Destiny 2's Season of the Haunted is working through a compelling, character-driven story, one that dives into the personal traumas of some of the game's major characters as they try to deal with the new threat presented by Calus and the Derelict Leviathan. Like the best of Destiny 2's recent stories, it relies heavily on player knowledge from past seasons and expansions.
Generally, this is great, because with Bungie building on events of the recent past, Destiny 2 feels like a world that is changing as a result of the things that happen within it. But if you missed certain previous parts of the story, like the Forsaken or Shadowkeep expansions, this season might have you a little lost.
There's a lot of backstory you need to know to fully appreciate Season of the Haunted, stretching all the way back to vanilla Destiny 2, the Leviathan raid, and more. Here's a quick history lesson that will get you up to speed on everything you need to know about the Leviathan, Nightmares, Caiatl, Crow, and everything else this season--regardless of whether you've been around since the Destiny alpha, or just jumped in with The Witch Queen.
A quick history of the Cabal
Season of the Haunted continues the story of the Cabal empire, which has held permanent residence in Earth's solar system since back in the days of the original Destiny. They've changed drastically since then, however, with several different factions operating in the solar system at the same time.
The Cabal as we know them are a warlike group of conquerors, and that's rooted in their deep traditions. They value things like honor and trials by combat; they're sort of like Star Trek's Klingons, and you can see in their architecture and unit names that Bungie draws a lot from the Roman Empire to inform the Cabal. The group is actually made up of a couple of species operating under the banner of the Cabal homeworld, Torobatl, which was the seat of an empire that stretched across a vast number of worlds.
At some point in the past, a new emperor named Calus gained power as part of a popular revolution against the military that controlled the government. A narcissist and hedonist, Calus wasn't interested in conquering anything and mostly was all about his own personal pleasure. He reformed the Cabal empire, taking power from the military Praetoriate that had formerly ruled, and instead offering the people feasts and gladiator bloodsports. A lot of the traditional Cabal chafed at Calus's decisions, and from what we learn in the Duality dungeon, it sounds like Calus had some or all of those Praetoriate dissenters purged.
Calus mixed ruthlessness with excess and opulence, and at least to hear him tell it, his people were happy with his rule. During his time as emperor, Calus had a daughter named Caiatl, who he loved dearly. But Calus was also self-centered and jealous; he would be kind to Caiatl one moment, and cruel to her the next. In the recent lore of Season of the Haunted, we learned about how Calus gave Caiatl a war beast for her birthday as a child, which she came to love intensely. War beasts hold a place of honor in Cabal society, and Caiatl grew extremely close to hers, only for Calus to grow jealous that she loved the pet more than she loved him. Calus had the war beast butchered, and that seems to have been the moment that solidified Caiatl's hate for her father.
During this same period, Calus took notice of a particularly fierce gladiator named Ghaul, an albino Cabal who'd been left to die as a baby because he was a runt. As a gladiator, Ghaul proved himself in battle over and over, and Calus was so impressed that he pulled Ghaul from the gladiator life and elevated him to the leader of his fiercest military force, the Red Legion. Ghaul became known as the "Ghost Primus" and Calus considered him something of a son. What Calus didn't know was that after Ghaul had been abandoned as an infant, he was found and raised by The Consul, a former member of the Praetoriate. Together, the Consul and Ghaul enacted a lengthy plan to get revenge against the emperor.
Meanwhile, as Calus threw parties, the Cabal empire came under threat, with Hive forces attacking its outlying worlds. Calus didn't think that was such a big deal, but some of his generals and advisers, and even his own daughter, saw his failure to act as a failure to lead. They definitely weren't wrong, either--the Hive were massively powerful and dangerous, conquering and destroying worlds as the Cabal forces tried and failed to hold them back, without any larger plan in place. When Ghaul was ready to enact his plan to overthrow Calus, he was able to get the backing of key military personnel and advisers, as well as the Princess-Imperial herself, because of this threat. Caiatl was the lynchpin of the plan.
