Theory: The Cabal are Fleeing The Leviathan
Here's what we know of The Cabal: The Cabal are a military force that's been separated from their Empire for a very long time and is engaged in a large-scale attritional war with a superior force. And I believe their opponent is a galactic Titan, a force of the Universe, known as The Leviathan.
This article is going to run down what we know of The Cabal, their military and their Empire and place their conflict in the context of the Lore's
This Reddit TL;DR from u/electriccartilage on r/DtG is fairly exhaustive regarding what we know of The Cabal, and I'd encourage everyone to read it before Destiny 2. Granted, most of you already will know/understand the core points it details, but it organizes them around conclusions we can make about the Empire which I plan on extrapolating and working with in this article. I'll paraphrase it here:
The Cabal Has Been Separated from their Empire for a Long Time
Bracus Aru'un's Grimoire card claims his promotion to to Val "will never be considered official by the Cabal High Command proper." This demonstrates that the Empire, or at least the 'High Command' is an extremely hands-off organization--surprising, given everything we know of the Cabal Empire tells us of a highly-bureaucratic organization.
The Ghost Fragment card for The Cabal states: "There is a vast Empire behind these creatures, many star systems away." For reference, the nearest star to ours are the binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B at 4.3 lightyears away, and Proxima Centauri, at 4.2. "Many Star Systems" is quite a long way to be away from home, especially when there's no reason to believe the Cabal have access to FTL (faster than light) travel.
Further grimoire claims "Some pledge allegiance to that far Empire, obeying their ancient marching orders" and "their equipment, tactics and morale all show the weight of a long deployment -but they continue to pursue their objectives with dogged, weary determination."
So it's been quite a long time since The Cabal have been home. The troops show extreme weariness. Which is to be expected when their last orders came hundreds, possibly thousands of years ago. The Cabal lifespan is thousands of years, and this war has exceeded even their patience.
The Cabal is Running from Something
The Cabal invasion of our Solar System is considered to be a retreat for them. The second Cabal Ghost Fragment notes:
"For all their might and strength…I suspect they are fleeing from something. That within their hard shells…is a sharp seed of terror…Does something follow them?...I think you could follow a trail of shattered worlds all the way to their home."
u/electriccartilage's original r/DtG thread adds this:
"Why would the Cabal destroy the worlds they conquered? It doesn't make much sense. What does make sense is if the Cabal are conquering planets, but then something is following them and destroying every world they've ever been to. The Cabal might also be destroying the planets they conquer in a Scorched Earth tactic to weaken the enemy that follows them.
There are two important things to take from that last quote:
1) It does not explicitly say that their home world is destroyed. So it might still be intact.
2) Whatever the destructive power following the Cabal actually is it started at their home world."
Take close note of that, as it's incredibly important to the theory I'll present at the end.
The Cabal are Ready to Commit Mass Suicide
This is best demonstrated by the Shield Brothers' Strike. First off, the Cabal troops crash their ship into the side of the Dreadnaught. So from the start, these guys have no intention of ever leaving alive. It was a suicide mission. But after their assault failed and Oryx took their leader, the Shield Brothers ramped their suicide efforts up to eleven.
They enter the Dreadnaught's core, fill it with explosives and plan to detonate it. This would effectively destroy half the Solar System, as well as the entireties of the Taken and Cabal.
Now, we know that this wouldn't have stopped The Taken. It wouldn't have killed Oryx, and the Taken exist so far across the Solar System that it would have been a minimal blow to the Hive and Taken. This also makes me seriously doubt that the Cabal are fleeing The Hive, because they would have known this.
The Cabal are far more experienced in war, and have been fighting the force they're fleeing for thousands of years at the very least. We deduced that the Taken and Hive are localized threats within roughly a hundred years, possibly less. And the Cabal are an extremely intelligent, observant and scientific race, meaning they almost certainly would have understood this. So whatever their motive, it had little to do with stopping the Cabal or Hive.
Additionally we know that the Psions have moved Mars' moon and poised it to smash into the surface and destroy the entire planet. While this may be a leveraging tactic--The Vex would be forced to go easy on the Cabal to avoid mutually assured destruction-- that the near-omniscient Vex actually take this threat seriously indicates that the Cabal have no problem destroying themselves alongside the planet.
