There is very little backstory for the Cabal, and what’s there is vague. I’ve looked at pretty much every piece of concept art online and in the book “The Art Of Destiny”. I’ve read every grimoire card. I’ve read almost all the flavor texts for items and weapons and armor.
I’ve found very little, or a lot, depending on how you look at it.
(I made a reddit post about this, which is slightly better organized and more succinct than this blogposts, but also doesn’t cover as much.)
The Cabal in our solar system are governed by High Command and all their orders come from that officiating body. They don’t seem to be in contact with their Empire.
“Aru’un’s ascension to Val will never be considered official by the Cabal High Command proper…”
It doesn’t say that Aru’un’s ascension to Val will never be considered official by the Empire proper. It’s like the Empire’s opinion doesn’t even enter the picture. And this makes sense only if the Cabal have lost contacted with their Empire, because according to other grimoire cards they are still, for the most part loyal.
“Valus Trau’ug retains the title of Valus only in defiance to his ex-allies and commanders in Cabal high command [sic].” When the Cabal high command ignored his pleas to advance on the Reef, he viewed their inaction as weakness. The most loyal members of his legion pledged their fealty and Trau’ug took to massacring his officers, marking himself and his soldiers as traitors of the Empire.”
So, the Cabal still consider themselves a part of the Empire, otherwise they wouldn’t mark Trau’ug as a traitor to the Empire for killing Cabal. That also shows there is a distinction between Cabal High Comman and the Empire itself.
Ghost Fragment: Cabal
“Some pledge allegiance to that far Empire, obeying their ancient marching orders. Some do not. They disagree among themselves about the answers.”
Some Cabal still look to the Empire as their home. Some do not. But either way, they’re living and working together.
Breaking elements of that quote:
“…that far Empire…” makes it seems like they’re cut off from their Empire.
Then there’s: “…obeying their ancient marching orders.”
That’s a really important statement. The orders they’re obeying are ANCIENT. They haven’t received new orders from their Empire in centuries, or millenia, or whatever constitutes as “ancient” in the Destiny universe.
From Ghost Fragment: Cabal:
“There is a vast Empire behind these creatures, many star systems away.”
Again, “many star systems away” implies that the Empire is separated from the Cabal by a vast astronomical distance, otherwise it would just say “there is a vast Empire behind these creatures.”
The grimoire card for the Sand Eaters:
“Their equipment, tactics, and morale all show the weight of a long deployment – but they continue to pursue their objectives with dogged, weary determination.”
They’ve been away from home for a long time. They haven’t had any R&R for a long time. They’ve just been constantly on the march.
So, the Cabal have been separated from their Empire for a while. Some still hope to reunite with their Empire. Some do not, whether they think this is impossible or whether they think their Empire is dead, I don’t know.
But I suspect that Primus Sha’aull thinks the Vex might be the key to getting back. According to his grimoire card he is fascinated by the Vex and their technology. The flavor on his card, “If your enemy speaks with a blade, master the sword.”, suggests that he’s just interested in learning about the Vex in order to fight fire with fire, and that might be the justification he gives to Cabal High Command. But I think that Primus Sha’aull actually believes that the Cabal have accidently traveled through time somehow, to an era when the Empire no longer exists, and this is why they’ve lost contact. He’s hoping that something in the Vex technology will give them a way back.
It is implied that despite the power of the Cabal military, their species is making a hasty retreat from something.
Ghost Fragment: Cabal 2:
“For all their might and strength, for all that they have dug into Mars and flung up battle walls with the bureaucratic grimness of conquerors, I suspect they are fleeing from something. That within their hard shells and thousandfolded shields is a sharp seed of terror. But of what? Does something follow them? Should we fear it too?”
Yes, anonymous ghost who made this ghost fragment. Something does follow them, obviously.
We are told this about the Cabal, from their grimoire card:
“… but it seems clear they have conquered more worlds than humanity has ever known…”
(So… more than nine worlds?)
Combine that quote with an excerpt from that exact same grimoire card:
“I think you could follow a trail of shattered worlds all the way to their home.”
So, by itself this might imply that the Cabal conquer worlds and then destroy them before moving on, although that doesn’t entirely make sense. But combined with the ghost fragment about running from something it paints a different picture. Apparently the Cabal conquer world after world, and something follows them, planet by planet, shattering each world they’ve ever owned.
