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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Assassination Games
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Killing isn't just a game.
Protagonist
Antagonist
Author Andromeda Vadum and UnggoyZealot
Date Published
  • Started May 5, 2018
  • Finished October 14, 2020
Length Roughly 53,400 words
Author's Rating

16+ (Rating is Mature 16+ for some Crude language and Scenes are described in length or in graphic detail; scenes moderate violence. )

Previous Story Run for Your Life (Novel)
Next Story The Perfect Heist
Soundtrack
[Source]

Plot Summary

Christmas Eve, 2559. Kyle Craig has recently managed to escape the clutches of Jason Miller, successfully making off with the money he stole from the Grandpoint Bank robbery, helped along by Oru 'Vanuxee and his crew of hired guns. Now setting his sights on old rivalries, Craig has used the money to hire separate assassins from across the galaxy to help him in his effort to take down his old enemy—David King. King isn't so willing to give in, but unfortunately for him, the assassins aren't either.

Out of these assassins range many, from the mysterious Red Blaze, to the stoic Sangheili mercenary Grono 'Yendam and his talkative Ancilla partner 589 Curious Puzzle. They all want the reward. And they'll do almost anything to get it. Even if it requires sacrifices beyond comprehension.

Characters

Main Characters

Major Characters

Minor Characters (brief appearances)

Part 1: Let the Games Begin!

Chapter 1: Natural Selection

NIGHT // 20 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

Kyle Craig was dressed in a black leather denium jacket and black levi jeans. He gazed nonchalantly out the cold and frozen window to the city outside. The city was simply urban, just like he’d imagined - tall buildings in an exact grid pattern. Ubiquitous skyscrapers were smudged by the smog-filled sky, no sunlight, no birds. Cars raced between red traffic lights, stubbornly flickering in the grey.

He turned around, the room was an executive office. A cherry red conference table was planted in the middle of the room. Black leather executive chairs lined the table and were pushed in neatly. The room was customized to Kyle’s liking: a temporary base of operations that dubbed as more of a meeting place than a hideout. The lights fixed to the ceiling gave a lustrous glow that reflected off the duller objects around the office. The bookshelf that was embedded in the wall where encyclopedia’s and magazine catalogs were placed was empty. Kyle preferred it that way as there would be no time for reading in crime profession unless he had serious downtime. The rest of the room that was once alive, was now livid and depicted the cold winter from the peeling wall paint and shady architecture.

He approached the conference table to examine the contents that were scattered around in a meticulous manner. He leaned forward and placed both hands on the table to get a better view of the contents and studied them. The schematics were bombs, both chemical, physical and complex. He knew what their intended purpose would be for and he would soon upload them to a datapad before burning them. He turned his head to the left of the stack of schematics, shuffling a few papers to get a look at the plans for the later game. The schematics showed different skyscrapers and even a MagLev train along with the appropriate route systems.

He grabbed the schematics and rolled them up, placing them in separate tubes and sealing them with plastic end caps. He walked over to another room that was separate from the office and placed his hand on the biometric scanner. Access Granted. The walls dematerialized until an empty door frame was left, allowing him to step through. Separate crevices in the four walls lit up with white florescent light, revealing the room to be make of a similar white. As he walked inside, machine gun turrets retracted into the ceiling upon recognizing his presence. The room was filled with weapons and tech of his own design. Embedded in the wall was an electronic combination safe. He punched in the code and lifted the handle to open the safe and placed the tubes inside the safe for safekeeping. He would not be coming back here until the job was over.

Walking back into the executive office, the wall materialized back into its original form. He approached the multiple sets of panoramic monitors that worked as surveillance he set up earlier. Not only did they work for outside surveillance, but they would also detail the plans of the job. He imputed codes on the keyboard, typing casually and relaxed like he had nothing to worry about, so far anyway. One of the screens lit up, showing the hallway of the room outside the office. A male in a black suit and a pair of shades would be standing outside the door, holding a small manila envelope. The buzzer sounded echoing around the room like an angry hornet.

He approached the door and opened it, happy to see that the contact was none other than a Legion businessman named Chris Lowe. Chris had graying hair and a light scruffy beard to match. He smiled, satisfied and held out his hand to claim the contents that Chris was holding.

"I assume nobody followed you, Mister Lowe."

"No, my tracks were covered. It’s all here." He gave him the envelope. "Good luck."

Chris left the room and closed the door behind him as Kyle walked over to the head of the table and sat down in one of the leather chairs. Once he pulled out a letter opener and slit the top fold, he turned the envelope upside down and a datapad slid out. He chuckled at himself as he activated it and swiped through the list of hired guns. There were about fifty contract killers he could choose from, both good and evil, all from different backgrounds. But for this job he needed killers with both skill and cunning. He shifted through the list and was surprised to see a Sangheili on the it. Not just any Sangheili, but one that was skilled in close-quarters combat. A trait he knew would send King to his death.

Scrolling through the other contacts, he found another man who appeared to be in his middle age, blond hair, and dressed in business attire according to the photo. The description read that he worked for Legion and it was Legion that usually employed the best assassins. He scrolled some more, skipping through the less lethal methods and mediocre assassins—at least in his opinion. He found another assassin that worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence but was it a risk he was willing to take. He thought hard about the decision. Either he would eventually be captured, maybe even on the spot so he would have to come up with a backup plan to escape when this was over—or he could stay and kill the ONI assassin at the end of it all. He swiped left once more, the images scrolling by fast before coming to a halt on five more individuals. Once again mediocre, except one individual stood out. This person he could tell was indeed human but dressed in Sangheili-like armor. He gritted his teeth, not being able to stand the sight of this human turned abomination. Nevertheless, his skills were a necessity, trained on Sangheilios with a group of assassins. He would kill him eventually. Either way, all three were on par with the Sangheili. He tapped accept and sent out the invitations to everyone.

Chapter 2: Promotion

21 DECEMBER 2559

Location: MEGALOPOLIS, PANDORA

Dressed in his police attire, Jason removed his hat as he entered the crowded ballroom of the Utopians for A Better Society charity hosted by Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The ambiance of the room was filled with conversation and lounge music played by the live jazz band. He gazed around and looked for his girlfriend, Emily Walker, who wore a white dress for this evening special event. She smiled and waved to catch his attention. He made his wait to the dining table and sat himself next to her so that he could get a good view of the stage and podium.

"You’re on time as always." She smiled as she rubbed his leg affectionately before taking a sip of wine.

"Yeah, tonight’s supposed to be a big night for both the LAPD and myself." He looked in her eyes with sadness and tears of happiness before continuing, "I’m getting promoted, Emily."

He turned his attention back on the podium as the Lieutenant from the Los Angeles Police Department was greeted by a series of BCA members, including the Director of Investigations, Andrew Cross. They firmly shook hands before the Director approached the podium to start the proceedings.

Cross tapped on the mic sending a reverberating shriek through the room. He flinched and then chuckled, "Sorry about that. I'd like to welcome everyone to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s charity fundraiser, hosted by the Homicide Unit. It's been a great turnout and thanks to your generosity. So far, our silent auction earlier in the evening has raised close to ten thousand dollars to assist with the reconstruction efforts from the Earth riots of 2558 and the devastating Created uprising. So now, I’d like to introduce Lieutenant Paul Sanchez of the Los Angeles Police Department."

Applause echoed through the ballroom as Paul approached the podium to give his speech, before falling silent. "Things have been improving. A few months ago, we responded to a local bank heist on the human colony world of Corudeen with coordination of the local police departments on the planet’s major city. The robbery was foiled by a brave man who chose to save dozens of lives instead of capturing the bad guy." He gave a slight chuckle. "And although the bad guy did live to fight another day, we are working with the members of the BCA to apprehend the criminal. But please, this is no press conference. This is a celebration! Let’s give a round of applause to the newly promoted Jason Miller, Special Agent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension!"

A cacophony of applause and cheering came from the audience, while whooping, hollering, clapping echoed around the room from Miller’s colleagues. The raucous crowd fell silent as Miller took the stage. No doubt whoever had planned the order of the charity knew how to kick things off. He walked with confidence across the stage to stand next to the podium and Lieutenant Sanchez.

"Thank you everyone." He began as his voice bounced off the room. "This has been a joyous moment for me. I'd like to thank everyone in the LAPD for your support over the years. This has been a tough victory. But the race is far from over as I will continue to work with my co-workers both old and new to help bring all criminals to justice."

He turned to Cross to receive an open case, black velvet layered inside with a special agent badge made of glistening gold that shinned off the lights. Cross did the honors of handing the case to him. Miller turned towards the audience and held the case beside him, smiling with accomplishment as the pictures were taken and more cheering. He walked to the side and Cross took the podium again.

"On behalf of the Homicide Unit and the Los Angeles Police Department, Special Agent Miller, we wish you a prosperous future with the BCA."

"Now," Cross began again, "The moment you've all been waiting for! We are going to start raffling off four big items in honor of today's event. One of these big items includes a grand prize trip to Jaeter with its luscious landscapes and beautiful cities, so don’t forget to buy a raffle to participate in the drawing occurring at 12AM, with all proceeds going towards the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to celebrate the brave officers who died in the line of duty. So, without further ado, let the good times roll!"

The room was filled with entertaining joviality. Waiters floated with ease amongst the tables filling drink orders as officers and guests chattered and laughed amongst themselves. Miller walked off the stage and headed back to his seat. When he sat down beside Emily he pulled up the menu and skimmed over the items before placing his order.

"We should head to Jaeter sometime. My friends may be eager to meet you. It would be a nice vacation for the both of us."

"I agree, but it sounds expensive."

"Nah the planet is doing well and I’m sure the bureau can make accommodations."

A few moments passed, and their dinner arrived. Mushroom soup, bitter greens with tomatoes the size of peas, rare roast beef slices as thin as paper, noodles in a green sauce, cheese that melts on your tongue served with sweet blue grapes. The servers, all young people dressed in white tunics move wordlessly to and from the table, keeping the platters a glass full.

Miller reached out and took the spoon, sinking it in the soup and taking a sip. He dabbed his face with the napkins for speaking, "This is our day. You may receive some good news at the office today. You are likely to get more involved in work with patrol now that I’m going to be involved with the federal division."

"Sounds fun." She chimed in passionately as Miller placed a reassuring hand on hers.

"Everything’s going to be fine. Just stay away from the dark alleys and make sure you have backup on standby."

They both finished their meals and stood up, pushing their chairs in before heading to the exit to head back home for the night. Miller knew that tomorrow he would start his first day with the BCA and pondered over what exciting opportunities would come by.

Chapter 3: The Invitation

21 DECEMBER 2559

Location: STATE OF 'KORALUM, SANGHEILIOS

Red Blaze sat up from his cot in his room and stared out the window to the early cold morning watching the snow fall lightly. He could see the courtyard where both human and Sangheili would be training, but not today. Training would take place inside. Further on he could see the valley below and beyond that the mountains, each of them covered in a blanket of snow and ice. He pulled the covers away and sat up, rubbing his eyes from another restless night. He was tired, but he would try not to show it. He approached the armor stand which had his gray Sangheili armor tailored to humans and began equipping each piece ceremoniously, with pride and honor. When he was done he stepped out of his room where he continued to the training area that was relocated inside.

He casually walked down the corridor of the Order of Assassins training base. He admired the holographic images on the walls depicting different Sangheili warriors and assassins from a time long ago. He continued until he reached a set of double doors and pressed his head against it to listen in on what was going on, but nothing. He opened the door and found the grandmaster, wearing his own grey armor with black glyphs that indicated his was a high-ranking assassin, drinking his morning tea and eating some Sangheili food.

"Good Morning Master 'Koralum."

"Good Morning my pupil. Come have a seat." 'Koralum gestured for Red Blaze to take a seat.

He sat down on the plush mat in a cross-legged position before helping himself to a Sangheili meal. He ate the meal as a sign of strength and nourishment, taking his time as most of the grandmasters students would. Despite the awkward taste that most humans would find revolting, humans in the Order of Assassins were conditioned to eat their food as a survival measure. It was either you survive or die.

"We have an assignment for you. A test of great courage and great skill." 'Koralum got up and motioned for Red Blaze to follow, he did. They entered another set of double doors and into a command center. The command center was ancient, a wooden table stood in the middle that dubbed as a holotable of sorts. 'Koralum looked through the papers until he found a covenant datapad and gave it to Red Blaze. He continued, "Your assignment will be to assassinate the Demon of Fireteam Wolf."

Red Blaze activated the datapad and listened attentively as he scrolled through his targets information, a few details but not everything was there. He received a beep from the datapad and looked at the grandmaster quizzically. "The datapad says I have received new orders from a mysterious employer." He handed him back the datapad.

"Indeed." He flexed his mandibles in annoyance. "I am sure this employer will provide further instructions on your mission. But remember, you work for the Order of Assassins and any payment will help aid us in our endeavors."

Red Blaze gave a slight bow, hitting his chest with his arm. The traditional Sangheili salute. "Understood grandmaster, I will not fail you."

'Koralum considered it for a moment on whether it would be wise to kill this Kyle Craig, but shrugged it off with a huff. "We shall have transport waiting for you. Do be careful on your own journey."

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21 DECEMBER 2559

Location: SAYAN MOUNTAINS, RUSSIA, EARTH

Damien Black exited the tent and walked towards a group of commandos. They had been geared for the winter time in the cold harsh element Sayan Mountains. He was wearing his custom white SPI suit, given to him by an unknown contact within the insurrection and it worked well enough to withstand the harsh winters.

"Gentlemen." He said in a thick British accent, each one turning to face him in a parade rest as a sign of respect. "At ease."

The commandos rested, and Damien pulled out a datapad from a satchel before continuing, reading the information given to him by his employer. "Our mission is a priority, our employer, whom chose to remain anonymous but is well respected in Russian territory has given us the opportunity to take out a rival gang member."

He gave the datapad to the first commando, who looked over the non-exhaustive list of details before passing it on to the next one, and so on so forth. The last commando gave the datapad back to Damien, who tucked it in a satchel.

"Alright, let’s move out."

The team of commandos entered the warthogs and transport trucks, with engines roaring to life despite the cold weather. Driving off into the void, they continued until Damien spotted a small cabin structure. The vehicles came to a halt several yards away and exited their vehicles.

Damien turned to one of the commandos, a tall man with broad shoulders. His helmet replaced with blond hair and an earpiece for comms. He gave a thumbs up and tapped a few keys on his own datapad. The enemy’s camera footage had been looped, and Damien gave a signal for the driver of his own vehicle to move out.

The transport truck moved silently through the snow. Damien knew that with Russia’s weather they’d be ghosts out here. After the truck reversed up the driveway almost butt up against the garage, the passenger side door opened, and Damien stepped out with his team of commandos. He reached for his M6 pistol and fastened the suppressor on. Eying the stairs he saw a few agents dressed in mercenary attire climb out over the stairs cast-iron rail. Using his hand to balance the pistol he took aim and fired, eliminating the two men with ease. Before their bodies could make a sound from falling on the floor, the commandos grabbed them and set them down quietly on the ground. Damien walked casually up the stairs and peered inside the room. It was a large living room with a luxurious fire pit in the middle and a few armed guards patrolling the perimeter. He gave a nod to his men, slowly opened the door, and moved in quickly and efficiently as if this was cakewalk.

The commandos followed right behind him and as Damien slid up against the wall, the commandos took the lead, killing the rest of the patrol in the room with their suppressed weapons. They were heading up the stairs next, locating the leader, instructions being blurted in their headsets on where he would be located.

The gang leader, Marcus, had closed himself in the room and was about to make an escape when the door was kicked off its hinges. He took out a knife and was ready to throw it to kill Damien, but instead he missed by a few inches and stabbed him in the shoulder. Damien went down and cursed before taking a shot at the man’s knee caps. "Bag him and take him to our employer." The commandos did as they were asked and threw a head sack over the man's face and restrained him with zip ties before dragging him to the convoy.

Outside of the convoy a falcon was waiting, with its rotor blades spinning slower and reducing power. A man in a black trenchcoat with a Russian hat signifying a high-ranking officer stepped out with his squad of soldiers.

