The Vex: Uncovering the hidden lore in Destiny

vex hobgoblin

A while ago I delved into the Lore behind the Hive, fueled by revelations found in old concept art. I decided to give a similar treatment to the Vex, although I use mostly grimoire cards and item flavor text to figure out what’s really going on with the Vex.

I also made a post on reddit about this that is a little bit more succinct and better organized, but doesn’t cover the same topics.

THE VEX AND THE BLACK GARDEN

destiny black garden sitting

In the grimoire card “Legend: Black Garden” someone named Pujari talks about his dream/journey through the Black Garden:

“The Garden grows in both directions. It grows into tomorrow and yesterday. The red flowers bloom forever.

There are gardeners now. They came into the garden in vessels of bronze and they move through the groves in rivers of thought.”

It’s important to note that this shows that the Garden has intrinsic properties that allow it to circumvent the normal causality of time. Which also implies, as you’ll see in a moment, that the Vex’s ability to travel through time is not inherent to their species, and rather that it’s a power they’ve tapped into through the Black Garden. Anyone who controls the Black Garden controls the ability to travel through time.

In Pujari’s dream, the “gardeners” who came in “vessels of bronze” are a pretty clear allusion to the Vex and their bronze armor. What’s important here is that the Vex are newcomers to the Black Garden. They did not create it and either they discovered it or were created inside of it.

WHO WAS THE ORIGINAL GARDENER?

vex god

So, the Vex were not the first gardeners.

For a crucial clue to who was, check out this grimoire card that has another reference to a gardener. It is written from the first person perspective of some powerful entity that presumably participated in the war between the Traveller and the Darkness. I suspect that it’s from the perspective of the Darkness, since the grimoire cards that deal with the Traveller are always written in second person perspective, not the first.

Here’s the excerpt from “Ghost Fragment: Mysteries”:

“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. IT always wins.”

I feel this second reference to a gardener must refer back to the Black Garden, for obvious reasons. In this case the gardener fought and lost against the Traveler, and since she is referred to as a singular female, I think this clearly shows that “she” is not the Vex.

Which means that long before the Vex arrived, there was a powerful entity that tended to the garden and had the power to traverse time, but then she was destroyed. Eventually the Vex discovered the garden and filled in the role of gardener that was left behind.

Now, I don’t think that the original Gardener has disappeared completely. I believe that the “Heart” of the Black Garden is what is left of the original Gardener. The Vex are reaching back to a time when the Gardener was still alive, trying to resurrect Her and rebuild the powers of the Garden.

Grimoire cards reference the possibility that the Vex are trying to remake themselves in the Heart’s image, but this does not have to mean “in her physical image” and it could instead mean “in her temporal image”. They’re trying to remake themselves so they exist in all time, just as the Gardener/Heart did/does.

In some concept art by Dorje Bellbrook:

vex heart geodesic concept

We see some early concepts of the Heart as having forking tentacles emanating out of its geodesic body. In the final game you see this idea survive in the Heart’s death animation. When you kill the Heart it explodes, and forking, branching tentacles of light stretch out from the dying body. I believe these forking lines represent (at least symbolically) the forking/alternate timelines made possible by the Black Garden’s power.

The point is this: The Heart of the Black Garden is not an aspect of the Darkness nor of the Traveller. It is a separate entity altogether and was once the Gardener of this strange place. The Vex worship her and are trying to bring her back to life so she can resume tending the Garden and thus make the Vex exist throughout time and thus prevent their demise.

WHAT ARE THE VEX?

vex armor

So in an Exo card in the grimoire, an Exo is talking to some human. Here’s an excerpt:

“That’s why the Exo mind is so human, you presume. Because all higher thought converges.

My friend, you should meet the Vex. There is nothing human in them.”

It’s easy to pass over this seemingly banal.

After all, it’s really obvious. The Vex aren’t human, yeah, duh. But the obviousness kind of draws attention to the fact that the statement is actually significant. After all, the Exo doesn’t mention the Fallen or Hive, who also aren’t human. He’s singling out the Vex, which hints at how inhuman the Vex really are.