Ghaul launched his plot in the middle of the night; what would later be known as the Midnight Coup. The Ghost Primus stormed the palace, and Calus hurried to his throne room to retrieve some special object he thought would save him from the traitors. It's not exactly clear this object was, but lore implies it might have been an Ahamkara bone. When Calus arrived in the throne room, however, Caiatl was already waiting for him. She destroyed the object, sealing Calus's fate.
We learn in the Duality dungeon that Ghaul was ready to execute Calus as he took power, naming himself to a new position: Dominus. However, apparently, Caiatl convinced him otherwise. Instead, Calus was exiled from the Cabal empire. He and his loyalists were placed on a huge ship called the Leviathan, which was sent out to drift through the dark reaches of space forever, its navigation systems destroyed. Aboard the Leviathan, Calus would eventually come into contact with the Darkness, and through it, Destiny 2's overarching villain, the Witness. After that, he would wind up in Earth's solar system.
Dominus Ghaul and the Red War
After taking power, Ghaul was in contact with Cabal forces in the Sol system, where they had dug in on Mars sometime between the Collapse and the present day. It would ultimately be a losing battle; when the Hive god Oryx showed up during Destiny's The Taken King expansion, he used his power to circumvent the free will of other species against the Cabal, "taking" them and forcing them into his army. In response, the Cabal attacked Oryx's ship, the Dreadnaught, and tried to destroy it. They were stopped by the Guardians, but not before they sent a distress signal back to the empire. Ghaul received that signal and started to enact a plan, even as the Guardians defeated Oryx and drove the Cabal back.
Destiny 2's vanilla campaign was all about Ghaul. After receiving the distress call, the Dominus departed with the Red Legion for Earth's solar system. When he arrived, he caught the Guardians unawares, launching a sneak attack on the Last City. Ghaul executed a plan to try to take the power of the Traveler for himself: Using special technology he created a cage around the Traveler, cutting the Guardians off from their Light. Without their powers or their immortality, the Guardians struggled to fight the Red Legion and were scattered throughout the solar system. Destiny 2's story was all about finding a way to regain the Light and, eventually, defeat Ghaul--with the help of the Traveler, which had been dormant for centuries. Waking the Traveler set all the events we've seen for years in Destiny 2 into motion.
In the aftermath of Ghaul's death, Calus and the Leviathan showed up in the solar system. The exiled emperor called on the remaining Red Legion forces to rejoin him, while also inviting the Guardians to the Leviathan to meet and entertain him. That led to the Leviathan raid, where players fought through the ship and its Loyalist forces--which, at this point, were mostly clones Calus had made to serve him using the Leviathan's special genetics facilities--and eventually took on Calus himself.
Upon killing the emperor, however, the Guardians learned the truth: They only beat a robot lookalike of Calus. And in fact, the emperor had a huge number of additional robot copies at his disposal, which suggested that he wielded an enormous amount of power. The lore reveals, however, that Calus is actually old and sickly, with his frail body slowly failing him.
The Crown of Sorrow
Calus endeared himself to the Guardians, calling on their help on several occasions and rewarding them with powerful weapons as a result. The final time Calus called on the Guardians, it was to destroy a Hive infection that had taken over a portion of the Leviathan's interior.
The infestation started when Calus's loyalists discovered a Hive artifact called the Crown of Sorrow. Calus believed the crown would allow him to control Hive forces, to wield them as an army, giving him the means to take back power among the Cabal. But Calus was too smart to take on the risk of trying the crown himself--instead, he used the Leviathan's cloning vats to create a Loyalist named Gahlran who would wear the crown for him. Within moments of his birth, the crown was fitted on Gahlran's head, and he immediately lost his mind.
It turned out that the Crown of Sorrow was a trap, and Calus was right to have been cautious. It was created by Oryx's sister, the Hive god Savathun, hoping that she might use it to take control of Calus. Gahlran took over a portion of the Leviathan underbelly with a huge force of Hive, so Calus called on the Guardians for help. That was the premise of the Crown of Sorrow raid, which saw teams of Guardians saving the Leviathan from Gahlran and his Hive forces.