"My assignment is complete. Now my payment." Damien kept his tone respectful, he knew that these guys were hardcore and not to be crossed with.

"Indeed." Said the Russian commander. He waved a hand as two Russian soldiers dressed in their own custom black and red camouflaged SPI gear handed him a briefcase with a few credit chips inside, totaling a couple hundred thousand. He continued. "You’ve been given a new assignment, one from an unknown contact who wants the head of a Spartan." They exchanged datapads, as the Russian soldiers loaded the gang leader onto the chopper to await his fate.

Damien skimmed the details and found little about this employer he would be working with. All he had to go off was a location and the reward, large enough to buy five mansions or a good immunity deal if he needed one. He displayed a crooked smile. "I’ll work with my employer to assign me a frigate to head to this planet called Drawn. I look forward to a good hunt."

They shook hands and parted ways. Damien was about to take out his target, whoever it was on Drawn, and wouldn’t let any opposition stand in his way.

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21 DECEMBER 2559

Location: FIRETEAM WOLF CAMPSITE, UNKNOWN COLONY

The forest was tannin-brown. The frozen grass was crispy under his feet. He looked up and the trees were skyscraper tall. The morning stars were shining like silver snowflakes. The peace of the morning was soul soothing, just the way he liked it when he was training. The forest’s smell was fresh and organic.

Holding the grip, he was able to balance the blade with ease. He aligned the knife with his target and he threw it.

Nothing felt better than launching a throwing knife toward a 4-inch bullseye and watching it firmly stick right in the middle. Knife throwing was as much of an art as it was a hobby because it requires concentration, practice and skill that would impress anyone in sight. While you can throw any knife at a target, it won't provide the precision and accuracy of a throwing knife specifically designed for the task.

Mitchel Sanders was dressed in his body suit, leg covers, gloves, and arm bands. Each part carried a specific item from throwing knives and ninja stars, to hidden blades. He approached the bullseye and removed the knife with ease, turning to face his squadron leader. "You see that! Triple bullseye!" He commented with excitement.

Kevin Smith pulled out a datapad and began punching in Mitchel’s results. He had recruited him to Fireteam Wolf because he was a skilled assassin. The last mission they went on he was able to track down a local insurrectionist cell on the colony of Farkus V. The operation went smooth and they acquired enough intel and destroyed the colonies Insurrectionists. Mitchel used stealth to take down the leader and they were gone like ghosts in the night.

"Good job, Mitchel." Kevin managed a smile before tossing him a black ops compound bow, "But can you take down a Cheetah?"

He considered it for a second, catching the combat bow and testing its aim, it would for sure be a good challenge. "I can try."

"Alright. Get to it." Kevin gave a playful punch to his shoulder before hooking up a cam device to Mitchel’s suit and getting the cam feed ready on the datapad.

Quickly making his way through the brush of the forest, he eventually found his target. The crossbow over his shoulder as he stalked a Cheetah. As he lifted his bow to his shoulder to take aim at the game, the sound of an airship drew his attention and scared away the Cheetah.

"Damn aircraft ruining my opportunity to impress my superior." He mumbled to himself in frustration.

The canopy was too thick from the ground. Slinging the bow over his shoulder, he climbed up the closet tree and scaled up to the top. Almost to the top he was over the canopy. It was a Pelican flying low coming in his direction going slow to avoid detection. He jumped, falling to the ground and took off to the training grounds.

The pelican landed near the training grounds, and they both shielded their faces from the oncoming snow that was being blown at them. When the engines were killed, two men dressed in black tunics bearing ONI insignia's on their shoulders walked out with a small security detail. One of them spoke up with a raised voice. "Sanders?"

Mitchel approached the two men out of curiosity, "That’s me."

"We need to talk."

Kevin nodded, "Proceed."

"One of your Spartans on your fireteam has chosen to go rogue and take out one of your old companions, Kyle Craig. Sound familiar?"

"It does."

The ONI agent handed Kevin a datapad. Kevin set his datapad on a cache before accepting the other one. He skimmed over the classified details before giving a nod to Mitchel. "So, our mission as stupidly dangerous as it sounds is to protect Kyle Craig?" His tone was disapproving.

"No. Your mission is to bring Craig into custody for questioning. As for the other man named David King. We cannot risk having him interfere with our suspect, so we need you to remove him from the equation, preferably alive."

"Bodyguard work. Sounds fun," Mitchel said sarcastically, "I’ll have some TTR rounds ready to bring them both down."

"Glad to hear it." With that done, the two ONI agents nodded and headed back aboard the Pelican.

Mitchel then received a ping on his chatter and opened it up to reveal an invitation from an unknown contact with a reward details and the target.

"What you got?" Kevin said.

Mitchel glanced sharply at Kevin, and his mouth twisted into a grim smirk. "Well... it’s a meeting and it appears that the target is David King. It seems that he’s elsewhere now, moving across the galaxy."

Kevin rubbed his jawline in thought. "Hm. Interesting..."

Mitchel gave Kevin a reassuring nod. "Don’t worry. I’ll update everyone when I find him."

Chapter 4: Repentance

22 DECEMBER 2559

Location: TOWN OF WESTTIDE, UNKNOWN COLONY

At sunset the clouds gathered again, bringing an earlier night, and the snow began to fall straight and steadily from a sky without wind, in a soft universal diffusion more confusing than the gusts and swirling of the morning. It seemed to be a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer.

Dressed in a dark ragged cloak that covered his scratched HUNTER-class Mjolnir, David King walked calmly through the snow, leaving a trail of armored shoeprints behind him. In the distance rose the purple-gray spire of a church and the irregular forms of old buildings that made up the small town.

He approached the large oak doors and entered inside. Moving into the passage, he wondered whether this quiet air tinctured with the scent of incense, candles and the more solidly Anglican smell of musty prayer books, metal polish and flowers had held for David also the promise of discovery, of a scene already set, a task inevitable, inescapable. The brightly lit passage with its floor of encaustic tiles and its white-painted walls ran the whole west end of the church.

He dipped his armored forefinger and middle finger in the carved and sculpted marble of the baptismal font that held the holder for a basin of water. He tapped his chest, making a sign of the cross; the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, before walking forward and sitting at one of the ornate church pews where he began to pray:

God,

Please help me see that revenge will only bring more hurt and anger and will not make me feel closer to You. God, please remind me that You are aware of my pain and that You have not left my side. I know that You do not want me to hold evil in my heart, and instead, I should trust that You will find justice for my hurt. Thank you, Lord, for listening to my prayers and taking away this pain!

Amen.

The church choir was different compared to other choirs that didn't sing hymns. Their voice was almost like angels', high notes soaring over the clouds, graceful notes dancing on the staves, and they sang for God only.

"There is an element that hits your soul, and you think it was God who treated you that way," A voice came from behind him, "It takes an effort to realize, 'No, it was a human being who was the furthest thing from God.' "

David turned to see a man standing in a robe that was something like a long-sleeved black dress with black buttons from the neck right down to almost the hemline. The black of the robe looked sharp and crisp contrasted with the white of the dog-collar: a priest. David spoke with depression but also determination. "Father."

It had been a while since he told anyone about his betrayal with his close friend, Kyle Craig. The two of them had been together since Spartan training and Spartan operations. They both made a great team even though they had a lot of differences, both competitive and personal. They would have even made a good pair of headhunters if they were Spartan-III’s but even they had their differences there, different viewpoints and moralities of the Spartan program. Their friendship came to an end on an insurrectionist colony known as Etheria and David chose to lock it all away, deciding to forget the past. Until now.

"What is the matter, my child?" The priest spoke with serenity.

"My best friend. He hates me. I left him behind. I was selfish, and I didn’t save him."

"Prayerfully consider how you've responded to a betrayal in the past. Ask yourself whether there were things you could have said or done differently. Pray for the grace to practice Christ's example in thought, word, and deed if the occasion continues, or should it ever arise again." The priest responded.

David gave a nod and marked the sign of the cross. "Thank you, Father. I must learn to forgive others before I can forgive myself." He got up and walked down the aisle to exit the church, finding peace where there was confrontation.

The sun was setting beyond the ridge of the mountains and nightfall was approaching fast, illuminating the sky with blue and purple hues where the stars would barely become visible. The snow continuing to fall gracefully in the night.

He returned to his temporary hideout. A small house that was box-shaped with its front door dead center, four small windows near each corner and constructed of the same red brick. A path made of leftover bricks made a shallow S-shape between the gate and the front door. The metal of the doorknob was cool against his palm and he twisted it with ease, entering the well-lit living room.

He placed the keys on a hook that was fixed to the wall near the entrance and walked into the living room. The room was not that big with brown bricked walls layered between small strips of white concrete. It was furnished lightly with a modern wooden bookshelf that held novels and magazines, and a work desk with a few pinup boards that listed various maps, targets, and schedules. Various fixed lighting illuminated the room in yellow and white hues that were just bright enough to give it a soft ambient feeling like that of a garage or basement. Opposite side of the living room was a Royce leather recliner that was facing the entrance to the home and a small television flat screen.

He sat lazily in the recliner that faced the entrance. He sunk in and he looked like he was melting. It was the first time he rested his body today. He kept his suppressed magnum on his lap in case anyone barged in uninvited, but tonight that would not be necessary. Nobody was out looking for him, at least that was what he thought. He pulled out his datapad and looked up some news feeds on the war effort; which seemed to never end with all the Innies, Covenant Remnants, and dangerous criminals who would want to get a piece into shaping the galaxy in their own image.

Tossing the datapad aside, he pulled out his friend’s dog tags and began to reminisce about that unfaithful day. He would have to schedule a meeting to apologize to his comrade in arms and hopefully his friend would forgive him, and he could return to living a normal life.

Chapter 5: Mercenary

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: UNIDENTIFIED SHIP, ORBIT AROUND DRAWN

Grono 'Yendam sat idle in his chair aboard his Phantom, taking the time he had to rest before the mission. He and his cohort were in orbit around the planet Drawn, which Grono knew all too well. He had once visited this planet several years ago, back when he was the rogue Shipmaster of the pirate vessel Gauntlet of the Ancients. 'Yendam had unearthed an artifact that he planned to use to lead to the human's destruction, but he was defeated by two conjunction forces; The lone Spartan—Benjamin Nishurd—who had destroyed his ship and his army, and the Forerunner Ancilla—589 Curious Puzzle—who had denied him access to the artifact. That artifact was the Cleanser, a device of great power, but Puzzle, who had a certain programmed loyalty to the humans, had stopped the Shipmaster when he discovered Grono's true intent.

How funny it is, that just a few short years later, I'd be working with one of the enemies who caused my downfall? Indeed, Grono was now leading a new life as a rogue mercenary, working alongside his new partner in crime, Curious Puzzle. After this Created Rebellion had started up, Puzzle had been involuntarily rescued by Grono from those intelligences for a fee. He had deduced that since humanity had created the new enemies that now oppressed the galaxy, humanity was to fault. Given this, Puzzle had joined forces with 'Yendam, giving him a powerful new ally. Grono, although quite intelligent, took on the 'muscle' role in the duo, while Puzzle was the logisticics expert and coordinated strategies. Puzzle also took care of finding contractors to pay the pair, and that was why they were here now.

Puzzle had received an invitation from a mysterious employer named Kyle Craig, who offered them a chance to win an award if they could hunt down a man named David King. Grono had scoffed at the confidence of Craig, thinking a mere human would be an easy job too low for a Sangheili like him. But Puzzle had conversed with one of 'Yendam's cohorts, a fellow Sangheili named Oru 'Vanuxee. Oru had told Grono that Craig paid well, and had given Oru and his gang a bonus after doing exceptional in a break-out mission to help Kyle escape from local authorities. 'Vanuxee had also told him that the man offered extra credits to those who did side missions, which Kyle had plenty of. Grono lifted his head from the cushion it was resting on at the thought of the money he could obtain. It was a hefty sum indeed.

Grono held up his arms, glancing them over. Both were covered with a vast array of scars, but most faint and unnoticeable to the naked eye. They were all plasma burns, attained from the energy swords used by many opponents that Grono had dueled. He turned his attention to his left hand. While it looked, normal, it was in fact artificial after he had lost his original in one of the aforementioned duels.

However, 'Yendam applied a membrane over it, which cleverly disguised it in a way that one would never suspect it was artificial. This had often proved beneficial against opponents who did not know the strength of the robotics in his fingertips.

Puzzle entered the room just then, hovering above Grono. The AI stopped to look down at his partner, staring for a second, before revealing new information to Grono. "As I've said before, comrade, this job is different from many others, and I recommend we take it. I know you by now that you like the ones that are risky, and from some new information I have, you might be more interested in this contract."

Grono looked up at his associate. "Of course, Puzzle. Go on then, and tell me what information you might have on this?"

"This is apparently a sort of competition, as in the kind with players competing with one another. You and I have been matched up with three others out of fifty three nominees, and we have the chance to hunt down this 'David King'. Whoever does catch the notorious Reclaimer will win the bounty."

Grono snorted through his nostrils. "So this Craig is willing to set up all these pointless acts just to have one man's head? Interesting. Maybe this isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe there is a deeper connection, especially since Craig's chosen five out of fifty three to hunt down this one man. Do tell, what are these three opponents we have in our way to victory?"

"I do not know much from their descriptions, but this is what I know. One of them is a hitman that takes almost any job. Species is human. Another is a human assassin that works for the all too-well known organization, Legion." As Puzzle repeated this information, he flashed holograms from his single eye, first showing a human male with an assortment of dangerous weapons, then another wearing the familiar uniform that a Legion agent would have.

Grono clicked his mandibles, not intimidated in the slightest by either of these potential enemies. "So the second one works for Legion? Hmph. A waste of talent in my opinion. They pay too low for any satisfaction. A wonder how they can afford all their men. Now, the final opponent?"

Puzzle's eye clicked, and a third hologram appeared, showing the image of a human clad in Sangheili-like armor. Grono repulsed inside at the looks of the thing, but kept to himself. "This is the Red Blaze. A member of the Order of Assassins, which is a group on Sanghelios, he fervently studies your species' culture along with his peers. Blaze obviously wears Sangheili modeled armor because of this, and is looked down upon by humans and Sangheili alike. He does, though, have an affinity for combat."

"Well, I can say one thing about this abomination. He must be skilled in the art of combat in order to be so highly sought after. But I think he will make a fine competitor. If it comes down to it, I'll kill him myself."

Puzzle's eye blinked, and Grono knew what that meant. He walked into the cockpit of the Phantom and sat down, flipping a few switches and powering up the thrusters. "I assume it is time to go?"

"Yes."

Grono pulled down on the switch at his front left and maneuvered towards Drawn. As he entered the atmosphere, he could recognize certain aspects of the planet from the last time he came. 'Yendam steered the vessel towards a large city called Obsidion, taking note of the many large structures jutting out of the ground like stalagmites in a cave. Puzzle flashed him the coordinates on the control screen, and the ship drifted towards a landing pad near one of the largest buildings. They touched down, and Grono departed the ship alongside with Puzzle.

Grono turned to his cohort. "So, this Craig is one of the more aristocratic ones in this city?"

Puzzle stared blankly at the Sangheili. "Of course not. He robbed a facility of its currency and used it to purchase a penthouse at the top of this location. He is using the rest of the money as the reward for the bounty."

"And how do you know of this," asked Grono inquisitively, peering at Puzzle. "I doubt one such as him would give away valuable information like that."

"Of course not," replied Puzzle, zooming towards the entrance as Grono followed. "But you know my tendencies, don't you comrade? And besides, You can get a lot from weakly defended files."

"Of course."

They entered the lobby, and Grono could see that they struck fear when they did. This planet was a mere backwater, populated by humans, Unggoy, and Kig-Yar, but most people here had probably never seen a Sangheili before, let alone one as large as 'Yendam. And most had never seen a Forerunner intelligence before either, in fact. Grono stood around, gazing at the human luxuries, while 589 consulted the front desk, talking for a while. Soon after, Puzzle returned, with information about what to do.

"We shall take the elevator up to the top floor, where we shall wait to go in."