Secondly, the Exo doesn’t say, “There is nothing human ABOUT them.” He says, “There is nothing human IN them.” I doubt that this is a mere syntactical happenstance. The Exo is saying that the real organism is INSIDE the robotic shells we see.

This is collaborated by the statement of Pujari, that the Black Garden’s gardeners came in “vessels of bronze”. The gardeners themselves aren’t bronze. Their means of travel is built of bronze.

Even in the single player, your ghost mentions that he detects biological life within the robotic shells. Then there’s text from various pieces of armor you collect in the Vault of Glass.

There’s the text for the Cowl of the Hezen Lords:

“The helm’s nerve interface incorporates Vex cells. They’re dead, of course. But not too dead to dream…”

More proof that the actual Vex are a biological form of life composed of living cells.

Robe of the Hezen Lords:

“Slept in the armor last night. Woke to feel my heart stuttering to the pattern of an unknown signal.”

We know that the Vex are all connected into one mental network, and here we see that when a Warlock sleeps with some armor made from Vex bodies that he gets tuned into this network. This implies that the Vex technology is designed to connect BIOLOGICAL minds into one large hive mind.

And the text from the Mantic Zealot Helm:

Forged from the cores of the Hezen Vex. If you feel a sense of revelation, remove immediately and inject antientheogens.

An entheogen is a naturally derived chemical substance used in religious or spiritual rituals to alter one’s state of consciousness. An antientheogen would be something that counteracts these effects. If the Vex cores contain mind altering chemicals this implies that Vex minds are biological. I find it hard to imagine a computer mind being affected by drugs in the same way as a biological human brain, or at all.

So, the Vex are not actually robots. The Vex are actually some sort of biological life form. The robots we see are basically their space suits, or maybe their ships (a synonym for vessel).

SO, WHAT ARE THE VEX REALLY?

vex from water

They are an microscopic form of aquatic life. There’s logic to it, and then there’s confirmation from a Bungie employee.

Here’s a bit of grimoire prose that I haven’t seen anyone make a big deal about, but it gives us a big clue as to what the Vex’s true form is.

Hobgoblin:

“Like the Goblin, the Hobgoblin contains a milky radiolorian fluid.”

So, that is the white liquid that gushes from the Vex’s stomachs when we shoot them. That’s not the only mention of this stuff that we see. There are quest items and consumables whose descriptions and flavor text flesh out this idea some more:

Cyclops Mind Core:

“The mind core of a cyclops is substantial and contains a fluid apparently central to Vex functionality.”

Vex Mind Core:

“A sample of Vex cognitive medium, a fluid apparently central to their functionality.”

Axiomatic Beads:

“Iridescent glass baubles that seem to contain inscribed Vex logic.”

Radiolaria:

“Particles of Vex mind fluid. Potentially a source of insight into the Vex threat for your Vanguard mentor to study.”

The picture for both Axiomatic Beads and for Radiolaria is this:

axiomatic beads

And this is what real world radiolaria look like:

radiolaria

And what are radiolaria?

According to wikipedia research, radiolaria are a protozoa that produce/possess a skeleton composed of amorphous silica. Also, radiolaria can be found within zooplankton, which are small aquatic organisms that usually drift near the surface of the water. (Some zookplankton: segmented worms, jellyfish, crustacean larvae, man-o-wars, krill, algae, etc.)

Basically, the Vex (or at least the Goblins and Hobgoblins) are filled with biological microorganisms associated with marine life.

But why is this radiolarian fluid, this mind fluid, this cognitive medium, so “central” to the Vex functionality. Well, what is central to the functioning of a car or an airplane? The pilot. The radiolarian fluid is crucial the functioning of the Vex because the “mind fluid” IS the Vex. The Vex ARE the radiolaria and the bronze robots are just the vehicles they pilot.

Consider the quote by Pujari again,

“There are gardeners now. They came into the garden in vessels of bronze and they move through the groves in rivers of thought.”

He literally means “vessels” as in ships. And they literally move in “rivers of thought” because their very nature is that a liquid of millions of microscopic organisms. When we shoot a Vex in the stomach, that white fluid is the crew spilling out of their space vessel.

