Three: Magistrate Loken's Last Words
That very confrontation is detailed in yet another Grimoire card:
Loken's men found Jaren Ward in the courtyard where this had all began.
Nine guns trained on him. Nine cold hearts awaiting the order. Magistrate Loken, standing behind them, looked pleased with himself.
Jaren Ward stood in silence. His Ghost peeked out over his shoulder.
Loken took in the crowd before stepping forward, as if to claim the ground - his ground. "You question me?" There was venom in his words. "This is not your home."
I remember Loken's gestures here. Making a show of it all.
Everyone else was still. Quiet.
I tugged at my father's sleeve, but he just tightened his grip on my shoulder to the point of pain. His way of letting me know that this was not the time.
I'd watched Jaren's every move over the past months, mapping his effortless gestures and slight, earned mannerisms. I'd never seen anything like him. He was something I couldn't comprehend, and yet I felt I understood all I needed the moment I'd seen him. He was more than us. Not better. Not superior. Just more.
I wanted father to stop what was happening. Looking back now, I realise that he didn't want to stop it. No one did.
As Loken belittled Jaren Ward, taunted him, enumerated his crimes and sins, my eyes were stuck on Jaren's pistol, fixed to his hip. His steady hand resting calmly on his belt.
I remembered the pistol's weight. Effortless. And my concern faded. I understood.
"This is our town! My town!" Loken was shouting now. He was going to make a show of Jaren - teach the people of Palamon a lesson in obedience.
Jaren spoke: clear, calm. "Not anymore."
Loken laughed dismissively. He had nine guns on his side. "Those gonna be your last words then, boy?"
The movement was a flash: quick as chain lightning. Jaren Ward spoke as he moved. "Yours. Not mine."
Smoke trailed from Jaren's revolver.
Loken hit the ground. A dark hole in his forehead. Eyes staring into eternity.
Jaren stared down the nine guns trained on him. One by one, they lowered their aim. And the rest of my life began - where, in a few short years, so many others would be ended.
There's a KEY QUOTE in there, in case you skimmed and missed it. When Loken derisively asks Jaren Ward if those were his last words, Jaren responds "Yours. Not mine," then blows him away.
Part Four: A Hero Falls; Another Rises
After that story, there is one more dispatch from the unnamed narrator, relating how Jaren Ward led him and a small group of townspeople from the ruins of their settlement (something terrible happened) and into the dangerous wilds on a trip to The Last City, where they'd be safe.
As they travel, Jaren detects danger, and leaves the others alone at their camp to go meet it.
The Ghost -- Jaren's Ghost -- never said a word to any of us. Just hung there. Always alert. Always judging. Not us, per se, but the moment. Any moment.
I never got the sense it thought of us as lesser. More that it was guarded, wary.
We knew it could speak. We'd overheard them a few times. Just brief words, and no one ever pressed the subject.
From time to time I caught its gaze lingering on me, but always assumed the attention was a result of the bond Jaren and I had. He was a father to me. At the time I didn't know why he'd singled me out as someone to care for. Someone to protect. After all the loss, I welcomed it, but looking back -- taking in the arm's length at which he kept the others -- I guess I should have known, or at least suspected there was more to it.
We all woke that night, closer to morning than the previous day.
A crack of gunfire split through the wood. Then more.
Far off, but near enough to pump the blood.
A familiar ring. "Last Word." Jaren's sidearm. His best friend.
Then another. A single shot, an unmistakable echo calling through the night. Hushed, cutting.
One shot, dark and infernal. Followed by silence.
We crouched low and quiet. Listening. Hoping.
Jaren was gone. Off on his own.
Maybe we were closer than we'd allowed ourselves to believe.
He'd gone to face death alone.
I couldn't admit it -- not at the time -- but he thought he was protecting us.
After such a long road -- years on its heels, a trail littered with suffering and fire -- maybe he just couldn't take the thought of anymore dead "kids," as he called us.
The echoes faded and we all held still. No way to track the direction. No sense in rushing blind.
What was done was done.
The cadence of the shots fired told a story none of us cared to hear.
"Last Word" it hadn't been. And somewhere in the world, close enough for us to bear absent witness but far enough to be a dream, Jaren Ward lay dead or dying. And there was nothing to be done.