Grono and Puzzle got onto the elevator, and it started to go up. Soon, Grono found himself impatient, longing for the gravity lifts of Covenant ships, back in his days of service during the Great War. Eventually, they did make it to the top, and the duo strode over to the welcoming entrance. Before they could make it halfway, an attendant opened the doors and beamed at them. Beckoning the pair inside, he bumbled with excitement.

"Ah, yes! You are the first ones here! Just wait here, for Kyle Craig is a tad bit busy right now, but he will come soon."

The attendant left, and 589 started bustling around, examining the many souvenirs, while Grono seated himself in a large, plush chair. And then, Grono waited.

Chapter 6: Check-In

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

The streets were almost empty, with a few transit vehicles lighting up their out of service signs and shutting down for the night. Mitchel looked at his watch, a quarter till two in the morning. He configured it to match with the times on this planet as almost any assassin may have. They were always meticulous in there work when hunting down the targets, going to meetings, even their sleep schedule was down to a T. As he walked across the nearly empty street, following the rules as he didn't want to attract the attention of law enforcement he made his way to a tall building that looked like a corporate bank. He thought to himself, why would some stranger hire assassins in a bank?. He continued and pushed himself through the large revolving door and into the lobby.

The lobby was big. White lighting fixed to the ceiling that gave the rest of the room a luxurious feel to it. The rest of the room was decorated with marvelous painting and various plants in abstract pottery. He approached the brown oak translucent receptionist station. The receptionist who was typing up logs in a datapad but greeted the man with a smile.

"How may I help you?"

"I’m here to see Kyle Craig." He pulled out the datapad showing it to the receptionist, who, gave a nod and proceeded to add his information to the record.

"Top floor, down the hall." She replied bluntly.

Mitchel nodded and headed to the elevators pushing the button and waiting nervously. His first assignment to apprehend the son-of-a-gun and he was ready. The elevator doors opened up and he stepped inside, slipping on his black fingerless gloves as the doors closed. He punched the button to the top floor. Once the doors parted he stepped outside and followed the directions to the conference room. He weighed his options. I probably shouldn't detain him yet, security could be tight. Best wait for the meeting to be over with.

He looked around the room and saw a camera fixed above the door keeping an eye on the entire hallway. He gave a sigh as he leaned up against the wall waiting for further instructions. He was here now, why wait. Just let me in and give my assignment so we can apprehend David and Craig. Mission accomplished. Was it that simple? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow of a man not much taller than he was walking down the hallway until he made a left. He was wearing a black charcoal suit and a pair of leather gloves. Mitchel raised a brow in suspicion before he gripped the throwing knife on his leg.

"Settle down, young man." The man called down in a British accent with courtesy of a gentleman. Mitchel thought to himself. A voice much like that of Craig's, minus the British linguistics, but is he just as dangerous? He would find out soon enough. The man walked closer until he was arms length away.

"So you’re one of the assassins sent to kill the mega-million dollar contract. Why am I not surprised?" He said with a sly smile on his face.

"What is your name?"

"Why should I tell you, you'll just kill me and my friends and the entire team I was assigned to."

The man in black attire gave a sarcastic frown. "No, I’m here to kill someone else, then my business will be concluded. Then after I will return to Venezia." He leaned up against the other wall, facing Mitchel with his arms folded. Examining his ninja-like attire.

"Well guess we'll find out soon enough." He nodded his head to the right. "Looks like we got another visitor."

The hallway darkened by another shadow of a stranger. This one wore a helmet and armor similar to that of a Sangheili warrior. Foolish. Our contact sent a child Sangheili. Maybe the target isn't as cunning and deadly as I thought. Mitchel moved his hands slowly to his waist, clenching his magnum. He could see the man in black doing the same thing. Two against one will put me at an advantage. He was about to draw when he found out that it was not a Sangheili child, but a human in Sangheili-like armor. Shit. He knew from the armor's designs that this was no ordinary soldier training in human combat, but that of a deadly assassin training in the art of Sangheili stealth and combat.

"Don’t kill him, unless you want your blood painted on the walls and who knows what our new employer would think next."

The man in black slowly lowered withdrew his hand from his sidearm and relaxed, not out of fear but out of mutual respect for a group of assassins.

As the Human-Sangheili strode down the hall, Mitchel noticed that he was keeping his distance. Good for you. They all would wait patiently to meet their new employer.

When all had settled down, the doors opened, revealing a cheery looking man with a bright smile painted on his face. He wore a black suit and tie, and greeted them. "Greetings! You three must be the ones called here by Kyle Craig! Wonderful! I will be your escort, so follow me! We must hurry, I would not say you are late, although the first assassin got here hours ago, and has been patiently waiting for the rest of you."

The escort bumbled inside, humming a precarious tune, all the while adjusting his tie. He seemed jumpy, although cheery and good-natured as well. There was a meager but modest collection of furniture and antiques in the room, including a shelf stocked with vials and neat, crisp bulkheads along the walls. In the center was a ring of plush sofas, one of which was occupied by a ginormous Sangheili, outfitted in a hulking Warrior harness once used by the now deceased Covenant Remnant. Hovering near the Sangheili was a Forerunner Ancilla, the most surprising thing in this room. The Artificial Intelligence had a red chrome exterior, with an energy green eye as a compliment to that, making it look like some sort of jewel rather than a Forerunner AI.

The Sangheili stared at the group and clicked his mandibles, evidently having been waiting here for some time like the escort had said. "So, the entourage arrives."

The Ancilla beamed its eye, and zoomed towards the group, examining each one precisely with its cycloptic eye. "I was right, comrade! They are exactly as I said. There's the Sangheili mimick, the Legion huntsman, and the other one! I told you that I never fail to identify."

The Sangheili stood up, stomping across the room in his heavy boots. "That's not a first. After all, you've proven your worth to me more than enough times."

The Ancilla acknowledged and turned back to the group. "Greetings! I am former Monitor 589 Curious Puzzle, and this is my partner, Grono 'Yendam. I see that you must be our competitors." Grono stared at them apprehensively, eyeing the human with the Sangheili armor with disdain.

"Even though I know who you all are, would you mind introducing yourselves anyway?" asked Puzzle.

Mitchel gave a chuckle and thumbed at the man in black. "Well, you gave him away easily." He quickly drew his magnum at the man in black and aimed it at his head, ready to pull the trigger and end his life. "And since this is a competition. I might as well decrease the odds of losing."

The man in black's eyes widened in fear at how fast his draw was but continued nervously. "Well I am Damien, and yes I am with Legion, so you would kindly lower your weapon so we can continue with the introductions. More time to kill me when I have a head start."

Grono 'Yendam's mandibles curled into a menacing snarl, and he activated an energy sword, putting it up to the Sangheili-Human's neck. The sword seemed very hot compared to a normal blade and had an acidic green color. "I guess if we narrow down the competition, there will only be three. I was debating whether to kill the poor imitator of my kind later, but it seems like the perfect time to slay him now.”

The Human-Sangheili gave a low growl from underneath his helmet that concealed his face before responding. "Would it be a good idea to kill a member of the Order of Assassins of Sanghelios as well as a member of the Flame? I may not have earned a rank in the Heralds of Fire, but I have gained the Flame Lord's trust. Now choose your next move carefully."

The Sangheili lowered his weapon, his guard still up. "The Flame? You? You... work for the Flame Lord?"

“Indeed. I was brought into the organization to bolster their human contingent, so back off if you wish to keep the wrath of the Flame from consuming you.”

A pair of doors creaked open, as a man wearing a dark navy suit with dirty blond hair combed neatly in an ivy league hairstyle. He was dressed for the occasion. A smart criminal opportunist ready to begin the meeting. Everyone ceased conversing and turned their attention to the wealthy-looking businessman. Mitchel cleared his throat and lowered his weapon, holstering it and turning his attention to the man with a parade rest posture. Was this the man he was assigned to bring into custody? No matter. It will all end soon.

The man looked around at everyone before saying one thing: “Welcome to the Assassination Games.”

Chapter 7: A Contractor's Burden

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

The room took in a moment of silence. Everyone would snap their heads, bringing their attention to Kyle Craig. He approached the head of the table, pulled up a chair and sat down. He snapped his fingers and a man dressed in a black suite and tie walked calmly towards Craig and leaned down as he whispered something in his ear. He turned his attention to everyone in the room and spoke calmly.

"Please, everyone have a seat." He gave a cruel smile. "I assume everyone knows everyone, due to the heated discussions earlier, but I have a zero tolerance for violence in this room. Everyone will have a chance to kill each other when they exit." His smile faded as he pulled out a datapad and began punching in something. "So everyone. I'd like to know a little about all of you before I tell you about me and what needs to be done. You all will state your names, occupations-whether classified or not-and why you are interested in hunting down your target. Anyone who refuses, they won't be shown the door if you know what I intend." Everyone sat down in one of the plush sofas, sinking into them, but not so much as to avoid good posture and eye contact with Kyle.

Mitchel cleared his throat again, trying to remain calm about the situation that escalated earlier. "I am Mitchel Sanders. I work as an operator assassin for the Office of Naval Intelligence. I came here to..." He trailed off, trying to think of an elaborate excuse to not have his brains splattered all over the room, and he continued. "To kill my contact and use the funds to pull out of ONI and start my own life." It was a good excuse, but would his employer buy it?

Kyle noted this. "And your skills? What is it that you do? Who was your hardest target to kill?"

"I'm good with blades, hand to hand, and an expert marksman. My hardest target to kill was my trainer, who betrayed me."

"Very well." He turned to the next person, the man dressed in black. "Your turn. State your credentials."

"Damien Black. I work for the Russian Mob under a different employer who assigned me to you to eliminate this contact, whoever he may be. My skills are best with Close Quarter Combat. I like to get close and personal to my prey. Nothing like feeling their life slip away in your hands."

Kyle was impressed by Damien Black. "Interesting skill and mindset. You're exactly what I need to get the job done Mr. Black. But how do you favor against this human in Sangheili armor?" "Red Blaze," The Human clad in Sangheili armor said with pride. "I work for both the Order of Assassins and the Flame. I am interested in hunting down my target to bring peace to my clan and 'Koralum keep on Sangheilios. This enemy you speak of. I think when he gets rid of you, he will start by getting rid of the Flame Lord, the Flame itself, and Sanghelios. And for that he must die!" He slammed and armored fist into the table, seething with hate and rage.

Kyle was impressed, anger was the key to dark motivations, but also the downfall if not channeled. "Yes, some of you seem under-qualified." He turned his gaze to Grono and his assistant Puzzle. "While others are over-qualified." He had to set the edge, this was a competition after all.

It was now the Sangheili and AI's turn to introduce themselves. Puzzle nodded towards Craig and started. "Greetings! I am 589 Curious Puzzle, the former monitor of the Cleanser. With no further purpose, and the uprising of the Created at humanity's hands, I have decided the only course of action is to stay low and minimize contact with other AIs. This is my partner, Grono 'Yendam, once a Sangheili Zealot in Jul 'Mdama's late Covenant, now a highly skilled mercenary that I work with on missions. We make quite an effective pairing, with 'Yendam acting as the brawn of this duo, an expert in close to mid-range weapons, and also a master of the blade. I serve as the technician, and I am a very superb AI with abilities far beyond any human Intelligence, not to mention equipped with my own self-defense weapon."

Grono clicked his mandibles and spoke up. "We are only here for the money, nothing else. The opportunity to slay a Demon is tempting, though. I have not cracked through one's armor since the Requiem Campaign, and I lost the opportunity almost a year ago when two Spartans tried to hunt me down for killing one of their precious Admirals. I cannot be taken down so easily, though."

He considered the skills, rubbing his chin thinking about ideas. "The two of you. How do I know you're not going to blow the competition and claim the prize without giving the others a head start?"

The assassins in the room exchanged worried looks; maybe he was on to something; best to leave while they still could, but they couldn't because they all needed more details.

'Yendam laughed. "Because if I wanted to, all of these 'assassins' would be dead by now. Puzzle would help me take care of finishing off these poor excuses for warriors, and we'd be the only ones you would be speaking to at the moment."

The room was quiet for a second before Kyle whispered to himself in satisfaction. "Of course Grono and Puzzle have the upper hand, I applaud them for that. This game will be in their favor."

"So who are we killing?" Damien spoke up.

Kyle dragged the files from the datapad, transferring them to the holotable that was embedded in the center of the conference table. The images showed a man in HUNTER-class armor with all his information declassified to the best of Craig's knowledge. He leaned forward with interest and clasped his hands on the table. "This is David King. An assassin for ONI like Mitchel over there. I noticed that some of my shipments around the outer colonies has gone dark and one of my men reported back to me, describing the man as a relentless monster."

He moved his hand around the datapad, bringing up more images to the holotable, "This guy is quiet the psychopath, like me, and will stop at nothing until he sees me dead." He gave a slight chuckle and a sly smile. "That is why I hired all of you. Each of you have your own special talents to bring this guy down. I must warn you all. He is an excellent sniper." "I'm up for the challenge." Red Blaze chimed in. "But if this guy is as good as you say he is, then how much is the reward?"

"Three million credits." Kyle said, the room turning in whispers and chatter as the assassins talked among themselves, eager to claim the prize for their own endeavors.

"Alright then. Where do we find him?"

"I'm giving each one of you a drive where you can upload the schematics into your datapads. You all will be given different locations on his routes he takes, but you're all more than welcome to do your own recon work. Any other questions?"

With no questions asked, Kyle stood up, "Alright, get out there and kill Mr. King! Remember to bring me his severed head. No copycats or cheating."

Each assassin excused himself one by one, being wary of the others around them, until the room was quiet with only Mitchel, Grono, Puzzle, and Kyle. Even the attendant had left in the midst.

"Mitchel. Nice to see you again." Kyle said with a calm voice, eager to see a member of his old fireteam again. He started to walk over to greet him.

Mitchel excused himself and walked over to meet his old companion, he had a mission to do, orders to follow. Was he about to risk it all over casual conversation? Nope. The room was too hot, but the reward....

"The same could be said for you Kyle." He embraced him in a warming hug and laughed. "It's good to see you again."

"If you're done with the reunion tours, could I speak with you about a matter?" asked Grono, clearly disgusted by this friendly meeting. "I have questions regarding your acquisition of the money, and some cohorts. 589 wants answers. So if you could finish with the pleasantries, that would be most appreciated."

Mitchel pulled away, "Why don't you come back to the team. Your alive, so all is well."

Kyle thought about the situation for a second and gave a slight smile. "Well I cant do that now..." He gestured around the room. "Not with all the success I've had running this small business."

He gave a nervous glance before finding that his wrist was gripped by Mitchel's hand, almost forcefully. He raised an eyebrow and knew what was up. He would not go down now, he continued to play along careful not to get killed in this room by this assassin. "Now why don't you join the others. Surely you know that any suspicions against me would have daunting repercussions."

Mitchel's eyes darted to Grono and Puzzle. "Of course. We are done here." He released his grip casually and gave a pat on Kyle's shoulder. "Later bud." He exited the room.

Grono looked at the Spartan with disdain as he left. "You know as well as I do what his priority is, Mr. Craig. Don't underestimate my knowledge, or Puzzle's skills. All three of us know that he's going to try to bring you in to ONI. Of course, the only reason I tell you this is so I can get my money from you without any flaunts."

Kyle eyed Mitchel, watching him intently as he exited the room before turning to Grono and flexing his wrist. "I know. I can't kill him, none of us can or 'they' will find out when one of their squadmates is missing. There is a specific reason why I chose Mitchel, and that is to gain intel on my enemies from the inside." He thought for a second, weighing his options. "I am not surprised that he may have put a tracker or a mic on me when he touched me."

"That is quite right," Puzzle agreed, "I am detecting a small energy pulse emanating from the spot on your arm where he touched you. There is indeed a microchip inserted in your skin. Mind if I remove it?"

"Of course not." He held out his arm to let Puzzle to do the job.