When I first wrote my theories I suggested that the radiolaria themselves might be the Vex, but also made note that this idea might be too far fetched for Bungie. BUT THEN…

I was finished with this blog post. I started listening to the Planet Destiny podcast. Specifically the Podcast #12 in which the PD crew talks to none other than DeeJ himself (community manager at Bungie):

And a little after 22:00, DeeJ dropped this massive bombshell that no one seemed to care about. Keep in mind that I’m getting ready to publish this very post when I hear DeeJ say this,

“There are people who do the big pie in the sky thinking, like ‘What if there was a liquified race of people that were contained in this walking form, this robotic form, and they all shared one mind and it was contained in this data milk.’ And then there are the other people who would write the ghost’s dialogue to describe the Vex in the scene they get revealed.”

The serendipity blew my mind.

So, the idea that I thought was too far fetched for Bungie turned out to be true.

The white liquid that pours out of Vex stomachs IS the Vex. The Vex are a “liquid” organism composed of trillions of microscopic organisms.

WHAT WERE THEY ORIGINALLY

vex harpy

In DeeJ’s quote above, he suggests that the Vex were liquified and then contained in a robotic form. Which sounds like they weren’t liquid initially, but then some tragedy befell them and turned them into “liquid”. The Traveler seems like the type of guy to do something like that, but ignoring the cause, what WERE the Vex before they were liquified and trapped within robotic vessels?

I’ll hearken back to how radiolaria are associated with marine lifeforms like worms, jellyfish, and krill. It may be possible that those kind of creatures were the original form of the Vex.

Considering also that the Harpy is described as “the fastest and most mobile Vex” this might hint that the Vex were originally squid, octopi, or jellyfish. After all, if that’s their most mobile unit then maybe it moves in a way that’s most natural to the Vex in their original form.

There’s more allusions connecting the Vex with marine life. There’s some information on the aesthetic design of the Black Garden found in a Bungie ride along video of Mars.

The artist mentions that part of the goal of the Black Garden’s design was to make you “feel like you’re underwater… that’s why you have these long sprigs of plant life, kind of like kelp.” (1:02:00)

There’s even parts where the water drips UPWARDS. Which is weird, and if you think about it, it also alludes to the visual image of water bubbles floating upwards from vents in the ocean floor.

So, it’s almost like traveling through the Black Garden gives you an impression of what it is like to BE a Vex, living in liquid your whole life.

It’s possible that the Vex were originally some marine life that contained radiolaria, which played a key role in their cognitive processes. But then some cataclysm hit their species and stripped them of their bodies, leaving them only with their liquid minds.

Maybe.

BIOLOGICAL NETWORKS EVOLVING INTO DIGITAL NETWORKS

(I wrote this section before I heard DeeJ’s quote about the Vex being a liquified life form, and haven’t revised this section to acknowledge that information.)

I’ve got another theory about the Vex that requires a couple leaps of logic, but I think I might be correct.

I suspect that the Vex were originally a form of marine life. Also, throughout the game and the grimoire cards it is revealed, over and over, that the Vex form an entire network of minds. Each individual Vex is a portion of a larger computational system.

These two things immediately make me think of two alien species from science fiction literature.

The first is from the novel Blindsight by Peter Watts. The Scramblers are a species of large starfish-esque aliens that lack conscious thought (no self awareness), but are incredibly intelligent. I remember them being able to transfer neural signals to each other directly through physical contact (even across chains of individuals), and can even rip apart an individual to absorb its neural thoughts/memories more quickly. If I remember correctly, they work together to build/grow enormous space faring creatures that act as spaceships and which are the last stage of their species’ life cycle.

The second alien species is from some novels by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner (don’t let the Niven brand name fool you; Blindsight is a far better book than any of the Niven/Lerner collaborations). They’re a species of small starfish-like aliens called the Gw’oth that individually aren’t intelligent, but when they physically touch each other they are able to connect their minds and function in unison as a biological computer and an intelligent being.