Whatever the case, it’s obvious that the Cabal, the alien faction that seems the least tragic and least beaten down, is actually reaching the end of their rope. They’re standing firm, but only with the last ounce of their strength.
And this fear and weakness needs to be established so that we can understand why…
Here’s what we know about why the moon Phobos appears so large in the skies of Mars. From the Psion Flayers grimoire card:
“Many among the Warlock orders believe the Flayers pulled Phobos from its natural orbit, holding it in place, waiting for the order to release as a weapon.”
I used to believe that the narrative of Phobos being pulled from its orbit was about how the Cabal are ready to send the Martian moon hurtling towards Earth to destroy the Traveler and humanity. I now realize I was wrong. The narrative is actually about how the Cabal are ready to commit mass suicide by bringing Phobos crashing down to the surface of Mars.
Paying close attention to the wording will make things clear:
1) The Flayers have pulled Phobos CLOSER to Mars and therefore the moon is affected by Mars’ gravity to a greater degree.
2) The grimoire card says they are waiting to RELEASE the moon; it does not say they waiting to “launch” it or “shoot” it.
Well, what would happen if Phobos was RELEASED while it was this far into Mars’ gravitational pull? Same thing that would happen if you picked up an object right now and released it: it would fall to the ground. Except when something the size of Phobos falls to the ground everything on the ground is destroyed.
This might even be hinted at by the grimoire card, Ghost Fragment: Cabal 2:
“A hologram of a spinning golden planet, in stasis, turning gently. You can see the storms moving over its face. But when the Commanders congregate below it, when they activate whatever controls are below, it changes. Fissures appear on its face. Is that their home?”
The ghost wonders if the hologram is of the Cabal’s home. But I wonder if the hologram is a model of the destruction of Mars.
Anyway, the mass suicide idea makes a lot more sense than the Cabal wanting to use Phobos against humanity. If that was the case then what are they waiting for? They could launch it at any time and wipe us all out. There’s no need to wait. And wouldn’t it be HARDER to launch it at Earth if the moon is CLOSER to Mars’ surface.
(As a side note, it might be possible the Cabal are getting ready to use Phobos as a means of mutually assured destruction against the Vex, in case the Vex start winning the war. From the Virgo Prohibition grimoire card:
“In spite of the Vex onslaught, the Cabal have managed to expand its beachhead and maintain a hold on several mysterious Vex structures… it seems unlikely that an organization with the sheer computational scope of the Vex could be dragged into a losing war of attrition.”
So, it seems the Vex are holding back in their war against the Cabal, and the Cabal’s willingness to use Phobos may be the reason for that.)
As I mentioned in the previous section, the Cabal are fleeing from something terrifying. They’re using the entire might of their military to escape it. They must suspect that they can’t run forever. In the end, DEATH is only one way to escape the thing that follows.
In the ghost fragment I quoted earlier, the ghost wonders, “Should we fear it too?” If the thing chasing the Cabal is so horrifying that they’d rather die than have to face it, if it’s so terrifying that they’ll crush themselves with an ENTIRE MOON to escape it, then “yes, definitely” is the answer to “should we fear it too”.
IMPERIAL BUREAUCRACY AND CONNECTION TO THE PFHOR
So, we have a lot of references to the Cabal’s convoluted bureaucracy.
Problem 78F (auto rifle):
“Cabal military codes allegedly refer to ‘death by multiple gunshots’ as ‘Problem 78, Subsection F’.”
Ghost Fragment: Cabal 2
“…they have dug into Mars and flung up battle walls with the bureaucratic grimness of conquerors…”
Grimoire card for Firebase Delphi:
“When the Cabal decide to hold an area, they dig in deep. It’s surprising, then, that the tunnel system at Firebase Delphi is woefully incomplete by Sand Eater standards. One theory is that it was built simply to be inspected, to satisfy some commander’s lack of progress on another front. Perhaps the Cabal simply cut their losses once they realized that the location of the base was sub-optimal, although half-measures are really not something they’re known for. We’re talking about a culture that will grind a mountain to dust rather than build around it.”
Blind Legion grimoire card flavor:
“PERIMETER SECURE.” Cryptarch translation of a Blind Legion transmission, repetition 6140
Certain elements of this portrayal are somewhat comedic or satirical, giving me a sort of Douglas Adams vibe. Don’t know if that’s intentional.