Curious Puzzle scanned the arm, a red ray of light passing along the width of the wrist. It stopped on a tiny dot that could easily have been mistaken for a freckle, and Puzzle zapped it, scorching a small area of skin. The chip fell to the ground, where Puzzle gravitated the device up with a hard light beam. The construct then focused the beam, making the chip glow, before stopping and incinerating the chip. 589 then turned to Kyle, the job done.

"I apologize for any pain I might have caused you. I have removed the chip and deleted its data. If the chip emits data at timed intervals, then Mitchel will not know a thing, now that it is destroyed. If it emits constantly, and he was listening in before I terminated the recorder, then I fear that is all I can do."

He rubbed his wrist from the pain that radiated through it. The sting had faded to a dull throb. "Some friend indeed." He had a bitterness to his voice, before he turned his attention to Grono. "I may be able to give you a bonus if you can distract him or misdirect him from the bounty, I can't have him come back here with his friends."

Grono shaped his mandibles into what could pass for a malicious smile. "I can do that, definitely. With some more files to break into, I'll know more than just about him working for ONI. Much more. Say, do you have a datapad in this residence?"

"I do." He took a datapad out of his jacket and placed it on the table, sliding it over to Grono. All the details were in there.

Grono picked up the datapad and scrolled through the contents. Satisfied, he held it out for Puzzle to scan, and when that task was done he set the tablet back down on the table. The Sangheili turned back to Kyle. "Say, will I get a bonus if a I kill the human? It will be much easier to mop that incident up, and you can't take the blame for his death because you didn't commit it. I'm already wanted by ONI, so I won't mind becoming a higher priority. Especially if it is for slaying a Demon."

Kyle took the datapad and placed in back in his jacket pocket. "Of course. I can pay you a sum of the credits since this is like a side mission."

"Then we are agreed. I kill both Demons, we become on good terms, then I get my bounty."

Content, Grono exited the room. Puzzle remained, before exiting a few moments later. The Assassination Games would now begin.

Part 2: The Hunt

Chapter 8: Narrowing Down the Competition

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

Mitchel walked down the corridor and saw the others parting their separate ways, heading in opposite directions. He had a way of walking that made him seem perpetually in a hurry. His steps weren't long but they were rapid, like a speed-walker without that odd twisting motion they make. He arrived at the elevator and glanced left and then right, all clear. He pushed the button and the elevator doors slide open and he walked inside. The doors slid shut and the elevator descended to the lobby floor without stopping. When the doors slid open he bid the receptionist farewell and continued outside onto the city streets.

He continued down the busy intersecting streets of the city until he made his way to the Obsidian Station. He approached main station entrance and made his way to the ticket booth, where he bought a ticket to Station 9 where he had his Pelican waiting at the hanger. The receptionist gave him his ticket and he continued on his way boarding the metro. The train had gravity boosters crudely welded onto it, to represent the way the former Covenant species and the humans worked together with their technology. It was still packed but he found a seat to keep himself distant from any other strangers on board. The train started with a slight jolt then the feeling that one’s stomach was being squeezed happened, and blood was rushing through every part of the body as the train accelerated. While it may have been normal for most people on the train, it had been his first time and the feeling was riveting.

The train arrived in the outskirts of the city to where the hanger was. The train slowly decelerated, coming to a halt as the doors slid open with a hiss and the passengers exited the train. Mitchel got up and started to exit the train, following the directions to where the hanger was. As he entered the airport he found himself among the sea of irritated and annoyed faces, there were old and young all who whined with an equal premise of complaints all either leaving or arriving late for the upcoming holiday. The sound of plasma fire echoed the airports terminal. The crowd screaming and taking off in all directions, Mitchel pushed passed them to get away from the chaotic plasma fire that he heard many times throughout the post war era. He turned to look at the enemy who was after him, he recognized the golden armor and the appearance of a Sangheili—Grono 'Yendam!

Grono 'Yendam fired his storm rifle into the crowd, mowing down several bystanders not able to get out of the way in time. Seeing Mitchel, he narrowed his eyes, still holding his rifle at the ready as he moved in for the kill. Following him was the intriguing AI Curious Puzzle, keeping an eye on Mitchel in case Grono would lose him.

"Your time is at an end, human. Submit willingly so I won't have to kill any more civilians that get in my way. If you choose to run, so be it. I will find you, and give you a quick death, not for your sake, but for my own," The Sangheili stated, his jog slowing into a walk, still focused solely on Mitchell.

Mitchel shook his head. Are all Sangheili this naive? He continued to run pushing past the crowd before hopping on one of the escalator rails and sliding down, he continued to where he found a door and took it, not stopping he continued down a flight of stairs to where the tarmac was. He pushed his way through another door and found himself outside of the airport where the tarmac was, his Pelican vehicle stored in one of the private hangars a few miles away.

Behind him an explosion broke through the building; a shockwave launching several denizens through the air and into the side of a cafe across the street. The Sangheili mercenary jumped out through the hole torn in the airport's wall, completely unscathed, and brought up his storm rifle, firing several barrages in Mitchel's direction. Puzzle was nowhere to be found, but the focus right now was to escape from 'Yendam before he could end Mitchel!

The sound of plasma fire whizzed past Mitchel, but he didn't bother even looking back because if he did he might as well be dead. There were tons of things happening at once: fuel trucks transporting fuel to the aircraft, ladders being climbed by workers, aircraft leaving and arriving. He had to make a quick decision to get away from this elite that was chasing him. He spotted a small aircraft vehicle, hopping in and jump started the vehicle up, the vehicle's VTOL abilities kicking in as he ascended off the ground, moving forwards and away from the airport. His destination was towards the outskirts of the city, somewhere safe where he could report in.

As he finished his ascent, he could hear a thrum on his left wing. Looking over to it, he saw a plasma grenade sticking to the rotor, primed to ignite. With no way to safely jump at this altitude, Mitchel decided to stay in the aircraft as the grenade went off, blasting shrapnel his way and cutting a long gash in his left arm. Waiting for the VTOL to drop low enough, Mitchel bounded out of the cockpit towards a nearby store roof as the craft went down in flames. Barely grabbing hold, Mitchel started to pull himself up and looked down. The building was taller than he anticipated, at least five stories in height! Getting a grip on himself, the Spartan-IV clambered up onto the roof.

He looked around for the Grono, he didn’t want to waste too much time because the elite could be catching up. He looked at his surrounding and saw a few other small building that he could get to and make a quick escape, he put pressure on his arm to get the blood to clot and prevent further blood loss, jumping down two stories onto the rooftop of another building, combat rolling and getting back up to continue to sprint on. Seeing a fire escape he used it, parkouring down to the streets below. Being that close to getting killed by one of the assassins made him feel insecure, the whole situation was a little overwhelming, if Grono was after him then who else would be after him?

Sure enough, the Elite came from overhead, flying high above the streets with a jetpack holstered on his armor-clad back. Finally spotting Mitchel, the mercenary snarled before flying towards his position, rifle still in hand. As he set down on the pavement with a thud, the milling citizens ran off in fear, one of the Unggoy tripped to the ground as he did so. 'Yendam paid him no heed however; Sanders was his prime target.

Mitchel continued to run, using the crowd of citizens as cover and blending into the panicked crowd, Grono may have caught a glimpse of him from time to time. He grabbed a cloth from one of the shopping stores and continued to run without paying. There was no time to lose as he bandaged up his wounded arm tight. It would have to do for now till he could get some proper medical attention. He darted left into an alleyway, knocking over some trash cans in an attempt to slow him down. He completed a wall run, then grabbed onto the ledge and hoisted himself up. He had a few tricks up his sleeve and waited patiently for Grono to follow, his hand tucked under his arm.

The Elite soon arrived, flying up to Mitchel via jetpack. Touching down, the mercenary swapped out his storm rifle for a bulky concussion rifle; a weapon that had much more firepower. "Normally I am not one to brag," stated Grono. "But I do appreciate this jetpack. Amraa Voto-pattern, top of the line. Constructed by the most talented merchants of Quikost. But it's time to finish the job," 'Yendam said, hoisting up his concussion rifle. "I've wasted too much time already."

Mitchel stood ready to make his move, "You talk to much." He threw a few throwing stars to distract Grono then suddenly held three marbles in between each finger, throwing them to the ground. They ignited with a deadly VX nerve gas that formed a dense cloud that spread quickly covering at least two miles in all directions. Mitchel's suit would filter out the chemical so he took a few backsteps before backflipping off the roof and down to the streets below, withdrawing his dual smgs and took aim, ready for the Sangheili to use his jetpack again.

Grono 'Yendam growled ripped out a gas filter, shoving it between his mandibles to prepare for the gas. Retreating out of view, the Sangheili had left as the gas started to spread. Eventually the toxin was completely surrounding Mitchel, and that was when the Elite struck. Barreling into Mitchel, the mercenary knocked him down before Mitchel could comprehend what was happening. Mitchel then kicked Grono in the shin, causing him to flinch, but the bounty hunter just fired the concussion rifle twice at point blank range, hitting Kyle straight on and knocking his Submachine guns out of his hands. Grabbing the Spartan by the collar, Grono activated his jetpack and flew up several stories high, to the roof of an apartment building.

Once up there, Grono threw Mitchel down and lay a large, gold-clad boot upon his chest. Drawing a plasma pistol, Grono held the trigger, charging it up to deliver the killing shot. Keeping a careful eye on Mitchel, the Elite said, "Your time ends now, Demon." The Sangheili didn't seem to be completely on guard though; as if he was expecting that Mitchel would escape.

Mitchel struggled under the boot of the elite but he would not give in so easily. Suddenly an accurate sniper shot would hit Grono in the chest causing his shields to flicker and another would scrape against his helmet as a sign that was to not fuck with his friend. Mitchel, seeing the perfect opportunity to attack Grono, withdrew his combat knife and stabbed it deep in Grono's shin, twisting the knife so the wound would not close properly and kicking him off. David, he's here. What a relief that the bastard is more or less on my side. Seeing his chance for escape he ran, jumping off the roof and onto the streets again and back to the airport.

Grono just stood there, looking around bewildered. "King? The bounty is here?"

Mitchel didn't look back he continued to sprint to the hanger, slowing down after being exhausted from running and fighting for a few hours. He made it to the hanger, activating a code to open it up as a shocked crowd gathered around him, most were scared of the events that transpired while others wanted answers to the attack on the airport.

As they gathered, 'Yendam broke through the crowd, knocking down a Jackal before walking up to Mitchel, a limp in his gait from the knife wound. Keeping his weapons, stored, Grono bared his mandibles at Mitchel. Looking around at the bystanders, Grono just clicked his lower mandibles. "I will kill you here and now, human, right in front of all these civilians. There is nothing you can do now."

A few of the startled citizens would start to gather the courage to face the Sangheili terrorist before them, one of them shouted out, "That elite killed some of our friends and families!" Another shouted, "Good way to interrupt the holiday you split-chin!" A few would stay back to call the local authorities, who would call the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and possibly ONI who would investigate these attacks soon enough.

"A small sacrifice they are willing to pay it seems, either you kill them and I escape and regroup with my team to kill you or you stand down now and run." He had a hard edginess to his voice, no way the Sangheili could put up a fight with that wounded leg of his. The hanger opened up, revealing a UNSC pelican inside, he slowly backed away into the hanger as the mob started pressing forwards.

Surprised by the fact that civilians were courageous enough to turn on him, Grono hesitated for a moment, before grabbing a woman by the neck. Her screams were cut short as an energy dagger ignited from a mount on Grono's wrist, slitting her throat. Throwing the body to the ground, the Elite held out his dagger hand towards the crowd, pushing them back. "Any other beings here wish to die?"

As the citizens drew back, gasping at the woman's sudden death, a squad of six police officers arrived on the scene; a pair of Grunts and a trio of humans lead by a Skirmisher deputy. Ushering the citizens to safety, they surrounded Grono, holding up Magnum and Plasma Pistol sidearms towards him. "Give yourself up, Sangheili!" Yelled the Kig-Yar deputy, motioning to his men. "You just got yourself a nice time in the brig!"

Realizing that he was outnumbered and outgunned, the Elite deactivated his dagger, letting the police move in. Not only had the Sangheili lost Mitchel, but he also had no further opportunity to pursue David King. The Unggoy constable waddled to Grono's backside and flashed a pair of energy cuffs, while one of the human officers watched Mitchel walk to the Pelican.

As Mitchel entered the ship and made his way to the cockpit, he started up the systems and plopped down into the pilot's seat, grateful that he had escaped with his life. As the hangar's door began to open up and Mitchel flew the Pelican up, he spotted the officers escorting a handcuffed Grono 'Yendam away, with many citizens booing at him. Satisfied, Mitchel launched the dropship out of the airport and away from the city of Obsidion, finally safe.

Chapter 9: Reunited

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

David raised the SRS-99 AM rifle off the window, folded up the tripod, and began disassembling the weapon quick and easy. This was usually how he liked to work just like any other sniper assassin. He set the pieces in a large suit-like case, closing it up and carrying it with him as he took the exits of the building that led to a flight of stairs. He casually made his way down the flight of stairs before pushing himself through another door on the lower level and entering the parking garage.

The parking garage was moderately sized with gray concrete walls fixed on all sides, suspended linear fixtures illuminated the parking garage in a shade of white while other newly replaced lights threw some blue into the mix. David's footsteps echoed throughout the place as he pulled out his chatter and pressed a button through one of the chatter's apps, alerting him that his car was nearby. He approached his car in a calm and collected manner, he knew nobody was looking for him in spite of a few stares he was given from employee's and other patrons entering and exiting the site, nor did he care at this moment, he had to make it to his buddy Craig before the day was over. He popped the trunk on the sedan and slid the case inside before closing the trunk. He walked to the driver side of the door and unlocked it before someone was eyeing him in the window: a reflection of a woman that looked not as nearly as dangerous as him but could have killed him right here, right now.

"Hands up, you make a move and you're a dead man." The woman said, her voice cold.

David turned around and gave the woman a look over, "Nice to see you, Hailey. What are you doing here on Drawn?" He chuckled before giving his friend a hug, he then pulled away to hear what she had to say.

"Well, I know you can handle your own. I'm just sightseeing."

"Come on, right now it's dangerous and I can't waste time." He continued to open the driver door and gestured for Hailey to enter the passenger, which she did.

David started up the car, putting the vehicle in reverse and backing out of the parking space, putting the vehicle in drive and accelerated smoothly, navigating his way through the parking structure and down a few ramps till he made it out the exit and turned left onto the main street. He was kinda in a rush but had to keep it under the speed limit, the last thing he wanted right now was a trail of cops behind him and some jail time. He continued down the main road for a mile or two before turning left and heading to a small restaurant, pulling alongside the curb and opening the passenger door.

"Hailey. Look I am glad you're here and all, but it's not safe. I can't have to tag along, if my HVT finds you, he/she may kill you. Please," He pleaded with sympathy, he didn't want to see her get kidnapped or worse get killed.

"Where am I supposed to go, David?"

David gave her a piece of paper. "Follow the directions, make sure nobody is tailing you, there will be a chatter in the side table, call the number in the contacts then destroy the chatter. Help will arrive to escort you off the planet." As she was about to exit, David grabbed her wrist and looked at her with cold eyes. "I know you're an assassin and all, but I wouldn't want to lose you; you're one of my best friends."

She nodded, closing the door and heading off, following the directions on the note.

David pulled away from the curb and make a quick legal U-turn, then made a quick left at the light, heading south toward his target location, the "initial meeting spot" was what he called it. Once at the key location, he parked across the street and put the car in park. Everything about the car was off the grid: Plates, registration, the color scheme. He made sure that nobody would be able to track his movements. He was after all a citizen of Drawn. His papers forged to blend in with the scum of this planet.