To conclude, the Cabal's tactics and goals are centered around destroying worlds. In a war of attrition, the only advantage is that it denies their enemy an advantage. Their strategy may be oriented to deny that enemy resources of territory, but I believe there may be something more to it.
So, here concludes the summary of what we know of the Cabal. Thanks to u/electriccartilage for putting it together, as it's been an invaluable resource in creating this theory. I'd encourage readers to read the original post for the full, unparaphrased version.
Now, I enter the theory phase. This is entirely speculation, to the point where I don't feel comfortable calling it "Lore." We don't know what happens in Destiny 2, so it's not actually based on anything solid. Now, I know many uncomfortable with Destiny theories at the moment. Many YouTubers exploit them for clickbaity videos, and in many cases, some are just dumb.
But one of the best parts of Destiny--when the game was earlier in its life--was its unhinged speculation. They're fun, and as long as you draw the line between legitimate theories and speculation, there's no harm. The inability to draw that line leads to clickbait, sure, but dismissing speculation as a whole is a waste of fun.
So here's my wild, unhinged speculation:
The Cabal are fleeing the Leviathan. The Leviathan is an ancient, galactic construct--like the Traveler--that eats planets. The Cabal are destroying planets to deny it food and are hoping to harness the Traveler's Light to fight it once and for all.
So the pillars of my theory are going to be wonky, because this is speculation, not a theory. I have no proof for many of my claims. So instead, I'm going to explain why those claims would fit what we do know. Rather than writing fan-fiction, I'm going to be attempting astronomical speculation on a level that would make ancient Mayans blush.
Therefore, pillars are things we know to be true that can be explained by this Speculation:
The Hive's War Against a 'Leviathan'
The Cabal Deployment
The Cabal Destruction of Worlds
The Leviathan Raid
The Hive's War Against A Leviathan
And ultimately, I want to speculate the nature of the Leviathan itself. So I'm going to start with my imaginary Leviathan, explain its purpose and how it fits into the world. I'm going to phrase everything like it's fact just for the sake of clarity, so everything past this point is fiction:
The Leviathan is an ancient, living creature that lives symbiotically with the universe. It swims from star system to star system, devouring planets, recycling their matter and energy to create new planets.
In the Gas Giant of Fundament, it was creating so many planets, it created the Syzygy "God Wave" that the Osmium King feared. The Leviathan is known to have been an enemy of Oryx and his sisters, a well as the first Hive, the Krill. Additionally, it's known that The Traveler was present in this area--and implied that the early Krill had a sister species--the Helium Court-- that were biologically identical, but empowered by The Light.
Now, keep in mind that the elements listed: Helium and Osmium have a lot to do with the actual nature of the gas planet, Fundament. Osmium is the densest naturally occurring element, while Helium is the lightest naturally occurring element.
Fundament, as a massive gas giant, has swallowed entire planets, which were broken down into floating land masses within it. Many of these turned into habitable continents. So, the concept of mass density has strong meaning. The Light-empowered Helium court are likely closer to the edge of the Gas Giant's atmosphere. The Osmium court would conversely be further down, near dense materials.
At some point, Oryx and his sisters call upon the Leviathan in protest, explaining that the Syzygy will kill them all. The three sisters plan to journey into the center of the planet, called The Deep. We know this to be the first time they communed with The Darkness before the Krill we transformed into The Hive and introduce to the worm gods.
The Leviathan answers them, in Book 8 of the Books of Sorrow:
++This fatal logic++
—Hear my monopole scream!—
++It will consume you++
—Before you lies—
++The worship of death++
—The ruinous path—
++The Sky builds new life++
—Against the onset of ruin—
++Towards a gentle world++
—The Deep embraces death—
++Saying: this is inevitable and right++
—I exist as hungry ruin—
++TURN BACK FROM THE WORLD-KILLING WAY++
++OR YOU WILL LIVE AS DEATH AND DEVASTATION++
—The Sky is the harder way. But it is kinder.—
—My charge is balanced: my voice exhausted.—
This is prophetic. The Hive, in serving The Darkness, go on to employ The Sword Logic (hardcore Darwinism) to commit galactic xenocide, exterminating thousands of different species across the universe. The Leviathan also juxtaposes "The Deep" with "The Sky."