Nevertheless what this really reminds me of is the Pfhor from Bungie’s Marathon series. The Pfhor were the bad guys in Marathon. They were a galactic empire of slavers that conquered any planets they came to. Later in the series it is revealed that their Empire is governed by a comedically convoluted bureaucracy that seems to do them more harm than good. Their ineptitude threatens that safety of the galaxy on more than one occasion.
For example, in Marathon: Infinity there is a narrative told in one of the levels about Resupply Tower 2 and the Access Path that’s supposed to go to it. Engineer 1st Class K’all humbly asks his (or her) Unit Command for supplies to complete Alternate Footpath to Resupply Tower 2 (proposal .49AB3). However, proposal .49AB3 has not been approved by Pfhor Command, so Unit Command reprimands K’all for requesting supplies for an unapproved project, they briefly imprison him, and then they demote him to Engineer 3rd Class. Then Pfhor Command approves proposal .49AB3. By this point, however, Engineer 3rd Class K’all has expunged proposal .49AB3 from the records and has already completed the foot path using slaves, but is now waiting for approval to OPEN UP THE PATH and provide access to Resupply Tower 2. And the whole reason this is happening is because Pfhor Command is teleporting supplies to Resupply Tower 2, but no one can get to them because the access doors aren’t working, AND when Quartermaster 5th Class Ssh’uph requested tools to repair the doors the request was sent to Commander 5th Class Re’eer who was killed before he could process the request. The Unit Command’s response to all this? They rename Resupply Tower 2 as Commerorative Resupply Tower Re’eer. Still, no one can access the resupply tower and Pfhor Command keeps sending supplies to it.
You can definitely see the comedic slant on this whole narrative of a bloated, convoluted bureaucracy. You can see some parallels to what we know of the Cabal as well (although the Cabal don’t seem AS bumbling as the Pfhor), but I’m not just bringing this up for fun.
The arrogant imperialism and the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Pfhor leads to some important consequences.
One, we’re told in that in the past the Pfhor took technology from an ancient alien race named the Jjaro and implanted it into their Drinniol slaves to make them stronger and more fierce. With their new cybernetic enhancements the Drinniol revolt against the Pfhor and the only way the Pfhor can put down the revolt is to blow up the local sun and destroy the planet.
Two, in the Marathon games, you end up beating the Pfhor at a planet named Lh’owen and as a last resort they try destroying the local sun (again). Bad news though, billions of years ago an ancient being of chaos called the W’rkncacnter was trapped in the center of this very sun (trapped there by an ancient race called the Jjaro). When the Pfhor try blowing up the sun they unwittingly release this being of chaos and doom the universe, and the player has to travel through alternate timelines to find the one where the W’rkncacnter doesn’t get released.
Again, we have some similarities between the Pfhor’s penchant for blowing up stars as a problem solving method, and the Cabal’s penchant for grinding mountains to dust and planning on committing suicide by crushing themselves with a moon.
Then we have a parallel between the Pfhor unleashing an unspeakable (literally; I can’t pronounce W’rkncancter) evil, and something devastating happening at the Cabal home planet which presumably THEY caused since it’s their home planet.
We know that many of the Cabal are still loyal to their Empire although they seem to have lost contact with it and this Empire is many star systems away. And we know that a trail of destruction leads back to their home planet, presumably caused by something so terrifying that meeting it is worse than death.
Which implies that the destruction began at their home planet, which implies that the Empire is what caused the destructive force to begin with.
Either they dabbled in things they shouldn’t have (“The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep”), or they created something horrible, or they may have been tasked with guarding something and then failed to keep it contained.
Either way, whatever the Empire unleashed is now chasing a splinter group of Imperials called the Cabal and destroying every planet they’ve ever been to.
So, I only see a few possibilities that fit with everything we know so far.
1) The core of the Empire, the Cabal, and other Imperial factions fled in different directions from their home planet, and then lost contact with each other.
2) The Empire IS what’s chasing the Cabal. Most likely the Empire became corrupted and a splinter group of Imperials got together to form a cabal of loyalists and fled in the hopes of finding a way to free their Empire from its enslavement.