He took out a pair of binoculars, scoping out the building like a natural predator. Nobody around that looked suspicious to him. His photographic memory kicked in during the time he looked through the scope of his sniper, revealing two key individuals, one harder to make out than the other: A man wearing white and black armor with a black cross on the chest plate and a black stripe that ran through the center of the helmet. The other was a tall Sangheili clad in gold armor: a mercenary of sorts he guessed, a good bit taller than the average eight-foot split-face. He took out his datapad and began to sketch out the two individuals, adding the names Mitchel to the armored-spartan one and unknown Split-face next to the other. He swapped the color tool for red and painted a crosshair on the Sangheili, doodling a blood splatter for laughs before switching back to the pencil tool. He raised the binoculars, spying on the interior of the lobby, the place seemed to still be in operating hours as mixed species entered and exited the building. David's eye's narrowed in anger, he was disgusted by the sight of the creatures who worked with the Covenant that were now seemed to be living in harmony with the humans. He focused his attention to the receptionist before dropping the binoculars and sketching her in the datapad.

Hmmm, yes, you will be the first to go. He took a mental note before saving the information to a USB drive and locking the datapad in the glove compartment. He accelerated slowly, pulling away from the curb, turning into a parking lot, and parking. He took out a small collar-like device and fixed it to his neck, the device projecting a new holographic face over his old one. The face resembling of the man he assassinated in his sleep, his features were striking but not conspicuously handsome. His hair was wiry and gingerish and brushed backward from the temples. His skin seemed to be pulled backward from the nose. The true resemblance of a son-of-a-bitch that deserved death. He could not dwell on the disguise, it was his ticket in to speak with his long time friend after all. He exited the vehicle and pulled out his chatter, locking the doors and setting the tint from thirty to one-hundred percent, the glass windows now black as darkness. He walked casually across the street, looking both ways and avoiding any oncoming traffic getting closer to the building. As he entered the building, blending in with the small busy crowd, he approached the receptionist, his new face and identity unrecognizable from the nearby surveillance equipment.

"Good afternoon ma'am. I'm here to speak with Kyle Craig. Is he in? I'm a friend of his, Jack Watkins."

Chapter 10: Information Broker

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: NEW TYNE, VENEZIA

A figure walked through the slums of New Tyne, the capital city and most prominent settlement on Venezia. Wearing his Sangheili-style armor, the Red Blaze hadn't bothered with a disguise in this place. Venezia was home to his prime employers, a Sangheili-run criminal empire known as the Flame, that had built itself up from a lowly street gang to a powerful faction. Aligning themselves with the Order of Assassins, they had graciously accepted the Red Blaze as a recruit. Of course, their stronghold, the Burning Keep, wasn't located here. It would be too vulnerable. However, quite a few of their enforcers kept up work here, so the Red Blaze knew he was in good hands.

Having gotten a lead earlier from one of the Flame's Sangheili enforcers, he had found his way here, to a broken down tavern at the edge of the civilized parts of the city. Pushing open the creaking door, he cautiously made his way inside, fully aware of the many drunks and criminals that would be eager for a fight. Spotting his lead at a table close to the entrance, the Red Blaze hurried over, sitting down and assessing the man in front of him; wearing a bright blue military BDU definitely meant for style rather than effectiveness, as well as a young pale face with a thin layer of stubble.

The man took a long, hard look at the Red Blaze and swigged down the last of a beer bottle next to him. He then set the bottle down and spoke, "You looking for someone, Sangheili-Boy? You're disguise ain't foolin' me. I've had enough experience with the Flame to know who's a Sangheili and who's not."

The Red Blaze didn't seem bothered by the comment. His helmet made a hiss and he removed it. His face looked as though it had been taken to pieces and put back together again by a child with only a vague knowledge of the human form. There were a dozen scars on his neck and around his cheeks... "So you're not the only one who knows of who I am and what I do." He let out a snort, a sign of irritation but also the feeling of defeat. He took a seat. "One reason why I wear this Sangheili helmet. I feel as though I lost all sense of purpose to be even called human." He set the helmet down on the table as he let out a sigh. "But I still follow the Flames goals of burning down their enemies with a fiery passion. The flames will consume my enemies. The Flame's empire growing stronger with every victory."

The man chuckled. "So you're with the Flame, eh? I can't respect people like that, but I can certainly give them credit for what they do. So, why you come here? Looking for a job from me?"

Blaze pulled out a datapad and opened the files with images and a bio of the man known as David King. He slid it over to the man across from him so he could get a read on the information. "I'm hunting this man, you know him? Maybe have a tip on where he's hiding?"

The man took the pad and looked it over. After he was finished, he set it down. "I might. But I don't work for free, you know."

Blaze sighed, weighing his options. He could pay the man and not get any helpful information, or he could walk out right now seeing this as a wasted time, maybe even a wasted opportunity, as he had details in the datapad pointing to a lead to where King traveled, but that may not even be enough, as things could change. This new opportunity could shed some light on his current predicament and no doubt that he would be a few steps ahead in the competition. "How much you looking for? I might be able to make some arrangements with my current employer to do a credit transfer if the information is extremely valuable."

"I wouldn't say much. Roughly a thousand."

Blaze nodded. "Let me make the call." He pulled out his chatter, dialing the receptionist, who put him on hold for awhile before transferring him to Craig. The two had a small discussion about the the situation. Craig seemed tense on the other line, something that Red Blaze thought was awkward of him, but the credits would be transferred in seconds. He held the receiver.

"Anything else?"

"Nope."

The man grinned. "Jackson Kut, at your service. If there's anything I do know, it's that David King is a man that stays on the move. From my... sources, the man you're looking for is located in a small town on the outskirts of Drawn, near the Lithis desert. He's been hiding there for a bit."

Red Blaze put the notes in his datapad and marked coordinates on it, before feeding it into his helmet's HUD. "Perfect." He leaned in a bit. "Why aren't you in this shenanigan? It's a large bounty and my employer could get all the help he needs."

"I'd rather not get killed. My boss wouldn't like it if I did. And I've got my own bounty to capture." Kut stood up, taking a helmet from next to him. It resembled the Gen 2 Rogue helm used by Spartan IVs, and Jackson put it on over his head, resembling a miniature version of one.

"I appreciate the information." Blaze got up and put on his own helmet, the map with coordinates appearing on his HUD. His voice scrambler now gave off a more robotic tone. "I must depart, time is of the essence and my employer seems distressed." He pinged the assassins on Drawn, sending out a distress signal to check on Craig.

As the two prepared to leave, a man with a scar running across his pudgy face stood up and blocked their way. "Hey, you two! You discussing something private? No one keeps secrets from me! This tavern belongs to Big John! I know everything around here!"

It was obvious from one look that was man was drunk, as he took out a knife. Two smaller, healthier-looking men stood up behind him, holding their fists up. "That's none of your business, John," Said Kut, easing towards the exit. "Now just let us go-"

He was interrupted as the fat man socked him in the visor, knocking his head back. Stumbling backwards, Kut sighed and picked up his beer bottle, smashing it into the table, breaking off the majority and leaving a sharp edge, perfect for cutting. "Guess it's gonna go down like this."

Blaze charged forward and threw a roundhouse kick at one of the healthier looking guys, sending him careening into the wall. This fight would turn into a brawl as more drunken people and aliens started to fight their own battles, cursing profanities about the war, what was fair and considered moral. Blaze attempted to throw a punch at the fat one, but his blow was absorbed and he was just knocked backed by the fat man's punch. He regained his balance and tried to go for a sweeping kick but his agile movement was far too slow. Six pairs of rough hands tried to seize him. Blaze's right shot out. With a little gurgle, and one of the men staggered backward to crumple in a table. A hulking Sangheili, leaping like a panther, landed on Blazes back. Dropping abruptly, Blaze executed a somersault, shook himself free and rose only to butt his head into the stomach of the strong Sangheili. Blaze found himself in a bear hug. He struggled against him, shooting his right leg out but his movements were far too slow. Hands moving from his waist, the Sangheili seized his arms, trapping them to his side. Blaze pushed the Sangheili into the wall, the agile gesture causing Blaze to stumble almost falling flat on his face as he was released from the grip.

Meanwhile, Kut grabbed a man, bashing his face in with the broken bottle before elbowing an Unggoy coming up behind him in the neck, knocking it to the ground. Kut then turned threw the bottle straight at Big John, slicing through his blubbery skin with the sharp points. The mercenary then punched a Kig-Yar in the face before sliding under a pair of brawlers, stopping at the squirming John.

"Looks like you just ran out of business," He said, punching the man so hard that his nose cracked. He then took out a handgun from his pocket and fire it into the ceiling, gaining everyone's attention.

"I'd recommend you let the Elite-Boy go before I blow out your brains, Split-Lip," Said Kut as he aimed at the Sangheili fighting the Red Blaze. Reluctantly, the saurian stepped back, and Kut walked over, helping the Blaze up. "I'd say we leave this joint before the authorities come," The mercenary whispered into the assassin's ear.

"Agreed." He gets his barrings together and heads out the door heading to where his dropship was located. Way too much activity on Venezia, but it was worth it for the information he now had. He turned to the hitman, "I appreciate you having my back, Jackson. Most of the time I would be fighting on my own and I would probably have died to that Sangheili."

"No problem. Just remember that Jackson Kut remembers those who do him favors."

As the Red Blaze entered his dropship, the mercenary turned away, walking into an alleyway. Taking out a datapad of his own, he swiped to call his contact. After waiting for a few seconds, the call was picked up. Speaking in an easy tone, Kut said, "David King, I have some news you might be interested to hear."

Chapter 11: Reassignment

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: BUREAU OF CRIMINAL APPREHENSION, QUANTICO, VIRGINIA, UNRA, EARTH

In the Morning, newly appointed Special Agent Jason Miller had arrived at his assignment desk in Virginia. He has just completed his orientation and training. Since he moved from a major metropolitan city police department, he was not required to complete the normal six-month training for the job.

As he exited the elevator onto the floor, he saw rows and rows of desks with no separation. He was told that once he arrived, he would be able to find his desk with no problem. He had to walk down several rows before he found his assigned location. There was barely enough room to sit down at his desk and get the chair to roll under him, let alone move after he was seated.

After he finally located the position, buried in between other agents, he dropped his suitcase at the desk that already had his nameplate and turned to meet the man whose desk was right beside him.

"Hello, I'm Jason Miller.” He extended his hand to the man who finally looked up from his seated position at the adjacent desk.

"Well! Good Morning Jason!" The man said with a large amount of excitement in his voice. "I'm Robert. Robert Wellborn.” He gave a firm shake to his fellow agent. “Did you just get here? I mean to the unit?"

"Yes, I just finished my orientation yesterday and was ordered to report there today. I need to find a supervisor. Where's the boss' office so I can check in with him?"

Pointing toward a closed office on the opposite end of the floor, Robert said, "The director is Andrew Cross, but he isn't here this afternoon. You will have to meet with him on Thursday. But you still need to drop off your transfer papers with his assistant, June." He indicated a blond-haired woman sitting directly outside the closed office.

"Thanks," Jason responded as he turned to walk to the opposite end of the floor.

Arriving at the assistant’s office he knocked and entered, dropping off the transfer papers. The assistant looked through them and instructed Jason to head to the senior field agent’s office for his first assignment.

Jason left the assistant's office and arrived at the senior field agent’s office, getting permission to enter as he was cleared to do so by the assistant. The office was plain and white as were most of the offices in the bureau. A bookshelf lined with encyclopedias and police manuals stood against the wall of the room along with some lovely décor of pictures and pottery. A man in his thirties dressed in suit and tie gave a beaming smile at the new arrival. A nameplate on his desk read Mark Young, Senior Field Agent.

"Jason Miller! Cross has been expecting you, but he is on business so I will school you in on your first assignment. Please have a seat." He gestured to one of the open seats across from him.

Jason took a seat, folding his hands on the desk and leaned in to show that he was attentive. "Alright Mark, what do you got for me."

Mark pulled out a datapad and read over it before handing it over to Jason to read the details as he continued, "Jason. Your reputation proceeds you. Taking on crime in the city of Los Angeles and saving a lot of lives. But now there is a much bigger threat. Word around the colonies is that Drawn was recently attacked by a Sangheili. We capture him, but we don’t know this Elite's name, so that is where you come in. I need you on the scene at the airfield to investigate a bombing, as well as interrogating the Elite. We need to know who exactly caused it, how, and why. We are going to assign you a senior field agent to help you with the task, you will take orders from him." He continued in a straightforward tone, "I understand that the man is one tough cookie. Top agent in the department solving homicides. He is not afraid of anyone or anything. He faced some of the worst killers in a few colonies, including Venezia and never, ever backed down."

"Alright." Jason had a slight edge of nervousness to his voice, A Sangheili? His last battle with a Sangheili ended up in total failure with injuries that took several months to recover from.

Mark continued, reassuring Jason. "In fact, I understand that you barely survived a skirmish over a year ago, you might consider working together." He pinged for the Alex, who arrived shortly within a few minutes.

"Special Agent Miller, this is Senior Field Agent Alex Mulroy."

Both exchanged pleasantries and handshakes before Alex took a seat, adjusting his suit to get comfy.

Alex was a bit more laid back in his new position, and though his trip to the Department had been a long one, laid out with stereotypes and question inability, he too had proven himself as a worthy agent, even if he had a bit of a criminal record behind it. But in many ways, it was an asset. He knew leads, and he knew what questions to ask. And it was his leads that would help crack Miller's first case.

Mark continued as Jason looked over the information on the datapad. There was a lot to soak in, "You will be working with Drawn’s police forces as well as the Office of Naval Intelligence. Our sources also say that there is something else happening something big. If you can find out and try to apprehend all involving parties that would be a real peacekeeping solution."

"You can count on us, sir!" Alex said, looking up from the datapad.

Mark gave a small relaxed smile and said, "I know I can. You figure out this mess and bring the suspects to Midnight Facility, and we'll keep this place nice and clean for your return. June’s got some more details for your case down below. Once you get it, get your things ready and head for the spaceport."

"We're leaving already?" Jason asked.

"Of course. Drawn is a long flight with slip space travel...and let's not forget that by the time you get there...people will be starting their day."

"Then we'll be off." Alex gave a nod.

"Do us proud, you two." Mark said, "And rest well...it's a long flight."

Chapter 12: Straight to the Source

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

The receptionist picked up the datapad and punched in the message. He would receive it shortly and a response would return approving the meeting. "Your all set, Mr. Watkins. Top floor down the hall."

David gave a subtle nod, then continued down the lobby and towards the elevators. He stopped to think for a minute as he pressed the button to call the elevator lift. ‘’Maybe I should have taken the stairs.’’ As the elevator doors parted, he entered and pressed the button to the top floor. The elevator doors closed, and he looked around the elevator. Thirty seconds. He found a small surveillance camera in the top corner spying on him, but he made short work of it by covering it with a dark dome. Whoever performed security detail would know of this situation, but this didn’t bother him. He was close to his target.

As the elevator doors parted, he was greeted by a small security detail of three men, each in military-grade armor. He calmly exited the elevator and held up his hands, turning around and waiting for the pad down. One of the security agents walked up and began to search him.

Suddenly, David brought the main man’s arm in a lock and broke it, he pulled out his suppressed magnum and popped the other two guards in their heads. He shoved the main man off him before popping him once in the head.

He continued down the corridor, ready to take down any more agents that would post a threat, two more would arrive from opposite ends of the hallway and they fired their guns at him. He strafed left and hid behind cover as the bullets chewed through the concrete pillars. He timed everything though and he ran out of cover focusing his fire on the man to his right who was in the middle of reloading, he quickly went down with a few bullets to the chest. Now in cover on the other side, he waited patiently, making grunting sounds. He heard footsteps getting closer and closer until finally, he saw the pistol. He got out of cover and disarmed the man, breaking his wrist and snapping his arm before delivering a shot to his chin, blood splattered on the ceiling and it was safe to say the man was dead.

He turned to the elevator and shot the call buttons. Everything was silent on this end except for the damn security agents shooting. No doubt the police would be here soon enough. He continued forward, cold and casual as he kicked the door down to Kyle’s penthouse suite and saw the man sitting calmly in the chair with nothing to hide. Was it really this easy? The bastard should have known that he was coming and should have sent his assassins here or better yet, they should have never left. Pity. He raised his gun at Kyle’s head and proceeded to fire a few suppressed rounds…

They didn’t do any good when they embedded themselves in the glass window, leaving small bullet holes. He could see Kyle’s smug expression, he was beaten at his own game. So, he could either walk out now and try again later or chat and try and squeeze some information out him.