Since we know The Deep to be of The Darkness, it follows that The Sky is of The Light. The Traveler is also present on Fundament, and references to "bright" warriors of The Osmium Court, lead us to believe that The Light has empowered many of the subspecies.
So we have juxtaposition between the literal depth and sky of Fundament, the Deep and The Sky, the Dark and the Light. This is to be expected in a place where Bungie claims our universe began to unravel. So to understand the elemental forces at play, we need to understand Bungie's commitment to the symbolism.
If this is the beginning of the current battle between The Dark and Light, we must also understand The Leviathan's position within it.
The Leviathan says earlier in the card:
++We live on the edge of a war—
—a war between Formless and Form++
++between the Deep and the Sky—
++MY EYES ARE WIDE, MY GAZE IS LONG++
—Across the universe, as far as I see++
++the Sky works to charge its fires—
—and the Deep drowns the ash++
—Sky builds gentle places, safe for life++
++Beloved Fundament, refuge of trillions—
—The Sky treasures this rich place++
—BUT THE DEEP IS HERE WITH US—
++Cold logic tests our walls—
—The Deep claims its dominion++
++A ruthless, final age —
So, the Darkness of the Deep stands for Destruction of life and matter, while the Light of the Sky stands for the creation of life and matter. The Sky creates energy and the Deep consumes matter. And the battle is between Formless and Form.
When we see the Traveler's powers granted to humanity, it's in much the same way. We're able to create advanced technology and civilizations, and science advances by leaps and bounds. As The Speaker says, "it was a time of miracles."
So, what's the Leviathan's stake in this? It's a galactic recycler. It consumes broken down matter and creates matter and life. It sows the seeds that The Traveler tends to. It takes dead things, broken down matter and spits out new life and planets. Its familiarity with the Krill and the context of his concern is one of a nourisher and creator, things I believe it had a part in.
But its creation of new planets concerned The Krill. Because the Leviathan and Traveler created so much around and within Fundament, it was creating The Syzygy, a god wave that would destroy the Krill. Ultimately, Oryx and his sisters realized what many Guardians suspect: The Traveler and its kin are such cosmically huge forces that they're apathetic to our existences.
A "god-wave" is no less natural than life. And to a recycler and creator, like the Leviathan and Traveler, it's an essential part of their job. So the Hive made a pact with the deep, and chose destruction of everything for their own salvation. Because The Darkness is an opposing solution: Rather than create and rebuild, it destroys the weak and elevates the strong.
So, to the Krill/Hive, the Leviathan and Traveler were their fundamental enemies. The Krill were self-proclaimed to be the weakest species in the entire Fundament world. This was a world filled with "trillions" of stronger creatures. So their solution was to appeal to The Deep, taking on the Worm Gods as their own, and beginning their evolution from insignificance to godhood.
Oryx and his sisters woke the worm gods, appealed to the Deep and took on the power of The Sword Logic. Immediately, the turned their eyes to destroying the Osmium Court and their treacherous mother, Taox. It wasn't long before The Traveler fled and The Leviathan was consumed by The Hive, and their newfound, endless hunger.
Now keep in mind, very little of this is speculation, only the Leviathan's actual role. The events pertaining to the Krill, the Hive, The Osmium Court and the Helium Court all happened. The Traveler and Leviathan both existed on Fundament, the Leviathan had those conversations with the Krill, the three sisters woke the Darkness in the Deep and the Traveler indeed fled. But most importantly, the Leviathan was consumed.
All that I've speculated was The Leviathan's role: One that befitted the Fundament's ecosystem, complemented its alliance with Traveler, explained its dialogue and justified its conflict with The Darkness and The Hive. In debating this, debate these points, as the usefulness of my speculation hinges on those.
This concludes the first chapter of my speculative history of The Leviathan:
Now, we move thousands, even millions of years into the future, where I propose something of pure speculation. Because it assumes that The Leviathan of The Raid is the same we saw on Fundament. So this speculation is aimed at brining that Leviathan into the world of The Cabal and explaining the Cabal Empire's current situation.