After Gahlran was destroyed, Calus kept the Crown of Sorrow. He would come up with a use for it in the future.
The fall of Torobatl and Caiatl's arrival
While Ghaul was away from Torobatl, he left Caiatl, the former Princess-Imperial, in charge of the empire. With his death, she became empress. Her reign hasn't been a happy one, though. The Hive forces pushing into Cabal territory came with even more force, led by Oryx's other sister and another Hive god, Xivu Arath. The Cabal were unable to hold back Xivu Arath's attack, and eventually, the Cabal homeworld of Torobatl fell.
Leading the last desperate group of Cabal military forces and civilians, Caiatl took her people to the only place she knew that might give them a chance at survival: Earth's solar system. The plan was to gather the remnants of the scattered Red Legion--still a significant force, if leaderless--and return to retake Torobatl. What's more, Caiatl and her advisers hoped they might gain the Guardians as allies in their war against the Hive.
When Caiatl arrived in the solar system, she struck up a negotiation with Commander Zavala and the Vanguard, but the talks didn't go as well as she'd hoped. The Cabal conquer--they don't offer peace treaties. So Caiatl, pushed by the demands of tradition and saving face before her soldiers, offered the Vanguard the chance to join the Cabal under her rule. Zavala, however, refused to kneel before the Cabal empress, or anyone. It nearly meant war between Caiatl and the Vanguard during the Season of the Chosen.
Things changed, however, because Caiatl is not the same as either her father or Ghaul. Caiatl came to respect the Guardians after they participated in Cabal rights of proving, which Zavala and his advisers used to eliminate dangerous Red Legion personnel while showing deference to Cabal traditions. Over time, a mutual respect grew between the empress and the Vanguard, and a coalition against the forces of Darkness slowly came together.
But Caiatl's choice to ally with the Guardians has had repercussions. Her decision to show mercy and consider friendship didn't sit well with all the Cabal under her command, some of whom believe the only path forward should be conquest. While Calus and the Leviathan had gone missing for more than a year, messages sent from the exiled emperor and relayed by loyalists in the solar system provided unhappy Cabal troops with an alternative to Caiatl, and defections have been rampant. Caiatl herself has struggled to escape her lingering doubts about her course of action. The voice of Ghaul, her mentor who counseled only strength and railed against weakness and mercy, remained in the back of her mind. In her Sever mission, we watch Caiatl come to terms with worries that she is failing Ghaul and her Cabal traditions, deciding that she believes compromise is just as important as conquest.
The "children" of Uldren
Caiatl isn't the only one who has been dealing with voices from her past in Season of the Haunted. One of the major figures struggling against Calus's Nightmares is Crow, who is haunted by Uldren Sov, the man he once was. We've already seen Crow come to terms with Uldren, but there's a lot of backstory to unpack there, and most of it stretches way back in the Forsaken expansion.
Uldren Sov was the brother of Mara Sov, queen of the Awoken, and served as her spymaster and adviser. Mara often used Uldren as a weapon, knowing that he would do anything she wanted. Back in The Taken King, Mara led the Awoken fleet against Oryx and the Hive, executing an elaborate plan to help the Guardians defeat the Hive god. Mara (apparently) was killed during that battle, but Uldren survived. Beset by grief and without his sister to guide him, he wandered the solar system, getting up to trouble.
Unlike most other humans and Awoken in the solar system, Uldren was close to the Eliksni, the race otherwise known as the Fallen. There were Fallen warriors from the House of Wolves who had served Mara for years after the Awoken defeated them in a war, and while those same Fallen eventually revolted against Mara, there were some that Uldren had come to befriend over the years. At some point in his wanderings, Uldren discovered a dying Fallen named Fikrul. Uldren tried to help Fikrul but found he could not, and just as Fikrul died, Uldren wished for a way to save him.