"Take a seat," Kyle said calmly as he gestured to one of the chairs.

He did. "I suppose you want to know why I am here." He sat the pistol on his lap and listened.

"I do, and a man of your talents Watkins you’re a pretty stealthy man. I thought we had set our differences aside, or should I say…David. King."

He removed the small collar-like device around his neck, the hologram deteriorating with static and pixels as it revealed his true face. The face of an assassin. He tossed the device aside and faced Kyle. "How did you figure it out? When I covered the security cameras? I also made sure that all cameras in the hallways were looped so everything was casual before I came here."

"Yes, you did, but you of all people should know that Watkins was…" He chuckled at himself and the lack of information that David knew, "Not that versed in combat. He was an arms dealer, a higher up within a mob.” He became speculative of David, what has he been doing all these years or maybe months? He continued, “And now you just manage to know information and steal his identity?"

"Well Mister know-it-all, I’m not going to tell you anything. ONI orders and all." He taunted back, but it was not enough, he would have to find a way to press his buttons, he just couldn’t find the words-yet. "Shame. That’s what bugs you most." He got cocky now, continuing, "You not knowing what I know because you are just a criminal scumbag who hires assassins because he is afraid, afraid that one man is going to kill you because you can’t do anything."

He could see Kyle squeezing his fists and that was enough body language to tell him that he was winning. "I already found your Sangheili friend trying to kill one of mine. Looks like he’s in custody now. One down and with my best asset on my side that’s what two to go?"

He watched on as Kyle was still calm, his fists no longer balled, was he concocting a plan to take him out right here and now, what advantage did Kyle even have behind that square box of his. He looked around the room when he saw the surveillance equipment, he frowned. "I could just hack that and find out exactly where your t-bag gang is hiding." He got up and calmly walked towards the surveillance equipment.

"You’ll never get the password." Kyle mocked as he slid his hand under the table near a button.

"Never underestimate an assassin’s resources, my friend." He took out a device and hooked it to his chatter and started hacking the computer systems, at least it wasn’t protected by an AI. In a few minutes he was in and started downloading the data, suddenly a small explosion the size of a grenade blast erupted from the console and sent him flying backward. He groaned in pain as he got up.

"Goodbye David, you’ll be leaving now, unless you want to leave in pieces."

He was dazed and confused before collapsing to the floor entering a code into his chatter device. "You…will be receiving…and eviction notice…" He raged as he groaned in pain before pressing the send button on the chatter. A hail of bullets from an automated turret tore through the window and he observed Kyle’s protective box get punctured and break, but Kyle was having none of it, as he quickly escaped into his panic room. Between him and the gunfire he quickly got up, learning a few things as he dashed out of the room. A biometric scanner? Place held some highly valuable stuff and he would soon break in and destroy everything in that safe room of his.

He grabbed onto the wall using it as support as his ears were ringing from the explosion earlier and the automated gunfire. He wanted to give one last taunt to his former friend turned enemy, “You know the police will be on you like wine on rice!” He yelled at the top of his lungs before spitting out some blood. “And that is going to be bad for you!” He quickly hobbled over to the stairs and opened the door forcefully, pushing himself though, the adrenaline now kicking in was the only thing that pushed him this far. Continuing down the steps, he was losing feeling as he fell and gripped the railing for balance, he made it down ten flights of stairs before making it to the parking garage and fell to the floor. He coughed up blood and crawled his way to a nearby vehicle, pushing himself against it. This was it? Kyle was going to be a dead man now and he would make sure of it. Time to even the odds.

A vehicle came screeching into the parking garage and pulled near him. He heard the footsteps echoing and getting closer to him till he finally made out the face of his friend, Hailey. "I thought I told you to hide. You’re not safe here." Those were his last words before he slipped into unconsciousness.

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Hailey Brooks grabbed David and slung his arm over her shoulder trying to get him to the car, a futuristic-looking sports coupe with a black and blood red paint scheme. She accidentally dropped him on the way, due to his own body weight. She grabbed him from the underarms and dragged him into the passenger seat, pushing him inside and clipping the seatbelt on before getting in the driver seat and starting the car. She pulled out of the parking garage and continued down as a few of the districts patrol cars zoomed past them. She had driven a rental car from the outskirts of Drawn; the driver’s licenses were authentic and under a different name, and she had some credits that she illegally obtained from her employer.

Hailey learned a few things from David on the art of assassination. She wasn’t as good as David or those other high contracted assassins. She just took care of business, quietly and efficiently, using a variety of silenced pistols, mostly close-range weapons. Careful, close-ranged killings became a trademark. She never thought of herself as stupid, just as someone who hadn’t had her chance yet. When an opportunity presented itself, Hailey would go out of town and come back with a bundle of credits. Some she spent and some she hid, under a variety of names, in a variety of place. One thing David taught her well: sooner or later, however comfortable you might be at that moment, you were going to have to run.

She continued driving and turned off the main road and on a ramp that entered the highway, passing by the metropolitan city and exiting in a more industrial area. The winter morning made the scenery look a bit bleak as she passed a few factories and pulled into the parking lot of a small business complex. She found a parking space near the urgent care center and immediately exited the vehicle, heading inside and grabbing one of the medical staff’s attention, who’d take notice of David’s condition and get him inside and taken care of quickly. In the medical room, the staff had David hooked up to a few IV drips and were taking care of his face which looked like it had several cuts from the blast earlier.

"I’ll have to cauterize his face wounds if you want this to be done really quick," instructed the doctor. "Hailey, I'll warn you—going hurt like hell so be ready."

Hailey grimly nodded at the doctor, who then gathered some metal and heat, mixing the two together. He approached his patient who lay curled on the bed. Tugging gently at David’s face he, the doctor began the cauterizing process.

To David, it might as well be acid. He screamed, voice cracking. He bucked hard beneath Hailey, attempting to throw her off. The metal hissed, steamed within the wound.

"Sssh, David, sshhh. It'll be okay," muttered Hailey.

“Huuurttts, Sooo mmmmuch." David sobbed.

"I know—it'll get better," soothed Hailey, voice thick with unshed tears. She eased his grip; letting David curl into him.

Chapter 13: Compliments and Insults

23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: DOWNTOWN, DRAWN

Damien turned the brass knob on the dark oak colored door with the brushed brass number twenty-nine fixed on it, the squeaking as he opened the door was more than enough to give him a small throb inside his head. He stepped inside and gazed around the temporary room that his employer assigned him.

The room was bleak and furnished only with an iron bedstead, from which the rumpled sheets hung down on one side to the floor, a cane chair, an unpainted clothes cupboard and a cheap washstand with a tin basin. The floor was strewn with different magazines. Decorated paper-backs and hard-cover thrillers were stacked against the wall below the window. Damien bent down and pulled a battered Italian fiber suitcase from under the bed. He emptied into it a selection of well-laundered cheap respectable clothes and his tools of assassination which consisted of a brand new M6/SOCOM pistol and a prized wristwatch.

He didn’t like the room, but what can you expect for a one-time job that should take a couple of days to complete. It was rented to him from his employer, not the smart psychopath that tasked him with hunting down David King, but a more ominous employer. He continued to the bathroom and turned on the light. An elongated toilet on one side next to a frameless corner fixed shower, and a sturdy bathroom sink. The walls were a white dirty tile and the ceiling had some mold stains. ‘’Whatever it takes to keep a low profile I guess.’’ Damien began to strip out his dirty clothes then hopped in the shower for a quick scrub and rinse. When he was done drying himself, he proceeded back to the bedroom to change into his conventional assassin uniform: a black wool bodysuit with some cargo pants. He slipped on his wristwatch, testing out the microfiber garrote that slid out like a fishing line before returning it into the device. He pulled out the pistol and began breaking it down to clean and lubricate it, then cleaned the bullets before placing them back in the mags and slipped the mag into the gun. He racked back the slide, careful not to make to much noise and alert anyone who would be heard next door from the cheap hotel’s hallowed walls.

Next, he pulled out the datapad and studied the map that Craig gave him. So, he was not expecting any new jobs so soon. He was counting on it. And no-deadline clean jobs were the worst. One might have to wait for weeks for the right window of opportunity. And he didn't have weeks. He had finally found a trail that could lead him to David King. That man was the key to all. With the money, he could finally pay back his employer and retired from this deadly business of life and death. The map gave the location of Drawn’s entire MagLev system. How the hell did Craig acquire this? Further details indicated points of entry and the route that David usually takes, including variables on changes of routes and times. If David was sophisticated to change up his route and times, Damien would have to pick one that seemed the most predictable. Luckily, Craig had highlighted that. And the next stop would be around ten o’clock prime meridian time.

He connected a device to the datapad, purging all the contents, including any contacts. He already had most of what he needed in his chatter anyway and if the datapad fell into the wrong hands, it would leave a cold trail. He pulled out his chatter and dialed his employer who picked up on the second ring.

"Hello?" A man said in English but with a Russian accent.

"It’s Black. I need some resources. A Drawn MagLev access card, a LEGION team, and something sounding undercover."

A brief pause on the other end before a response, "Okay, we have a crew stationed on here on Drawn. Meet them at the red-light district, a restaurant, I'll send the coordinates to your chatter."

The line clicked and a beep emitted from his chatter with the coordinates of the meeting spot. Damien smiled and holstered the pistol, grabbing a coat and throwing it over himself. He exited the room and locked the door. Next, he headed down the stairs and into the lobby where he met with the hotel’s receptionist and gave him the key, informing him that he was checking out. He walked out of the hotel and straight for his SUV, he got inside and headed to the assigned location which took about fifteen minutes with the moderate traffic of Drawn’s downtown cityscape.

He parked the SUV at an angle where he could make a quick exit, in case some ONI agents or police were around surveying the area, he had to take the necessary precautions no matter how stupid or insignificant they were. He exited the vehicle and approached the restaurant, calmly as if he were just another customer. He entered inside and approached the host.

"Good afternoon. I need to speak to an Alek Sokolov."

The host gave a glance and his eyes were wide, but Damien could see that the man kept his cool. He was pointed into the direction of a private table which sat four other men. Damien gave a nod and a ‘thank you’ before heading over to the table to introduce himself and the men instantly recognized who he was. Alek gestured for Damien to take a seat and he did.

"Damien, one of our best assets, what brings you here?" Alek said with a thick Russian accent. "Wait…" He held up a finger in a kind gesture. "I know exactly why you are here…" He fished around for some papers and placed them on the table.

"We've given you leadership of one of our silencer groups. Twenty of our finest men. Meet them at Kazarvad Street, Obsidion."

Damien accepted the papers and looked over each of them, a few passports, ID and access cards for Drawn’s metro link. He smiled at the three men, handing them each a decent bundle of credits to cover the work they did. "Thank you. When I’m done with my job, we all will live like kings."

Alek said something in Russian and Damien returned the Russian saying. He excused himself and walked out of the restaurant. This new alias, the LEGION kill team, and the access cards to the MagLev were just the start. The hunt was truly on…

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23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: GLENGER, DRAWN

Glenger was what a village becomes with no city planning and great enthusiasm for architecture. Every building was different, borrowing this and that from another era. It made the place as glorious as a beloved grandmother's quilt, eveyr patch unique and as eye-catching as the one before. A tiny and cheap church, with plastic stained windows instead of glass, was a place for the religious to gather for prayer. The town was home to the human population which consisted of a small number of Unggoy.

Mitchel was sitting in a safe house. Here he felt safe, isolated from the combat and dangers that lurked within the more dangerous parts of Drawn. He paid little attention to the television as the media was reviewing the attack on the airport that happened a few hours earlier. Already police were on the scene investigating the situation and the news media couldn’t stay away from such a scandalous event. The Sangheili terrorist who attacked the airport had been put into custody, but had still managed to attack him.

With his suit off he observed the few plasma burns and bloody wounds. He grabbed the antiseptic and threw it on the burns. He hissed from the sting, but the antiseptic was doing its job, eliminating the harmful bacteria before the infection starts. He grabbed some pain killers and tossed those in his mouth, munching on them and swallowing them they would do their job soon. He took some clean bandages and bandaged his shoulder and below the waist.

He recollected the events that transpired during his battle with the Sangheili terrorist—Grono 'Yendam. But something was off, his partner 589 Curious Puzzle wasn’t with him. We make quite an effective pairing. He snorted at the thought. What a coward if the monitor just leaves his best friend. Yeah. Very effective pairing. He also noted the monitor's own self-defense weapon, how the hell was he supposed to eliminate that thing? He was confident a Spartan laser to the face would do the trick, but he didn’t have one with him…

"I’m going to pay Grono a visit and kill him myself…" He gave a exhale of breath before saying to himself. "Calm down Mitchel, you can’t be consumed with revenge."

He stood up from his seat, grabbing the datapad from the drawer and paced around the room, reading the contents. A secluded location on the outskirts of Drawn, it was not a big location, but he recognized it as a safe house of sorts. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. What are you up to Craig? He thought for a bit, thinking why he would be sent to this location and not somewhere else until he opened another file that contained information on the safe house. Apparently, this safe house was used as one of David’s spots to negotiate deals with a former mob boss. He didn’t have time to dig deeper. He had the location and hopefully, he would meet David and get some sort of understanding going. He noticed times written down and ignored them. Nothing like stalking your friend first to find out exactly where he would be at the right time.

He threw on his bodysuit and plated armor. He walked outside the small room and headed towards the hangar. The location was discreet, only his Fireteam and members of ONI knew about the location. He made sure that nobody followed him. He placed his hand on the biometric scanner and his identity was confirmed. The metallic doors opened with a hiss and they parted, revealing a large interior of a hanger. Grey walls lined the interior and the overhead lights activated in sections as Mitchel stepped inside. The Pelican was revealed and along the side of the walls were some state-of-the-art equipment from motion trackers and maps to a variety of ONI grade weaponry.

He approached a large tube-like object the held his MJOLNIR Armor: A Reaper helmet and Seeker body armor painted white and black, the helmet had a white stripe down the middle and a black visor. He wasted no time and got ready, clipping his weapons in place, each melee weapon’s blade was made of plasma energy for maximum lethality. He grabbed the plasma katana that was sheathed on the wall and holstered it to his back, the sheath magnetically locking in place. He never knew if he would be facing Grono ‘Yendam again, but when that time came, he would want to give that split-jaw a taste of his own medicine.

The HUD came to life displaying a health bar, motion tracker and ammo counter. He spotted some weapons of his liking; Two laser-sighted SMGs, as well as a pair of M6H pistols. His blunt hands were steady as they lifted the guns and tried a dry shot at an imaginary target. He nodded to himself. He was ready.

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23 DECEMBER 2559

Location: TOWN OF WESTTIDE, DRAWN

It took him four hours to reach Westtide, a fishing village that had grown into a dense and cluttered town. The buildings were an amazing jumble of different styles: rickety wooden shops, marble and brick houses, a huge stone church. Everything had been beaten down and baked by the sun - and sunlight was everywhere: in the dust, in the vivid colors, in the smells of spices and overripe fruit. But it was nightfall now…

Red Blaze walked calmly through the town and eyed the many shops that were closed for business. He was looking for his target. All the information he obtained on his datapad led him to this place, so now he needed to search for the hideout. He continued walking until he arrived at the destination. A small brick house laid in the middle of the landscape. It appeared to be isolated from the rest of the village, typical for an assassin to hide.

He moved forward with caution approaching the door and gave it a kick. The door swung open hitting the wall with a loud thud. He stepped inside and looked around. He eyed the cozy living room and searched the place until something caught his interest. A work desk with a few pinup boards that listed various maps, targets, and schedules. He studied the targets as his eye’s widened in fear that one of the targets was his current employer: Kyle Craig. He studied the location and saw a map of Obsidion. A few more pictures of a building structure with entry and exit points where machine gun turrets could be strategically placed also caught his attention.

Red Blaze pulled his chatter out and immediately dialed Craig’s number, only to find no answer but voicemail. He ended the call and stuffed the chatter back in his pocket as he continued to look around for any other relevant information on where his target would be. He found something of interest. A picture of a female with black hair and a pretty face. He took that picture as a token; the first clue was to find her and get some answers.