Hours passed. An eternity.
We held our spot, but as the sun rose the others began to fade back into the world. Without Jaren there was nothing holding us together. No driving force. Vengeance had grown stale as a motivator. Fear and a longing to see more suns rise drove a wedge between duty and desire.
By midday I was alone. I couldn't leave. Wouldn't.
Either I would find Jaren and set him at ease, or the other would find me and that would be a fitting end.
Death marching on.
But then, a motion. Quick and darting. My muscles tensed and my hand shot to the grip of my leadslinger.
Then a confirmation of the horrible truth I had already accepted, as Jaren's Ghost came to a halt a few paces in front of me.
I exhaled and slumped forward. Still standing, but broken.
The tiny Light looked me over with a curious tilt to its axis, then shot a beam of light over my body. Scanning me as it had done the very first time we met.
I looked up. Staring into its singular glowing eye.
And it spoke...
And…. THE STORY ENDS THERE. Jaren Ward dies off-camera, and it's strongly implied that Jaren's ghost chose the unnamed narrator for some grand task or... well, destiny.
Epilogue: Filling In The Blanks
There aren't any additional cards to carry us from Jaren Ward dying in the darkness to Shin Malphur having a showdown with Dredgen Yor. Fortunately, whoever wrote this stuff consciously left a lot of holes that can be easily filled. Take a few things into account:
- When the narrator first touched The Last Word, he lamented that it was the first but not the last time he touched the gun.
- When Jaren is shot, the narrator overhears one shot from a different gun.
- That gun is described as sounding "hushed, cutting" and "dark and infernal." That sure sounds like Thorn, which shoots darts, not bullets, and makes an unmistakable hissing snick, a fact to which anyone who has been killed by Thorn in Destiny can attest.
With that groundwork laid, we've got enough to imagine the rest of the story ourselves. With the help of Jaren's Ghost, Shin found Jaren's body and recovered The Last Word. He began to train as a Hunter, swearing to hunt down and stop the man who killed his former master.
And then... uh, some stuff happened... and the story eventually caught up to the famous quote. The renegade Hunter Shin Malphur faced down the vile Dredgen Yor at Dwindler's Ridge. And when the villain asked the hero if his challenge would be his last words (or something to that effect), the hero echoed the master he had come to avenge: "Yours. Not mine."
I mean, look. I know it's a big fat cliché. I know it's a story we've seen a hundred times. But come on. It's still pretty cool.
Destiny (deservedly) gets a lot of shit for taking so much of its backstory and burying it on the internet where the majority of players will never see it. And it's true that the actual story of vanilla Destiny doesn't come close to the drama in even this admittedly trope-laden Grimoire tale.
Most RPGs contain these kinds of buried side-stories. Maybe they're in books you find laying around as you explore, or maybe they're stored in a codex you can read in your inventory menus. The game's writers, momentarily freed from the need to make their writing line up with carefully scripted gameplay or cutscenes, get to cut loose. The purpose of these types of optional stories is to make the game's world feel richer, and to give a sense of history to a place that is mostly defined by what you're doing in the present.
By that metric, the story of The Last Word is a success. Overwritten? Sure. Melodramatic? Totally. But it tells me something interesting about the world in which Destiny takes place. It tells me something new about two of the most popular, deadly weapons in the game, and even creates an adversarial relationship between the guns that reflects how they're used in the game itself. (For months on end, both Thorn and The Last Word have been horribly overpowered and dominate in PvP, to the point where a given battle really does feel like a grudge match between #TeamYor and #TeamMalphur.)
Will we ever find out what happened at Dwindler's Ridge? Did Dredgen Yor die, or did he escape? Will he turn up as a miniboss in some upcoming Destiny expansion? Is Shin Malphur still alive, and does he mind that so many random scrubs are casually wearing clones of his master's fabled weapon?
We may never learn more about these characters and their stories. Bungie may simply set them aside to focus on a more immediate, video-game-ready narrative. In the grand scheme of things, that would be fine. But after reading just enough of the story to let my imagination fill in the blanks, I hope this isn't the last we'll hear of Thorn, The Last Word, and the famed warriors who wielded them.
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Gun images via Destinypedia