What he didn't realize at the time was that his wish had been granted--by an Ahamkara.
Ahamkara are strange shapeshifting creatures about which we know very little about. They were predators, granting wishes that allowed them to feed off other beings and exercising enormous power because of that ability. The Ahamkara were such a big threat in years past that the Vanguard organized a Great Hunt, in which the Guardians hounded the Ahamkara nearly to extinction. But at least one survived, hidden in the Awoken's Dreaming City, captured and utilized by Mara Sov. That Ahamkara, Riven, somehow heard Uldren's wish and granted it, reviving Fikrul into an undead Fallen called the Fanatic who had the ability to resurrect other Fallen, creating a whole endless army of zombie-like creatures known as the Scorn.
Eventually, the Fanatic resurrected a number of other Fallen into Scorn, who became known as "barons" and were loyal to Uldren. They were essentially crime lords, and a few were sadistic monsters. Hunter Vanguard leader Cayde-6, Petra Venj, and a number of other Destiny side characters rounded up the barons and captured them, leaving them in the Awoken's Prison of Elders. Uldren eventually was imprisoned there, too, after turning himself into the Awoken. Before long, however, Uldren staged a prison break with the Scorn barons, driven by visions of Mara. During the escape, Uldren killed Cayde, causing the player Guardian to chase him to a region of the Asteroid Belt called the Broken Shore in the Forsaken campaign.
Though Mara did survive the attack on the Dreadnaught, it's not Mara that Uldren was seeing--it was a vision created by Riven, under the control of Savathun. Uldren eventually opened the way to the Dreaming City for Savathun's forces, before the Guardian and Petra Venj tracked him down and killed him.
Uldren was later resurrected as a Guardian, who took on the name of The Crow. Guardians don't remember their past lives, so Crow found himself hated and often even attacked by the people he encountered, but he had no idea why. Eventually, in the Season of the Lost, Savathun restored Uldren's memories to Crow, and he has been grappling with Uldren's less-than-heroic actions ever since. One of the things the Nightmare of Uldren that Crow had been seeing aboard the Leviathan goaded him with was the fact that Crow knows about Uldren's connection to Fikrul and the Scorn--who consider Uldren their "father"--but chooses to do nothing about it.
During Crow's Sever mission, we see him work to come to terms with his past as Uldren, accepting both the good and the bad about his past self so he can work toward being the kind of person he wants to be in the future. But that leaves an open question about Fikrul and the Scorn.
Right now, the Scorn are fully in the thrall of the Witness, and are some of the chief enemy forces currently facing humanity. That's a fact that seems to be weighing on Crow. There's some suggestion that the Fanatic is still out there, too, capable of endlessly reviving himself even after Guardians kill him over and over. We may yet see Crow try to seek out and attempt to redeem Uldren's creations.
Presage of a Leviathan to come
At the start of the Beyond Light campaign, Calus and the Leviathan disappeared. Soon after, however, some evidence of what he'd been up to surfaced, in the form of a ghost ship floating derelict. The Vanguard was drawn to the Cabal ship, the Glykon Volatus, by a distress signal sent by a Ghost. The player Guardian boarded the Glykon in the Presage mission to investigate and found the ship covered in a strange fungus called Eregore, which was teeming with Darkness energy.
The Vanguard soon discovered that the Glykon had been overrun by Scorn, with its Cabal crew murdered. Slowly, the story came together: The Glykon had been commanded by a Guardian named Katabasis, who had served Calus as his "Shadow," a powerful warrior assassin dedicated to Calus's will. The Glykon's goal was to try to help Calus make contact with the Witness once again, something he'd apparently managed to do while traveling during his exile, but struggled with since. The loyalists on the ship brought aboard captured Scorn, creatures created through the influence of the Darkness, in hopes that--paired with the Crown of Sorrow--they could open a communications conduit to the Witness.