He heard squeaking sounds from the floorboards and thought that he locked the door behind him. The slow cold tingling feeling slipping down his spine. Was he here? He thought and turned around to be greeted by a tall overweight man dressed in hunting attire and a hunting shotgun aimed at his head.

"Don’t move or I’ll blow your face off. What are you doing intruding in my friend’s home?" The man said.

Red blade studied the shotgun with a cocked head. It looked like a hunter’s edition of an M90 shotgun. The barrel was short ranged, and which made it harder to disarm at close quarters. He lifted his hands above his head, showing that he had no will to harm the man.

"I’m not going to hurt you. I was-." Red blaze started before he was cut off by the hunter.

"You were snooping around Parker’s personal stuff, weren’t you? Now I’m going to give you till the count of three to get out! ONE…" The hunter took a few steps back, gun still trained on the assassin.

Red Blaze gave a slight nod, moving out of the way slowly and steadily. Parker? Must be David's alias. The last thing he wanted was blood on the wall and to be out of the competition permanently by a hunter. As a human assassin working for the Order of Assassin's, he would be the laughing stock throughout Sangheilios and its colonies.

“TWO!” The hunter racked back the shotgun's forestock.

Red Blaze moved towards the door a little bit faster now, the humility racing through his mind. He emitted a growl as he exited to the outside and then looked at the hunter with vengeance underneath his helmet. He took off in a quick sprint and raced through the forest, disappearing into the icy night.

Chapter 14: Prison Break

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON, DRAWN

The supermax prison was located in the outskirts of Drawn, far enough to isolate the criminals from the general population. It was made up of prison units that housed the most dangerous criminals on the planet. A unmarked squad car pulled up to the gate and Alex Mulroy checked in with one of the guards at the facility shack. He was given a clipboard and signed off on the parking sheet. He signed off his vehicle information and credentials before he was let in. In the passenger was Jason Miller, who was sipping a cup of coffee, staring off into the distance. This was his first prison encounter that would take place far away from home. From Earth. From his beloved town of Los Angeles. Something about this place looked alien and dangerous. Alex parked the car and they both exited the vehicle. They walked inside the prison facility and arrived in the lobby where they stated their names, showed their credentials, and gave their reason for visiting: which was to interrogate a large dangerous Sangheili criminal. Jason pulled out a cigarette and leaned against the wall to light it before being told that he couldn't light it for the sake of the prisoners. Safety protocol and all he guessed. So they both waited patiently for the supervisor or tour guide to show up and greet them.

Surprisingly quickly, a Kig-Yar came to escort them. Wearing a police badge, his mane of feathers bristled as he greeted the pair. "Deputy Rifk. I show y'all Sangheili. Beware though, he's a mean one."

The two agents exchanged looks of worry. Jason was more relaxed than Alex though.

"You got the evidence, Jason?"

"I do."

"Good."

They both followed the Kig-Yar, exchanging small talk as they trailed behind. As they trekked through the facility, they passed through one of the cell blocks. Inside many of the diminutive cubicles were a variety of menacing prisoners, mainly human and Kig-Yar. There were a pair of Sangheili, neither as intimidating as the one they were heading to interrogate, and a trio of Unggoy all squashed into a single cell together. There was even a brawny Jiralhanae in one of the last ones, snarling and spitting out curses at the three as they passed.

Reaching a large, metal gate, the deputy reached out his hand to a biometric scanner, opening the large entrance. "If there's one thing I appreciate most that you humans made, it's these things," Rifk stated casually, gesturing for them to follow him in.

"State of the art. Best way to keep prisoners secure."

"Too bad you don't have an artificial intelligence to control everything. I mean the rumors of Midnight Facility sound cool." Jason spoke in an annoyed tone, but quickly returned to the matter at hand. He cleared his throat as they continued to follow Rifk. "This Sangheili, he can't be as dangerous as Jul 'Mdama was, right?"

"Maybe," Replied the Kig-Yar. "From files, it says he was one of 'Mdama's Zealots for time. What's more disturbing is that this isn't his first time here. He attack Drawn before, with whole crew of pirates. 2556. That failed, though."

"He escaped?" Alex questioned.

"Presumed dead. Resurface a year later as one of the Covenant Reformers."

"You don't mind if we record the conversation for investigative purposes?" Alex, gestured for Jason to take notes, "Jason, take notes so we can build a case against this Sangheili scum." He turned his attention towards Rifk, "So there's more Remnants of the Covenant out there somewhere?"

"Don't mind at all," Said the deputy, "There will always be some kind of warlord claiming to be the Covenant. It's inevitable."

Rifk stopped dead in his tracks outside of a one-way window, pointing at the occupant within. A large, burly Sangheili adorned in golden armor sat upon a metal stool much too small for him, bound by energy cuffs. His head was down, and he seemed to be resting.

"That's him. Grono 'Yendam. The bastard that attacked the airport this morning."

"Lets go Jason, Deputy Rifk, thank you for the support." Alex entered the room inside.

Jason however felt a little bit uneased by the Sangheili's stature. This could get out of hand fast. "Extra security, deputy? Please?"

"Sure thing. No way I'm gonna let that split-chin out of here scot-free." As Rifk threw out his insult, a pair of officers, one Unggoy and one human, entered, their hands resting on their sidearms. "He's all yours."

"Thank you, Deputy." Jason said with a reassuring smile, he felt a lot better, and a lot safer. He followed Alex into the room with the human and Unngoy trailing behind. Alex cleared his throat and shouted to wake up the Sangheili scum who appeared to be resting. "Rise and shine, split-face!"

The bulky mercenary raised his head to acknowledge their presence, and bared his teeth at the duo. "I was wondering when I would get out of this hell."

"You're not getting out split-face, not yet." Jason said as he unbuttoned his suit and took it off throwing it around the chair as he sat down. Alex pulled up the chair and sat down, a hardened look on his face as he opened up the Sangheili criminal's file from Drawn's databanks using his datapad. They knew who he was. "Grono 'Yendam. Alex continued, "I am Special Agent Alex Mulroy and this is my partner Special Agent Jason Miller. We are here to interrogate you, whether direct or indirect you have the right to answer them. Do you understand?"

"Failure to cooperate may keep you here and we hope to work together to get you out as fast as possible," Jason said, he wanted to make the Sangheili felt comfortable at first before he proceeded to bash his brains in later.

Grono laughed softly, keeping his gaze steady on Alex. "I do not believe so, Agent. But I must wait a little longer, so I shall humor you. What is your first question?"

"You were responsible for the attacks on the airport in Obsidian yesterday morning, correct?" Miller studied him, facial expressions, body language, to see if he was lying, hiding something, or even to determine guilt or innocence. The soft laugh made Miller think that they were being played. Playing the waiting game? Buying time for what though...

"It was indirect and unintended. Collateral damage in the way of my true target," The Sangheili answered.

Miller frowned, then his expression went neutral as he threw a taunt. "Really? Cause the video camera's show different. The footage shows you exploding part of the wall just to eliminate your 'target', killing several civilians from the blast radius. Couldn't use the door way like an honorable Sangheili? Furthermore inside the airport you massacre several more citizens, just to get in line to the pizza shop. Not very honorable if you ask me."

Grono narrowed his eyes at that statement. "Honor? Honor is not a necessity. While it may be customary for some, I don't see a need in it when I pursue what I want. I only keep it for when I have to."

"Okay, so tell me this...if you don't care about honor, you must be doing this for yourself. I mean all this trouble for what, a corporation? A cult? Your Covenant Remnant?"

The last question hit home, and Grono stood up, towering over the two. "Jul 'Mdama is dead," He spat, "Since the Didact's Hand died, I have seen no purpose in rebuilding the Covenant. My only loyalty is to my employer. And even that has its limits."

"Greedy." Miller lifted a brow.

Alex looked up at the Sangheili, making eye contact. "You're an assassin. Who're you working for and who's your target?"

The Sangheili stayed silent this time.

"You blew up the airport for money?"

"No," 'Yendam replied.

Miller spoke up, trying to reason with Grono. "Okay, so you blew up the airport for self-loathing? To make a statement? You made your statement Grono, you're a dangerous criminal that shouldn't be messed with. But it wasn't enough was it? In the past you attacked Drawn with a crew of pirates. 2556. So if you go free then your not going to stop attacking, but I don't understand why? What point are you trying to prove?"

Grono perked up at the mention of his pirate crew. "Surprising that you would know. Then again, you have most likely searched my files. The attack was for reasons you wouldn't understand, however."

Miller leaned back, "You're probably right. The attack must have been organized by the same employer who assigned you to destroy that airport." Miller didn't have all the facts, but he hoped that this would get Grono to confess and lead them to some sort of person of interest. "Must of payed a lot of credits to get you to kill a very important target."

"You understand nothing," The Sangheili said, his tone calming to a casual monotone voice. His eyes darted to the side, and his throat rumbled. "I would prefer that it stay that way."

Bang!

Suddenly, the lights fizzled, before whirring as they shut down. The door clunked as its lock disabled, and Rifk and his two officers looked around, bewildered at the sudden shutdown of the security systems. As the deputy directed the Unggoy to the powerbox to return the power, the squat, little creature was cut down by a sudden laser blast from outside the hallway. The human leaped out of the way as Rifk drew his magnum, firing off several shots before retreating with the other.

"Here he is," Said Grono, examining his energy cuffs as they deactivated and fell to the floor with a clunk. Staring at Alex and Jason, the mercenary grinned.

Alex and Jason leapt out of there chairs at the sudden power outtage. They withdrew their guns as a energy beam cut down the small Unggoy; Miller watched the carnage with saddened eyes as he proceeded to figure out what the hell was happening.

Grono roared in triumph, grabbing Alex by the neck and swinging him into a wall, at the same time ripping his handgun out of his grip. Turning to Jason, the Sangheili fired once, not aiming to hit him, but just as a warning, before barreling through the disabled security door, out into the hallway.

Spotting Rifk, hiding behind an overturned desk, he roared, firing two rounds through the Kig-Yar's head, bringing him down before he could even squawk in pain. Throwing the handgun at the human, he leapt over the table, taking Rifk's plasma pistol and firing at the officer as he recoiled from the thrown pistol. Sprinting out of sight, what was left behind was a scene of carnage in the hall, with no survivors.

"Call the bureau and ONI! Tell them what happened!" Alex said through a pained grunt as he got up from being slammed into the wall. He was hurt but still alive. "And get medical quick." Jason heard him and was already on Sangheili's tail but he wasn't fast enough as he observed the Sangheili killing the officers and deputy, he aimed his pistol to get a clean shot but didn't fire, because no doubt that the Sangheili had energy shields and that warning shot was a message. "Son of a..." He pulled out his chatter and called the bureau, ONI, and medic staff. They had no leads but at least they could attempt to follow the Sangheili through a series of kill patterns and pick up a trail if one could be established.

More police arrived minutes later, too late to catch the Sangheili. Helping Alex away, they all talked in a quick and panicked manner, clearly disturbed about Grono 'Yendam's escape from the facility. Overall, the whole complex seemed to be in a large state of panic.

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24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON, DRAWN

Jason leaned against the wall as the medics moved in to carry his partner out. He shook his head and smiled, "What the hell am I supposed to do without a partner?"

Alex gave a pained reply, "Hey, just give me a few days and I'll be back on my feet. In the meantime..." He let out a pained moan as one of the medics helped him to the medbay, "Start investigating. But don't get yourself killed, we all know you like to get into tight situations."

"Yeah. Yay me." Jason let out a sigh to himself, his smile disappearing faster than it appeared, his face fell into a natural look of disbelief. Anything bad could happen in just a few days or maybe a week, he knew he was going to go at it alone and he had to be careful. He pushed himself off the wall and walked down the corridor to find the facility supervisor, if he was going to get some answers, he might as well start there.

He wasn't the only one who wanted answers, and soon enough the supervisor found him. A Sangheili with a thin, sinewy frame, as well as a badly mangled upper-left mandible wearing a Minor harness with the black and yellow colors of Drawn's police force throughout all cities soon came upon him, with narrowed eyes.

"I take it you are Jason Miller," The Sangheili said, his tone grim with a hint of annoyance.

"Yes sir." Jason nodded, he felt uneased at the Sangheili's annoyance and narrowed look, this was not going to be good news. "Go ahead and tell me that my partner and I screwed up."

He rolled his eyes, more angry with himself that Grono got away than with this Sangheili that seemed to be upset about the current predicament, but he chose not to show his anger, he knew better.

"You indeed failed where failure should not have been possible," Said the Sangheili. "But what matters more to me right now are the facts and evidence. Tell me, how did this Grono 'Yendam escape?"

Jason raised a brow, curious at what the Sangheili meant, didn't he see the cameras? Heard the explosions and chaos? The screams and cry's of his fellow compatriots? He turned to face the Sangheili, taking a deep exhale to calm his anger that had been boiling inside him. "There was this explosion. The power to the doors were severed if that's the right term...then plasma fire like a huge beam and Grono I don't even know how he broke free from his shackles, the room was dark and I could barely register what was happening..."

His voice quivered as he remembered the carnage that followed, giving him slight stress. "He, he just ran, killing them all..." He shook his head in disbelief then he let out another exhale of breath in disappointment. "I suppose you want to know where he went? I don't know but maybe the camera footage knows, unless that's gone to." He made the comment as a metaphor, comparing the camera footage being erased with Grono's escape, it seemed to fit.

The Sangheili cocked his head to the side and sighed. Recomposing himself, he curtly nodded. "That Nishum deserves to rot away in here. Death is a mercy he does not deserve. We may be of the same species, but I could never bear with such a disgraceful and cruel individual. From your explanation I assume you know of nothing that might have happened off cameras. The mercenary decided to reclaim his confiscated weapons. What he does not know is that we had placed a tracker on his energy sword when we took custody of it. Any of the other weapons could easily be replaced, rendering the tracker useless, but the energy sword seems to be custom, so he would not be so willing to part with it, I assume."

That was good news to hear, his emotions seemed to go from frustration to hope. "That's great. If anything we both could probably work together to bring this scum to justice. Can you assemble a team or am I on my own, bringing me to a significant disadvantage to a highly lethal Elite."

The Sangheili mimicked a human smile, heartily laughing. "If anything, I want to be one of those that bring the scumbag to justice. I could assemble a lance of enforcers, and we could be on our way to apprehending the filth."

He held out his hand straight forward in an odd sort of manner. It was obviously an attempt at a human handshake, but it was still yet to be perfected by the alien. "Superintendent 'Joral. Like the rest of my kind, and unlike my human counterparts, I am not object to personally assisting in a hunt."

Superintendent huh? Might as well been his new boss. Jason reached out and accepted the handshake, shaking it firm and enthusiastically. "Nice to meet you Superintendent 'Joral. So do we know what he took from that armory? Anything we can use to gain some leverage against Grono?"

"He had amassed quite the armament," Replied the Superintendent, raising his arm. "A T-25 Plasma Pistol, a T-55 Storm Rifle, a T-50 Concussion Rifle, a batch of T-1 Plasma Grenades, and of course his energy sword. He reclaimed all of them, so he has a quite a threatening weapon assortment to choose from."

"Well then, let's get on his level. Let's get to tracking him."

"Then we are agreed," Finished 'Joral. The hunt was on for Grono 'Yendam.

Chapter 15: Undercover

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

Kyle Craig peeked outside of the vertical blinds and looked to the streets below. The blue and red lights were a little more than smudgy illuminations in the slanting winter weather. But beneath their glow was the white bodywork of a police car. A few blocks down came an unmarked cruiser and parked itself parallel to the other police cars. He continued to watch and smiled at himself as a man stepped out of the vehicle. He was tailored in a suit and tie. A detective. Kyle had to give David some props; if it wasn't for the man's arrogance he wouldn't have gotten this far with his plans.