[Between the two, Blindsight by Peter Watts is a far, far, far better book, and I consider it a must read for anyone who likes hard science fiction. It’s intelligent, thought provoking, original, and it features a very unique depiction of alien life (although not visually, because starfish, come on).]

The point is, I think someone at Bungie was inspired by one of these books when they were creating the Vex.

Since as cyborgs the Vex form a network of minds, it’s possible that this behavior started out in biological form (similar to the aliens from Blindsight and the Gw’oth aliens) and was later adapted into mechanical technology.

After all, it make sense that if a species is able to physiologically connect their minds to form immense biological computers, then they would try to preserve and enhance this ability in their technology. Just look at humans. We are constantly trying to develop technology that preserves our most natural form of communication (face to face conversation) regardless of physical constraints.

This idea may be supported by the text for gauntlets acquired in the Vault of Glass, such as the Gloves of the Hezen Lords,

“Capable Gauntlets. Extremely effective. I have only one piece of advice: Never touch a living Vex.”

It seems to imply something bad would happen to you if you touch a Vex while wearing gloves made from their bodies. If the Vex originally “mind melded” through physical touch then this warning makes sense since it might mean YOU will mind meld with the Vex when you touch them with these gloves.

THE VEX ARE NOT AN ARMY

I got this from reading a fan theory on Bungie’s forums:

The description of the Vex in the grimoire cards doesn’t describe them as a military force. It describes them more as an engineering and construction conglomerate. Even the description of their weapons acknowledges their usefulness as tools. Check out some excerpts:

Minotaur:

“…most of their processing power is devoted to the physics of building massive Vex complexes, suspected to extend through multiple dimensions.”

Hydra:

“…it is a rapid processor of the data fed to it by other Vex…”

Slap Rifle:

“From an engineering perspective… the Slap Rifle seems like it might serve as a viable field transmitter, construction tool, navigational beacon, network repeater, or any of a number of other utility functions.”

(So, it’s kind of like a sonic screwdriver.)

Slap Grenade:

“These devices behave more like miniaturized gates than conventional explosives…”

Cyclops:

“But some evidence suggests that the Cyclops is in fact an enormous sensor or beacon, and that its weapons capabilities are secondary… It may play a role in the Vex networked intelligence, or in navigation across space and time.”

(The card also mentions that when damaged they can get confused and fire on their own units, suggesting that the Cyclops was not designed to withstand combat.)

And then this grimoire card flat out states it:

Hezen Protective:

“… it would be a fatal mistake to think of the Vex as a conventional military occupying an area… the Protective is clearly engaged in a colossal project… reacting to an event that has yet to occur, or working towards a goal that – to us – is already historical fact.”

The theme here is that the Vex are not a militant force trying to conquer or destroy. They have some other (possibly pacifist) goal, that requires massive construction projects, which inevitably brings them into conflict with other civilizations. I’ll get to what they’re trying to do later on.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE VEX

vex future past comparison

In Destiny we see some Vex from the future and some Vex from the past. The grimoire cards reveal that the shiny, golden, modern looking Vex are actually from the past. The primitive, iron, rusted Vex are from the future.

This would go against what I’d expect. I’d expect the iPhone looking Vex to be from the future, and the steam engine looking Vex to be from the past. So what’s going on?

I see two possibilities.

The first is that the Vex exist in a causality that is the reverse of our own. Our past is their future, and our future is their past. They’re traveling backwards through time.

The second possibility, and the one that I think is more likely, is that in the future the Vex are dying out. As time goes on, the Vex become more primitive, get made from cheaper materials, and look less well maintained because their civilization is diminishing and they’re running out of resources. Their civilization is falling and their species is going extinct. Through the Black Garden they are trying to prevent their inevitable demise from happening.

The reason I think this is the most likely possibility is because it fits with the narrative themes of the alien races in Destiny.

Each alien faction has a narrative of tragedy and loss.

The Fallen were once a noble, wealthy civilization, but now have fallen to the position of scavengers and bandits; and, they’re completely dependent on the ether produced by their Servitors (apparently their only food source) and would die without the substance. The Hive cannot remove the Light-eating worms that infect their bodies, which leaves them with a painful hunger that drives them across the universe seeking new sources of Light to eat. Even the Cabal, while immensely powerful, are implied to be fleeing from something that completely obliterated their home planet and which terrifies them.

