As is wont to happen at about this time of year, Destiny is pulling me back in after a months-long absence. While I get the Moments of Triumph mostly squared away and clean up miscellaneous quests to prepare for Rise of Iron, I’ve also started poking at the universe’s extensive lore, walled off from the game itself in the online Grimoire – and not just to keep track of how many Calcified fragments I have left.
It’s packed with tons of truly fascinating, well-written information about Destiny’s bleak-dance-party version of the universe, but I’ve been especially interested in data about the Traveler – what it is, where its mysterious journey through space has taken it, what it’s actually up to because games have given me trust issues. Even the earliest fan speculation about the Traveler justified my suspicions that it isn’t as benevolent as it seems.
That I knew already, and I knew that Rasputin – the sentient military machine that you stumble upon early in Destiny’s campaign, the last of a group of system-spanning supercomputers called the Warminds – might have actually gone to war with the Traveler over its insidious plans for humanity. So in the lead-up to Rise of Iron (which returns to the Cosmodrome to focus on a new threat encroaching on Rasputin’s home turf) I decided to dig deeper into the lore and learn more about these two miraculous machines and which are worthy of trust.
Unfortunately, the answer is neither.
We start getting hints toward that conclusion the moment Destiny starts, when humanity makes first contact with the Traveler on Mars. The story goes that the Traveler’s knowledge and Light ushered in a centuries-long Golden Age for humanity. But after several hundred years of prosperity, humankind was brought low when an ancient enemy of the Traveler – a mysterious entity only called The Darkness – laid waste to all the humans had built, destroying the Warmind defensive and killing billions in a catastrophe known as the Collapse. The Traveler sacrificed itself to protect the last few dregs of humanity and now hovers dormant over The Last City, the final bastion of human civilization where the game takes place. Its last gift to the humans was the Ghosts, who scour the solar system in search of strong-willed partners to become Guardians and recover the Light needed to revive the Traveler.
That’s the story you’re meant to believe, and the Guardians’ ultimate motivation. But the situation quickly gets sticky when you discover that Rasputin, supposedly destroyed with the other Warminds during the Collapse, is alive and fully functional. Just as quickly, it proves that the historical accounts of the Collapse aren’t entirely accurate: collecting just one of the dead Ghosts in the Seraphim Vault where Rasputin is housed grants you the Ghost Fragment: Rasputin 3 Grimoire card, which details how Rasputin lowered its defenses and went into hibernation during the Collapse, cancelling its “counterforce” and “population protection objectives” in the process. It wasn’t destroyed like the other Warminds because it protected itself at the cost of countless human lives.
That drops Rasputin squarely in the untrustworthy camp, until you dig a bit deeper. According to the Ghost Fragment: Mysteries card (which is believed to be a first-person account of Rasputin’s battle with The Darkness) Rasputin knew he was outmatched, but also believed he – replete with resources and unmatched intellect – could find a way to defeat the Darkness if he had more time to research its origins and formulate a plan. The only way to truly save humanity in the long-term was to make sure he survived, plus enough humans to keep the species going. And while he couldn’t protect anyone once the shields were dropped, he knew that the Traveler could.
Unfortunately, Rasputin had determined something else about the Traveler too: it was probably going to abandon humanity to its fate. The Traveler purportedly already did exactly that with another race it once favored, the Eliksni – or, as we like to call them, the Fallen. After being blessed with the Traveler’s Light hundreds of years ago (note that they still explode with Light when shot), the Fallen were rocked by a clandestine event called the Whirlwind. Society crumbled and they became nomadic scavengers, lost for a shared history or a home as they try to recover their former glory. Whether the Traveler fled this catastrophe or caused it by leaving, the result is the same: the Traveler abandoned the Fallen in their time of need, and they suffered for it. Fell from grace, even.
While not referencing the Fallen in particular, Rasputin nonetheless has a plan in place to prevent the same thing from happening to humanity – should the Traveler attempt to escape Earth and leave the humans to die, he would “coerce pseudoaltruistic [O] defensive action” by crippling it through a protocol dubbed LOKI CROWN, forcing the Traveler to stay and protect humanity the process of defending itself.
Now it’s the Traveler that looks like a monster, toying with entire species and abandoning them when its intervention is needed most. But that too is an oversimplification. In the Ghost Fragment: The Traveler set of Grimoire cards, we get what looks to be a small glimpse into the Traveler’s mind. It’s not as noble and godly as one might imagine – in fact the Traveler seems deeply conflicted and anxious, with the first card noting “your [the Traveler’s] vast mind [is] infected with such dread and toxic doubt that you find yourself afraid of the simple act of thought.” It also confirms that the Traveler is accustomed to “leaving in a blink” after “overseeing the culturing of civilizations” with no explanation as to why, all of which supports Rasputin’s suspicion that it would abandon humanity when the Darkness arrived.
But the second Traveler card tells a different story, saying “This has been such a long chase. This will be the place you will fight. Fight and win.” Knowing that the Darkness (which is perhaps the source of its anxiety and discontent) was in pursuit, the Traveler intended to make Earth it’s last stand to protect this species – and at great personal cost.
Shockingly, Rasputin’s own account potentially supports this conclusion: in the Mysteries Grimoire card, he claims that “I cast off the shield and I shrugged my shoulders so that the billions fell off me down into the ash… IT is alone and IT is strong and IT won. Even over the gardener and she held power beyond me but the gardener did not shrug and make herself alone.”
While it isn’t certain who ‘the gardener’ is, the fact that it was a being more powerful than Rasputin who fell in the battle against the Darkness suggests that the moniker belongs to the Traveler. (And while the name inevitably calls up visions of the Black Garden and it’s Light-draining heart, there’s some solid evidence that the Traveler might have a more positive relationship with the Garden than we’ve been led to believe.) And if that’s the case, Rasputin openly admits that the Traveler didn’t abandon humanity in the battle for Earth. It’s not certain that their combined efforts would have been enough, but it does present a sickening possibility – Rasputin may have let billions die for nothing.
All of that is naturally made even more complicated by the fact that there are so few facts lying around. We don’t know whether the Traveler tried to flee or not, or if Rasputin even used LOKI CROWN. We don’t know the Traveler’s true motivations (even it doesn’t seem sure) and we don’t know how far Rasputin’s willing to go in rationalizing his own survival – he may well let the population of Earth die all over again if it came right down to it. And then the whole picture is made even more complicated by the fact that so little evidence points to either of them by name – the gardener could be someone completely different, and the Mysteries card might not have anything to do with Rasputin. As far as we know, they could both have humanity’s best interest at heart, or neither could care at all. Or, perhaps most worryingly, they could be so dedicated to protecting humanity from each other that they make things worse.
All that uncertainty is encapsulated by an interesting allusion, one Destiny clearly intends for us to notice. In naming his protocol to control the Traveler LOKI CROWN, Rasputin draws a natural comparison to Norse mythology and the infamous trickster god Loki. According to legend, Loki will do battle with Heimdallr, bearer of the war horn Gjallarhorn, at the coming of Ragnarok. And in Destiny, it’s the Guardians who bear Gjallahorn.
So, as we march into Rise of Iron, who do we trust? Is Loki giving the crown, or receiving it?