3) The Cabal is a group of Imperials who got lost in time, and are trying to get back to a time period when their Empire was still active. This could explain why Primus Shau’ull and his Blind Legion are so interested in Vex technology; it might be the only thing to get them back to their Empire. Although this doesn’t explain what they’re running from.
Whatever it is, remember, death is preferable to meeting it face to face. I believe it is something that can take them over, take away their freewill, although this seems to conflict with this quote from Ghost Fragment: Cabal 2:
“They are not a race that fears infiltration or espionage.”
Anyway, the Darkness is an obvious candidate. Could the Darkness have been trapped somewhere by the Traveler, and the Empire released it out of ignorance? Or could the Empire have been given the task of guarding the Darkness’ prison and then they failed in their task?
I have one other random theory as to what could be chasing the Cabal. The Cabal have an extensive bureaucracy and complicated computer network. Their shields and weapons all communicate statistics back to headquarters for analysis. But there’s no sign of any Artificial Intelligence governing these complex communications. However, the Cabal are very interested in Rasputin, and the Psions seem to have some sort of familiarity with dealing with AIs.
My random theory is that the Empire was take over by a rampant AI which now controls their whole society, government, military, etc. This is why the Psions have some experience with fighting AIs and why the Cabal are so interested in the human AIs. In fact, if the Cabal were the only faction of Imperials with Psions in their ranks, then this could explain why they were able to fight off the rampant AI long enough to escape. And it explains why they’d be so scared of getting caught; if the rampant Imperial AI catches them, then it can take over all their communication, all their weapons and shields, everything; it will make them slaves.
Along with looking very different from the other Cabal, the Psions also have mental powers beyond the other Cabal.
Flavor text of the Psion grimoire card:
“There is no higher warfare than deception.”
Apparently they’re used to confuse and manipulate their enemies.
An excerpt from the Psion grimoire card:
“Hyper-intelligent, fast and unpredictable, they possess strong psionic capabilities – including the ability to emit disorienting and deadly psychokinetic Arc blasts.”
There’s some clues that these psychokinetic powers are not native to the Psions, but something they get from a symbiotic organism.
Here’s a Patrol Mission you can pick up on Mars:
Mission Name: Multiple Hosts?
Objective: Collect Symbiotes
Description: Kill the Cabal’s mysterious Psions. Remove their Symbiotes for processing and analysis.
I think it’s safe to say that the Psion powers stem from the symbiote.
By the way, why is there a question mark in the mission name and what does it mean? I’ll get to that in a little bit.
There’s still a little more evidence supporting the idea that the Psions get their powers from a symbiotic organism (which I think technically should be called a “symbiont” and not a “symbiote”, but whatever).
Looking into the Hive lore there is evidence that the Hive are infected with Light-eating worms which provide the Hive with their mystical powers.
Now look at this patrol mission on the Moon:
Mission Name: Collect Symbiotes
Objective: Collect Scalpel Leeches
Description: Peel Scalpel Leeches from the flesh of dead Hive Knights so their enzymes can be extracted.
The recurrence of the phrase “Collect Symbiotes” implies a connection, but I don’t think the scalpel leeches are the same creature as the Psion’s unnamed symbiote. I think the connection is simply that each species gets their power from another organism.
SOMETHING SHADY IS GOING ON IN THE TOWER
If you look at the Knight patrol mission, the goal is simply to extract enzymes from the leeches, but the Psion’s symbiotes need to be intact and, presumably, alive.
I think this implies that someone in the Tower wants the symbiotes alive in order to find out if the symbiotes can survive being moved from one host to another. I think someone wants to see if Psion symbiotes can be put into a human body in order to harness that power.
But why doesn’t anyone want intact scalpel leeches? Wouldn’t the same person want to know if they could live in a human host? The sinister answer is that they already know.
There’s evidence that Eris Morn, in order to survive on the Moon, may have infected herself with Hive worms in order to trick the Hive into thinking that she’s one of them. If that’s the case then we already know that Hive symbiotes can survive in multiple hosts, but the cost of that power is dear.
REASONS THAT THE PSIONS ARE SMALL
Psions are the only Cabal unit that doesn’t look like a Cabal. Here’s what the Psion grimoire card has to say:
“Psions are smaller than all other Cabal morphs, and may be an unrelated species.”
Note that the card leaves open the possibility for the Psions being the same species as the other Cabal. After all, the term “morph” implies a different body type of the same species. In this sense, the Colossi would be a larger Cabal morph.