So, in keeping with this theme of loss and tragedy, it would make sense that the Vex are slowly diminishing and dying out. It adds to the notion that’s being built up in Destiny, that our enemies are not these powerful monsters trying to eradicate us. They are broken and tragic victims who are desperately trying to cling to what meager existence that they can, and this happens to bring them into conflict with humanity.

One more possibility, that adds to this idea that the Vex are tragic victims, comes from DeeJ’s statement that the Vex are a “liquified race of people that were contained in… this robotic form”. It’s possible that the Vex once SERVED the Traveler, the way we do (there’s hints that EVERY alien race once served the Traveler). The Traveler may have liquified them and contained them in robotic vessels, but then abandoned them once they were no longer useful. Back when they served the Traveler they were made of wealthy and expensive materials because that’s how the Traveler roles. Once the Traveler abandoned the Vex their civilization started to fall and they had to build their vessels out of cheaper and less durable materials.

THE VEX AND MARATHON

marathon prologue prologue

There’s this excellent analysis of the lore of the Vault of Glass on reddit:

It basically points out that in the Vault of Glass, the Vex are trying to “incorporate the very IDEA of themselves into the fundamental laws of the universe”. They’re trying to find a way to avoid extinction, so in the process of trying to rewrite reality they delete anything that is a threat to them. They’re trying to remake the laws of reality in their image.

This backs up my earlier theory, that in the future the Vex are dying out, so in the past/present they’re trying to find a way to survive forever.

It’s worth noting that this narrative is very similar to the driving motivation in Chicago-Bungie’s Marathon series. A powerful AI named Durandal understands that even though he is technically immortal, even he will die when the universe ends. So he goes on a quest all over the galaxy, looking for ancient alien technology that will help him escape the destruction of the universe and be reborn in the next (he’s kind of a jerk about it, though). At the end of Marathon Infinity it is implied that Durandal fails, but that the player character (a cyborg) manages to succeed and is reborn in the next universe as a god, able to remake it in his own image.

The game ends with a screen of text and symbolic imagery. It is implied that the text is the musings of an old Durandal, right at the end of the universe, and as he muses he begins to address the player character whom he realizes is going to survive:

“You follow the path, fitting into an infinite pattern.

Yours to manipulate, to destroy and rebuild.

Now, in the quantum moment before the closure, when all become one… I know who you are.

You are Destiny.”

Mic drop.

VEX ARCHITECTURE IS EVERYWHERE

burning shrine vex. jpg

From the Vex grimoire card:

“The Vex are architects of ancient and complex structures thought to be buried within every celestial body.”

So, if the Vex are trying to escape their own demise by altering time and reality, then why even bother building all these structures within the foundations of the different planets? And why do these Vex structures exist on every planet we’ve seen EXCEPT Earth.

My theory is that the structures interconnect the planets into a network so that when the Vex finally escape this universe, or rewrite the laws of this one, they will bring the planets with them. Except for Earth, because Earth contains the Traveler and the Guardians. When the Vex escape into an alternate universe of their own making they’d rather not have such a deadly and malicious force come with them.

After all, the description for the Spent Displacer states,

“Were the Vex sent here because you are a threat in their future?”

SWAMP MONSTER MYSTERY

destiny aliens board

So, in the “Art of Destiny” there’s some concept art of Vex marching through some city streets. What’s interesting is that behind them there is an enormous figure that looks like some sort of seven-story tall Swamp Thing monster, except it has dozens of red Vex eyes.

It’s the following piece of concept art, except here the top two thirds have been cut off so you don’t see the giant:

vex painting concept

However, you can see the giant in the mood board for the Destiny aliens, at the top of this section (the Vex palette is on the far left).

That amorphous shape that looks like some columns of smoke is actually half of a giant with Vex eyes in its body.