At first, it didn't work, and Calus was despondent. The ship then flew into the Mars Anomaly to try to get even closer to the Witness. When the Beyond Light campaign kicked off, Mars literally disappeared because of the influence of the Witness, along with Io, Mercury, and Titan, although something was left behind in the spaces the planets once occupied. Calus's hope was that the proximity to the Darkness's power would allow him to reach the Witness, and apparently, he was right.
Calus disappeared after his successful contact, but the Glykon came back out of the Anomaly...wrong. The ship had been twisted, its internal structure changed by strange forces, and the people aboard suffering strange visions and slowly losing their minds. Eventually, the Scorn grew more powerful and broke free of their containment. The Vanguard discovered Katabasis dead on the bridge of the ship, covered in Eregore fungus, and the Crown of Sorrow in the Glykon's hold. The Crown was secured--that's how it showed up in the HELM in Season of the Haunted--and clearly, Calus took what he discovered aboard the Glykon a step further aboard the Leviathan. Just like the ghost ship, the Leviathan is now covered in Eregore, a physical, but imperfect, manifestation of Darkness.
Rise of Nightmares
Season of the Haunted is specifically about Nightmares--phantasmal manifestations of grief and regret created through the Darkness. We first saw these Nightmares back in the Shadowkeep expansion on the moon, where they were created by a Black Fleet pyramid discovered buried beneath the lunar surface. In Shadowkeep, we learned a little about what the Nightmares are all about.
Though they look like ghosts, Nightmares are actually an outward manifestation of psychic resonance; in other words, they're more or less memories brought to life through Darkness energy. On the moon, Nightmares were created by the pyramid as a sort of knee-jerk defense mechanism, and it used the lingering memories of the many Guardians killed there in the past to create the phantoms you see all over the surface. During the Shadowkeep expansion, Eris Morn was confronted by Nightmare versions of her fireteam, with whom she had descended into the moon's Hellmouth to fight Oryx's son, Crota. Everyone in the fireteam was killed except for Eris, who struggled with survivor's guilt once she eventually made it out of the Hellmouth. So the Nightmares Eris saw weren't really the spirits of her comrades, but rather her guilt manifested by the pyramid.
Season of the Haunted revisits the concept of Nightmares, with the Leviathan in orbit around the moon in order to make contact with the buried pyramid. This time, the Nightmares aren't a random defense mechanism; they're being directed by Calus and channeled through the Leviathan. What the pyramid previously did automatically to protect itself, Calus is now harnessing as a weapon, and using against certain characters like Crow, Zavala, and Caiatl specifically.
During the Shadowkeep expansion, Eris learned that the only way to dispel her Nightmares was to deal with the trauma that was creating them--well, that and a hearty helping of Hive magic. She's using those same techniques in Season of the Haunted, enacting Hive rituals to capture free-floating Nightmares on the Leviathan and to help the characters deal with their issues to convert their personal Nightmares into Memories.
So far, that plan has worked. The plan of the season has been to capture and contain Nightmares using Hive magic, and in the Sever missions, characters have tried to come to terms with their personal trauma, and that has transformed Nightmares into much more positive Memories. Pointedly, these manifestations still exist, but they're no longer purely negative. What we don't yet know is what Calus is trying to do with these things. Lore and story points have suggested that Calus's connection with the pyramid, the Nightmares, and the Eregore fungus is creating a network, a means by which he can connect with something else--namely, it seems, the Witness. Calus hopes to transcend his body and become some harbinger of the end of the universe, serving the Witness. And according to him, he's already merged with the Leviathan; supposedly, the entire ship is now part of Calus, and he of it, which is excellently gross and weird.
The past stories of Destiny 2 are definitely informing what's going on in Season of the Haunted, but there's still a lot more we don't know. The final mission of the season seems likely to answer a few lingering questions about Calus's plan, but the real head-scratcher is how this will inform upcoming seasons and the next major expansion, Lightfall. It's fair to say that there's more going on in Season of the Haunted than we're aware of, and while we might think we're stopping Calus's plans, they definitely have not yet been fully revealed.
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