If the Psions are the same species as the other Cabal, what could account for the difference in their physical size and appearance? I can see a few possibilities.
1) Psions are juvenile or female Cabal.
2) Psions are a faction of Cabal that occupied a planet with a different gravity than their home planet. After many generations on this new planet, the faction of Cabal grew smaller and more agile until we have what is known today as the Psions.
3) Psions are Cabal that use their psychokinetic powers to resist the force of gravity on their home planet, so they never develop the muscle mass that the normal Cabal are forced to.
4) Psions get their powers from a symbiote, similar to the Knights’ scalpel leeches. And since the worm-narrative of the Hive suggests that the worms/leeches drain the Hive and leave them as hollowed out husks, then perhaps something similar happens with the Cabal: a normal Cabal takes in a symbiote, but to power its energies the symbiote has to drain muscle, fat, and nutrients from the Cabal. Or possibly, the Cabal are given symbiotes at a very young age, which stunts their growth and they become Psions.
Or they’re a completely different species. :p
So what’s the Cabal homeworld like, or was like?
“Cabal soldiers wear pressurized armor that replicates the environment of their high-gravity homeworld.”
Okay, so their space suits let us know that they come from a large, heavy planet.
We might also guess at the nature of their homeworld based on their arena in the Prison of Elders. Each arena is designed like a terrarium for the different aliens; it’s designed almost to make them comfortable or reflect some aspect of the species. We fight the Hive in underground burrows bathed in green, the Fallen in an open air scrap yard, and the Vex… well it’s just a place bathed blue, which I suspect hints at their aquatic origins.
We fight Cabal in an arena bathed in red, with open flames everywhere, and the ceiling is completely dark. It looks a little like Hell. But could it be that it is simply meant to be symbolic of how the Cabal are most at home in the hell of war?
I suspect there’s more to this. I think the red hue of the Cabal’s PoE arena isn’t just coincidental.
I see two possibilities, both of which could be true.
1) The Cabal’s home planet did or does orbit a red dwarf. It could also be a hot, humid, desert world which could explain why they chose to make a base on Mars.
2) The Cabal’s home planet is heavily volcanic. This could explain the open flames, the red hue, and the dark ceiling (smoke from volcanoes that covers the sky). Also, a leak of the future expansions suggests that the first one to deal with the Cabal is called “Forge of the Gods”. Volcanoes are named after Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge and of blacksmiths. If the Cabal’s homeworld was covered by volcanoes, then perhaps it could be described as the home of Vulcan, or the Forge of the Gods.
Bungie really wants us to pay attention to the Cabal’s face.
Before Destiny was even released they showed us concept art of what the Cabal look like in their GDC presentation.
The live action Destiny trailer includes a Cabal Colossus with no helmet, and we even get a close up of his face.
And in-game it’s really easy to shoot off a Cabal’s helmet and look at its face for a long time.
Even in the crucible map, the Cauldron, we can find the corpse of a helmetless Cabal.
Is there something significant about the Cabal face? Is there something significant about its mouth?
Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Cabal look like herbivores, but their teeth look like the teeth of a carnivore.
Blackshield, Firebase Thuria, is a multiplayer map that takes place on Phobos. “Thuria” was the name given to Phobos in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars books.
Ghost Fragment: Rasputin 2, tells us that the Cabal can detect the advance of the Vex.
“On the Cabal command network a low voice mutters in their tongue, saying: Stand by to fire. They are coming. Stand by to fire… The Vex erupt from nothingness and crash down over the Cabal”
The grimoire card for Bracus Tho’ourg suggests that the Cabal can live to be several centuries old:
“The first Guardians who faced him are long lost… If these reports are accurate, they provide clues… to the Cabal lifespan.”
Space turtles WOULD live for centuries wouldn’t they?
The Cabal are the only alien enemies that don’t have a flying unit. The Hive have one, the Vex have two, and the Fallen have two.
From Skolas Defeated Grimoire card (Variks is thinking to himself):
“Why do the Hive have gods and the Vex have sprawling time-bent minds and the Cabal have reinforcements?”
Reinforcements? That’s all the Cabal get?? Come on Bungie! What’s the Cabal raid going to be? Defeat a wave of Cabal and then… oh no!… another wave of Cabal!