It kind of looks like the creature on the far right of this concept art, except with red eyes instead of black.

vex swamp monsters concept

What this means, I don’t know. It’s all early concept art so it might not have anything to do with the current game. But, then again, it might. Could this be some sort of Vex God? Is this creature where the Vex come from? Could it have been the original Heart of the Black Garden? I don’t know. I have no idea.

THE FALLEN HAVE APPROPRIATED SOME VEX TECH

It’s possible that the Fallen Captains’ teleportation ability is stolen Vex technology, on account of how similar the animation is to the Minotaurs’ teleportation.

Also, based on some old concept art, it’s possible that the Fallen Servitors are stolen Vex technology…

vex concept sphere

fallen with ghost

… although even I’m not convinced of that. I actually think the Servitors are the Fallen’s version of Ghosts from back when THEY served the Traveler. But, I’ll save those theories for if I ever talk about Fallen lore.

SUMMATION:

1) The Heart was the original gardener of the Black Garden, but she was destroyed/defeated by the Traveler.

2) The Vex are a liquid race. Their “body” is the white fluid that spills from their stomachs, which is composed of microscopic radiolaria. The bronze robots are actually just Vex vehicles which the crew of millions of radiolaria pilot.

3) The very original Vex may have been some solid form of marine life whose minds were composed of radiolarian fluid. Then they were liquified. Their bodies were destroyed leaving behind their mind fluids. This happened either through some cataclysm, or by the will of the Traveler who liquified the Vex and contained them in robotic ships in order to serve him.

4) In the future, the Vex civilization becomes weaker and its resources are diminishing. This is why when we see Vex from the past they are bright and shiny and made from expensive materials, and why the Vex in the future look dilapidated and worn out. In the future, the Vex eventually die out, possibly because of the Guardians and the Traveler. It’s possible that in the past the Vex served the Traveler and that this is why their past forms look so shiny and well made, but then they were abandoned and didn’t have the resources to maintain the quality of their vessels.

5) The Vex discovered the Black Garden and realized that with its power they might be able to avoid the extinction of their species. To boost the natural powers of the Black Garden, the Vex are trying to resurrect the original Gardener as well as remake themselves in her temporal image.

6) Conquest, destruction, and genocide are not the goals of the Vex. Their goals are to save themselves from the entropy of the universe by rewriting the laws of the universe itself, similar to Durandal from the Marathon series. All the energy of the Vex civilization is focused on escaping this universe and into a universe of their own making. They are bringing their own species along with planets they find valuable, but leaving behind their enemies and any dangers to their well being, such as the Dreaming God a.k.a. the Traveler.

7) Giant swamp monster.

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4 comments

  1. David

    Great work here! One thing that bugged me though was your interpretation of the Grimoire card which included the phrase, “IT won..”. I forget where specifically but somewhere on reddit a very cogent argument was made that the perspective of that particular card was Rasputin’s. The only real difference this makes in your interpretation is that the Gardener fought against the Darkness, rather than the Traveler.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Philtron

      Yes I read that theory… but after I wrote this post. It also suggests that the gardener is the traveller and that “the garden” is earth. It makes sense and if it’s true then it annoys me that Bungie’s writers would use the term “garden “for both the black garden and for earth. That’s inconsistent (and therefore bad) writing in my opinion. But of course only time will tell what’s what for real.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MagnaCamLaude

        I know this was almost a year ago, but am just now reading this. Great and interesting work!

        Continuing the stream of thought in your last comment, have you ever thought that maybe “gardens” are simply the domain of the heart, not one singular place, and that the travelor is the “gardener?” So when we defeat/destroy the heart of the black garden, we’re actualy destroying the a future version of the travelor which has already left earth and the humans (and other earth races) behind (just like it did, in your theory, to the vex) in search of a new world (mars) to support with a seemingly benevolent gift of power.

        The vex go to the future to steal the travelor back from us (or after it’s already done with us earthlings) to use its power.

        Just a thought, but I’m only just now getting into the lore of destiny.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Philtron

          I haven’t followed Destiny lore in almost a year, but I do like the idea of the heart of the Black Garden being some future, corrupted version of the traveler that is aiding the Vex after abandoning humans. I guess we’ll see what happens (probably in Destiny 2).

          Liked by 1 person

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