The Cabal War with the Leviathan
I believe The Leviathan has returned. And, with the world now Eons older, its desire to feed is at an all-time high. So it's inevitable that it would find the ancient, massive, Cabal empire.
And yes, the Cabal Empire is old. Ghaul is thousands of years old and middle-aged at the least. Because the Consul is considered old, and significantly older than Ghaul. And we've know that its been thousands of years since he overthrew Dominus Calus, which in turn would have made him at his physical prime.
The Cabal Empire is also at least 8 Lightyears from beginning to end (multiple star systems, if you assume they have the smallest possible empire, two star systems) but most likely 10 or 100 times larger. So the Cabal Empire must have been built over an innumerable Cabal lifespans.
I believe thousands of years ago, the Leviathan stumbled upon the Cabal Empire and began to feed. World after world was devoured, and the Leviathan grew in strength. And so, the Cabal fled their homeworld.
And for thousands of years, they went from planet to planet, strip-mining resources and destroying planets in their wake. Not as a declaration of power, but to deny the Leviathan sustenance. In the Taken King's these tactics are perceived by the Vanguard as "burnt fields" tactics, to deny their enemy any possible sustenance.
And it seems like overkill to us. There's no reason to waste resources destroying a planet when you can merely burn it, destroy its resources or even haphazardly terraform it to be inhospitable. But what's overkill to us is necessary to them.
The only way to stop an enemy that swallows planets is to destroy every planet in between it and yourself.
There's a story about The Cabal that we learn. When they're sent to war, they're exiled. And they aren't permitted to return until victory is accomplished. Combine that with their suicidal tendencies and they become a terrifyingly effective army.
But what if this isn't just a heavy handed method of motivating troops? What if they literally can't return home until they win their war?
There's almost no enemy in our Solar System they intended to fight. So what exactly is their war? They stumbled upon humans by accident, while mining; the same way they found the Vex, Hive, Fallen and Taken. So their massive undertaking is…a mining mission? I don't buy that. It doesn't justify the effort, nor the furious campaign to even attack humanity.
In Bungie's Halo games, humanity was faced with a similar problem. The Covenant declared humanity an affront the gods and began "glassing" human colony planets. This destroyed the planets' surface and made them uninhabitable. So humanity's solution was a strategic campaign to fight The Covenant in a way that misled them away from the location of Earth.
Because humanity was so far outmatched by Covenant forces, they led the Covenant around the Milky Way, sacrificing troops and colonies so as not to reveal Earth.
What if the Cabal are doing the same thing?
This would explain why the Emperor, Dominus Ghaul, is in the seemingly insignificant Solar System, not on their home world. It also explains why the Cabal have made no effort to actually colonize or conquer our Solar System. Their "broken path" they left, destroying planets behind them may just be a ploy to lead The Leviathan away from their home world.
So Dominus Ghaul sets off to find The Traveler: the one force that can empower him to destroy The Leviathan once and for all.
I've struggled with the theory that The Leviathan raid had anything to do with The Leviathan we hear of in the Books of Sorrow. Many have explained, rightly, that its most likely that 'The Leviathan' is just a massive Cabal Ship. While I have no doubt Destiny 2 will have many plot twists, the end conflict--The Raid--must be a logical and true conclusion to the story that Ghaul's invasion kicks off.
And so, with the monumental coincidences present: The symbol of the Raid looking curiously like the beta's artwork, the history of the Leviathan in Destiny's lore, the history of The Cabal, and the Destiny 2 achievement: Belly of the Beast, I decided to create a theory, a round speculation, that allowed all to coexist.
And that's how I reached this theory, with a helpful spoon of speculation. At the end of the day, this isn't factually correct. And I doubt it ever will be. But more important than the actual story itself, I've created a framework of rules that must be upheld, and provided a detailed effort to fill them.
Should you have your own ideas, theories or newly discovered piece of lore, come back to this article. Take and replace pieces of my theory with your own. Because it's speculation and its what makes sci-fi so incomprehensibly magnificent. And it's what makes Destiny lore fun, rather than a chore.