Destiny historian Ashley Flanagan explains how an iconic emperor and his daughter brought the ghosts of the past to humanity’s doorstep.
Today marks the beginning of Season of the Haunted, a new chapter in the ongoing story of Destiny 2. New players and veteran Guardians alike are heeding the call as a returning threat has suddenly emerged in our galaxy. It is in this new Season that we find references to tragic conspiracies, relatable familial strife, and the unwavering desire—no, the need—to party like it’s the end of the universe.
These references are all chapters in a story that began long before our Guardians and will hopefully survive long after their Light fades away. As we discover characters, locations, and items, new parts of that story click into place like space-magic puzzle pieces. And wouldn’t you know, there’s someone at Bungie dedicated to solving puzzles.
We sat down to discuss some of the elements present in Season of the Haunted, where this tale began, and how the rift that formed long ago between an iconic emperor and his daughter brought the ghosts of the past to humanity’s doorstep.
Without further ado, I present Bungie’s Destiny historian, Ashley Flanagan.
Legendary Lore: An Emperor Adrift
Richard Barrick: Thank you so much for spending this time with us today. Let’s start off with who you are and how you got here.
Ashley Flanagan: My name’s Ash. I’m Bungie’s Destiny historian. This is not the first time I’ve been a historian of sorts, although not always for video games. I have a masters in Roman history and I used to teach that as an adjunct professor for a couple years—which is super relevant to the Cabal stuff we’re going to talk about today. I got into games about ten years ago when some friends of mine started working on an indie video game and asked me if I wanted to do some writing for it.
Having a background in real-world history feels relevant to that because I’m pretty good at sifting through information and identifying what’s a reliable source. An unusual thing about Destiny is that a lot of our lore is filtered through characters who can be unreliable narrators—I mean, are you going to take what Savathûn says at face value?
Well, it sounds like you’re the perfect person to talk to about Season of the Haunted—there are two elements to the Season that become much cooler when you know more about them, Calus and his massive planet-devouring ship, the Leviathan. Let’s start with Calus; who is he?
Calus is the former emperor of the Cabal. Most of the Cabal players run into are in the military, so it’s easy to think of all of Cabal culture as being super militaristic. But Calus is different in that he’s a bit of a hedonist. He thinks that the military is a means to an end, and that end is having a good time all the time. Everyone else can have a good time too (as long as they don’t get in his way). Because of this, by most accounts Calus was a pretty popular emperor.
But this also led to him making enemies in the military. His reign came to an end when Caiatl (his daughter) and a bunch of his closest confidants conspired to depose him in an event known as the Midnight Coup.
To hear Calus tell it, their one big mistake was that he was too popular to kill. So, the solution they came up with was to put him on a ship, disable the navigation system, and send it into the depths of space.
So, Calus was exiled and drifted through the stars on the Leviathan until one day when he looked out into the void and had a profound experience where he felt like something looked back. He had an epiphany where he came to believe that there was an inevitable end that’s coming to the whole universe. He decided that the only thing to do was to try to have as much fun as he could on the way out.
Is that the reason for the “games” he played with Guardians on the Leviathan back during the launch of Destiny 2?
Yeah, he needs to be entertained all the time. As far as far as Calus is concerned, him being mildly bored for even five seconds is the worst thing that could happen.
Calus also really likes Guardians as long as they’re not getting in his way. He thinks they’re really fun and exciting. He loves promising prizes to Guardians and bribing them to fight for him. The Vanguard really hates that Guardians are susceptible to flattery and bribes.
So, he gets exiled, has this epiphany, and then decides to make the most of it by giving in to his hedonism. Was he affected at all by the fact that he was betrayed by his daughter and closest friends?
It affected him very much. He was actually too depressed to do anything about it until the experience that he had when he looked into the void. That’s what gave him the motivation to take control of the Leviathan, turn it into a pleasure barge, and start recruiting champions to seek revenge on all the conspirators who participated in the Midnight Coup. This is when he decided to head to the Sol system and find Ghaul.
There was actually a printed list included in the Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition with the names of the people who betrayed him. And Ghaul was very high up on that list.
Why is that? Who was Ghaul?
Ghaul’s storyline pulls from Roman history, which has always been a big inspiration for the Cabal. He was abandoned as an infant and raised by one of Calus’s political enemies who he’d wronged on his way to becoming emperor. Ghaul was a gladiator for a while—one of Calus’s favorites—who he began to view as the son he never had. He eventually joined Calus’s court and was given a leadership position in the military. So, it was pretty brutal for Calus when he was deposed by a conspiracy that intended to put Ghaul on the throne instead of him. That was almost as big a betrayal as his own daughter taking part, although not quite.
We met his daughter, Caiatl, in Season of the Chosen, right? Why did she go along with it?
Ghaul was someone Caiatl admired, or she would never have taken part in the conspiracy. She did it because she thought he would be a better leader for the Cabal than her father was. For a long time, she saw Ghaul as the kind of soldier she wanted to be, and the kind of leader she wanted to be.
She does not approve of anything he did in Destiny 2. For her, it was like seeing your idol fall off this pedestal. And she now realizes that he always had these big flaws, and he ended up making some really dumb decisions that she never would have approved of.
But she still has these feelings about him from the days when she saw him as her hero, and she still wonders whether he would approve of anything she’s done—whether the Ghaul she remembers would be proud of her.
It sounds like she related more to Ghaul than to her fun-loving father. What was her relationship like with Calus before he was deposed?
Caiatl never really understood her father because she’s a Cabal soldier and far more in line with the militaristic part of their culture. She’s never gotten his whole “party” thing.
In the future, we’re going to get more into Cabal family life. What fatherhood was like for Calus, what Caiatl’s childhood was like, and we’re going to see Caiatl trying to understand her father—trying to figure out if it even matters that he has a reason for being the way he is. Since the Midnight Coup, their relationship has been mostly them trying to kill one another. But I think if you asked either of them, they would say there was a time when they loved each other.
Since Caiatl arrived in our
galaxy solar system, she’s formed an alliance with the Vanguard. That seems like it will only complicate matters for her and Calus.
A new empress forming an alliance with the Vanguard against other Cabal factions was a really huge and risky decision. We’re going to see her wrestle with that and try to find balance this Season.
In addition to his quest for fun and revenge, what else does Calus have up his sleeve? The Leviathan looks different than it did the last time we saw it. It reminds me of the ship we saw a few Seasons ago in the Presage mission. That ship had ties to Calus, right?
Calus has been doing some experiments using the artifact known as the Crown of Sorrow. The ship in Presage was part of that. Because of his partying, we don’t really think of Calus as an intellectual, but he’s been fascinated with learning more about the nature of the Darkness ever since that experience where he looked out into the void and felt like something looking back at him.
I guess it would be foolhardy to assume we know everything Calus is up to. For example, we know the Leviathan is approaching the Pyramid ship on the Moon, but we don’t know why. Are you able to talk about that at all?
We’re going to be learning a lot more about the history of the Black Fleet soon, so I don’t want to say too much, but there was spooky stuff happening on the Moon quite a way back. The Moon’s usually bad news in Destiny.
It has that vibe about it. Sorry, Moon.
We hope that you enjoyed learning about one of Destiny’s favorite Cabal icons. And we hope that when you step aboard the Derelict Leviathan this Season, this helps you appreciate the journey the ship has been on, and how you have now become part of its history.
Season of the Haunted starts today. Everyone can play for free or unlock some of the Season’s extra features by picking up a Season Pass. On behalf of everyone at Bungie, we hope to see you in-game—writing your own legend in the stars.