He walked away from the blinds and looked at the sealed wall that lead into his secret vault. The police were not smart enough to figure out what was inside and the biometrics in place would keep them out until he would be able to safely return to extract his suit and schematics. Nobody needed to know his plans, definitely not the bastard Sangheili. He played the scenario in his mind a few times over: He had about sixty seconds before the police would enter and apprehend him. He broke out of his thinking as the sound of a fire truck's horn pierced the atmosphere. He calmly walked to the other side of the room and pulled out a tape record and recorded something short and sweet, before strategically placing it under the table and securing it with tape. The play button was rigged to a timer that would play in the same amount of time the police would respond to this unfortunate situation.

Next, he grabbed a box that was neatly stacked on a shelf in the corner of the room and exited. He looked to his left and then to his right, the coast was clear but the sound of footsteps and echo's coming up the stairs gave him a sense of unease. He had to work faster. Not wasting any more time, he stepped into the next room and closed the door behind him, placing the box on the desk and emptying the contents with a self-satisfied smug. He pulled out a latex mask, a Drawn PD detective badge and authentic ID, some color dye and a change of clothes. He took his time as he casually changed out of his old leather uniform and into the uniform of a detective. He could hear the police getting into position next door and the sound of the tape recorder going off. It was a cry for help, and it seemed to be working as the police entered the room, the sound of their footsteps growing more distant. He had this timed as well, about five to ten seconds to clear the room. They were fools though. Kyle had placed some explosive charges into the walls when he first bought the office. He hit the detonation button on his watch and heard explosions going off into the room and the screams of the police being killed off one by one in rapid succession. This bought him more time, about five more minutes as he deduced that the SWAT team would be clearing out all the rooms next.

In truth, he wanted to save this surprise for a tight situation between him and a hotheaded assassin, but he had to devise a plan in case the situation arose. He grabbed the latex mask and fitted it on his head, adjusting it accordingly as if seemed like he went through plastic surgery without the pain to bear with. He grabbed the Drawn PD Badge and ID and clipped it to his belt. The look was complete, and he headed to the mirror to gaze at his new transformation. He was good looking and handsome, his face sculpted and his nose flat. His new uniform was a white shirt underneath with the collar of a blue blazer visible on the neck, and a pair of blue khaki pants. He then pulled out a pair of silicon gloves and slipped them on his hands. These gloves were pigmented slightly different that his original skin complexion but what really mattered was that it contained a entirely different set of fingerprints. And finally, the piece 'de resistance. He pulled out a nano-like device from the box and fixed it to his neck underneath the facial mask before slipping the silicone neck back on to its original state. If anything, he looked like an entirely different person.

He could already hear the SWAT team busting down doors to try and find the source terrorist whom was responsible for this atrocious event. He tested out the voice changer. "John Doe has the upper hand." He repeated this several times until he got the exact voice he wanted. He turned his attention to the door that was kicked in a seconds later, causing him to get a jump scare. Sure, he was calm and collected but he may as well put on a show.

The SWAT team lowered their weapons and signaled for the rest to clear the other room to the right. "Detective. What are you doing in here?"

"Just searching for that cry for help, although it's probably too late. We tried our best." He gave a sympathetic look before exiting outside. "I see the fire teams cleared out the fire."

"We did, we're working on getting the forensic team to investigate the situation."

"Okay."

Kyle continued down the stairs with the SWAT team trailing behind him. He exited the building from the emergency exit and regrouped with the other police forces. He noticed the detective's cruiser and gave a puzzled look. A Sangheili wearing black and gold trim armor with the rank of police lieutenant approached him and asked with concern but authority.

"Where is Detective Pratt?"

"He didn’t make it, sir." He cleared his voice aggressively. Deep down he wanted to kill this Sangheili, and to think that this species was going to tell him what to do.

"Something wrong?"

Kyle looked at the Sangheili with a saddened voice. "No, it’s just that he was my partner. We both worked up north, and to see him go so fast…"

"Pull yourself together, detective. Right now, I need you to find the one responsible."

Here it was. The moment of truth. He was about to get the Drawn police to hunt down David King and send him to prison and then have Grono kill him. That is if he could arrange for this to happen, he would have to work with the local law enforcement and play the 'good guy' while feeding information to his fellow compatriots undetected. It was easy, but he couldn’t not get too confident.

"I think I know who did it, sir. There is an assassin named David King. He has supposedly gone rogue and abandoned his military organization just to try and kill a high-profile client. He almost succeeded."

"And where is this client now?"

The plot thickened. "I talked to his secretary, said he went home. But if he is indeed being targeted, I can arrange for some protection detail?"

"Very well. In the meantime, try and see if you can gather information on who did this. The forensic team has arrived." The lieutenant nodded as a van arrived on the scene and a group of diverse creatures stepped out and headed inside the building, each carrying their own forensic equipment.

From his position, Kyle, now known under the guise as Detective Robert Shawn, watched the circus go on across the street. The Drawn PD was out in force, but a fat load of good it would do, as they would never catch him. They wouldn't even have half a clue, but he bet his figurative credits on catching King. Something in his mind was bothering him though, the explosion and fire most likely destroyed the evidence in the room, but there was something else…the clothes!

"I will get started on that, sir." Kyle said and walked past the police cars and other officers chatting among each other and walked back inside the building. He noticed that his receptionist left the building. Good thing because if she hadn’t, the investigation could point her to him and the whole plan would be derailed. He continued past the desk and entered through the stairwell, jogging up the flight of stairs till he reached his designated floor. He thought to himself that he could just assassinate the forensic team as ironic as that sounded, but that would lead to the lieutenant asking questions. He decided to shrug it off, no worries.

When he opened the stairwell door and continued down the corridor, he observed his old office closed off with tape and two officers, one human and one Kig-yar, talking among themselves. He payed no attention as he continued past them and into the room where he changed earlier. He saw his old clothes, slipped on some latex gloves, pulled out an evidence bag, and stuffed them in. He sealed the bag up and walked out when the Kig-yar officer took notice.

"What do you have there?"

"Just a souvenir." He cautiously lifted the tape and stepped through, the crime scene workers were busy but almost finished with collecting the evidence and recording the details. “Anything so far?” This was humorous to him, investigating his own crime scene where he knew the exact results.

"We found multiple explosive devices. One from the surveillance system there." The CSI officers pointed to the destroyed surveillance videos. Then they pointed to the walls that had huge holes in them from the hidden explosives. "Another there. We also found multiple bullets, suggesting a firefight went on, no casings which means…"

Kyle continued, taking the risk. "The suspect either had the time to grab the casing but that wouldn’t make sense due to the amount of bullet’s that shot to break the window or he shot from across the street from…" He looked out and saw the building from across the street. "That building over there is most likely where you will find the casings."

"Alright," The human said as he took down the last few notes of the crime scene. "We’ll check over there next. Let’s go boys and girls, we’ve done all we can do here."

The forensics team left the room, a few Grunts squeaking over some senseless things that Kyle didn’t give a care about right now, because he felt exhausted. He followed the team back out to the streets of Obsidion and contacted the Lieutenant for a final summary of the situation.

"Sir. The forensic team is going to check the building a few blocks down. There we will find some evidence that will lead us to the bastard who did this."

The Sangheili lieutenant grunted, "Good work detective…" He paused trying to figure out his name.

"Shawn, Robert Shawn."

"I say we all deserve some rest after this is over."

Craig chuckled. Oh yes, the entire police force will rest in pieces when I’m finished here.

"Indeed. I’ll assign the next detective to take over the rest of the shift."

"Alright, meanwhile, I’ll head back to the station, see what I can dig up on our King suspect. I may have found something interesting." He lifted the evidence bag. "Might link to our guy, I’ll give it to the forensics back at the lab."

He proceeded to head to Pratt’s unmarked cruiser, dug out a master key, and opened the door. He sat himself in the driver seat and started the ignition. The engine roaring to life as he pulled away rather aggressively and made a hard left. The lieutenant thought that was rather odd of him and that he had somewhere to be quick, but Kyle on the other hand, had to get rid of his old clothes before he was caught red-handed!

He decelerated and pulled into an alleyway. He left the engine running and exited the vehicle. He tossed his old clothes into an oil drum and proceeded to pour some gasoline that he found in the trunk of the detective’s cruiser. How convenient! He then took out a lighter and tossed it in the can, sending the clothes ablaze. He nodded in self satisfaction and got back into the cruiser, exiting the alleyway and heading back into the busy city street. For the first time ever, he felt free. His connections severed; his goals clear. The squad car’s radio buzzed with life as a 'Be on the lookout' was sent due to Grono 'Yendam’s escape from prison. He was considered armed and extremely dangerous. That was something that Kyle reveled in. He would soon see David King dead, and to be under the guise of a detective while it happened was humorous at most.

Chapter 16: Warehouse Shootout

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN

Red Blaze took a short gaze at the picture of David’s girlfriend before lowering it from his view. In front of him was a small warehouse. His armor system’s radar showed no signs of life indicating that the place was located off the far edges of Dawn’s industrial sector. The grey prefabricated warehouse walls covered all four sides with a white slanted roof and three docking bays. He continued along the dirt path and approached the door, turning the knob and finding it locked. He sighed in disappointment and a hissing sound was heard from his exhaustive breath. He jogged over toward the docking bays and gripping the iron handle; he was able to slide it open with ease. He entered inside cautiously and looked around the place. The motion sensor LED lights turned on from the ceiling in a parallel pattern till the whole place was lit. The room was no bigger than a house minus the walls, and the place looked like that of the common criminal hideout. At one end were some tools and a couple workbenches, each filled with various tools. At the other end were the packed boxes ready for distribution. The middle of the warehouse was some more tables which held up some weapons of covenant and human design.

This piqued Red Blaze’s interest. He approached the craftsman table and examined some of the Covenant weapons. From a small plasma pistol to at most a Covenant carbine, he picked up the latter and tested out the magnification scope, linked directly into his HUD. He looked around as if he expected someone to be watching. No one was. So, he fired a couple shots, intending to get some practice in. The bolts fired roughly two thousand feet with no issues but in this small controlled environment he fired five hundred feet with no issues. Once satisfied, he placed it back on the table and examined some plasma grenades, taking them for himself. He didn't pack enough and now he had full supply. He turned his attention to the door and heard it being unlocked. He calmly strafed to the side and dashed quietly to the other side of the warehouse to hide behind a forklift, large enough to conceal himself entirely. He peeked out from behind cover and observed a small slender woman open the door and walk casually inside. She had black hair and her attire made her look like she sold drugs on the streets, at least from his perspective. He saw her walk to the craftsman table and glared down at it for a good ten seconds before turning her attention around the room. Red Blaze quit the peeking and hid back behind cover, back pressed lightly against the forklift with his Plasma Rifle at the ready. He heard a shotgun’s pump being racked. Due to his combat experience with numerous contract kills on a few insurrectionist colonies, he knew that sound all too well.

"I know you’re in here, you messed with my stuff and things weren’t left the way I left them!" The female yelled out with a surge of confidence, "Come on out slowly and I promise that I won’t kill you on sight!"

This was starting to get irritating, this whole ‘investigate but get caught’ gig was amateur work at best. He needed to step up his game and become either more elusive or aggressive. He took a deep breath and started to walk out with hands raised in the air. What must his employer think of him at this point? He would not be shown a coward by a worthless female. He approached her slowly, hands still raised before the sound of gunfire echoed throughout the warehouse. “That’s far enough.” He looked at his armor and saw that its energy shields were flickering; they were both a good one hundred feet away from each other. “You must be David King’s girlfriend.”

Another shot was fired at the torso this time and Red Blaze’s shields were now dangerously low. He strafed to the right to try to avoid any further damage but was greeted with another fire from the shotgun; a near miss that stopped him in his tracks.

“I’m not his girlfriend, I’m his business partner. Now who are you? Judging by the looks of your armor style you must be clamoring for a Sangheili’s approval?”

She was indeed smarter and more perceptive than he realized. He continued, “I have no time to toy with my prey, so I will just get to the point. My organization will be honored to have you and your partner’s head.”

The woman simply smirked at the remark, and opened her mouth to respond when the warehouse's far wall blasted open, launching debris to the other side of the structure; shrapnel slicing into the workbenches and walls. As the smoke cleared, a large figure stomped through the wreckage with a slight limp, gripping a weapon in each hand. Emerging from the settling dust, the golden Sangheili stared at the two, with a plasma pistol in his left hand and an unfamiliar weapon in his right. Holding up the guns, each one pointed at a different target, Grono 'Yendam narrowed his eyes.

"Puzzle, identify the female human."

As he spat out the command, a familiar spherical carapace zoomed through the hole behind him, stopping to launch a beam from its eye towards the woman. She made a start, but the sudden overcharging of Grono's plasma pistol towards her head caused her to stop dead in her tracks. As the beam scanned her, the Sangheili mercenary kept his other firearm pointed firmly at Red Blaze. When finished, the spherical Ancilla, 589 Curious Puzzle, turned to Grono.

"Hailey Brooks, associate of our target, David King. Tempting bait, if I might add," the Ancilla observed.

"I would rather kill her here and now along with the imitator of my kind than risk using her to attract our target," Grono replied. "It will save me the effort."

Keeping his overcharged plasma pistol aimed at the woman, known now as Hailey Brooks, Grono charged his mystery gun pointed at Red Blaze. Puzzle's eye turned red, joining in the weaponry directed at the duo. "As you wish, comrade."

Red Blaze and the woman glanced at each other eye to eye. The fear he felt was his challenge and his demon to slay. The only way out was to order his brain to function, to demand solutions instead of the crazy-making circling anxiety. So he still had the option to remain still, to be quiet enough to choose how to fight. He could offer a distraction somehow, in some way. He observed the woman's throat bob, probably from swallowing hard out of fear, but he gazed at her and gave a nod of reassurance. The two of them would have to work together on this one. He observed the woman slide next to the table, tactfully and with quick precision. She knocked the table over and used it for cover against the plasma rounds that would soon follow. Red Blaze darted to the right and threw a few plasma grenades at the golden-clad Sangheili.

Grono fired at the woman as expected, but after a few rounds were released, the Sangheili unceremoniously hurled himself to the side to avoid Red Blaze's grenades. He swapped out his weapon for a concussion rifle, firing at the table and sending it careening into a wall before shooting another burst at Hailey; the concussive blast slamming her to the ground. Grono then turned his sights to Blaze, cautiously approaching him, as Curious Puzzle drifted over to a limp Hailey Brooks.

Hailey slowly got up, only to hit the floor again, she was dazed and confused. She could see a red sphere approaching her with a piercing green eye in the center. Out of the will to live she raised her pistol and fired it at the eye in hopes that it may do some justice.

"Ouch!" was the response to Hailey as the Ancilla sputtered backwards, accidentally firing off another laser into the table, lightly scorching it. "You have spunk, human, but it will not help you!" shouted Curious Puzzle as his eye changed color to a pulsing red. The Ancilla turned back and zapped the pistol out of Hailey's hand, before shooting her again, this time with a higher damage output, knocking her back to the ground.

Hailey was knocked back to the ground and held her wrist in pain; she couldn't run at this point and was injured badly, but she just smiled knowing that the Monitor wouldn’t kill her. "I’m too valuable to be killed, Light Bulb."

"Perhaps to me, human," Puzzle responded, "But my partner sees you better dead. So unfortunately I must end your life." In tandem with what he said, Puzzle's eye started to shine intensely, brightening as he prepared for a killing blow.

Meanwhile, Red Blaze observed Grono cautiously approaching him; he decided to high tail it out of there and make a run for the exit at the south end side of the warehouse. Although he couldn't just leave Hailey because she was temporarily helping him, he had to as a means to survive.

Grono growled and broke his pace, lumbering as fast as he could towards Red Blaze. A large bandage wrapped around his left foot luckily hindered the Sangheili's progress. He whipped out a large handle, thumbing a button on it. It was then that Blaze realized what it was, as the crack of plasma signaled the weapon's identity before forming into the familiar blades of an energy sword. This one was green however, and Blaze recognized it as the same energy sword 'Yendam had used back in the briefing room to threaten him, though he had never gotten a good look at it. With his larger frame and longer legs, the Sangheili was obviously gaining on Red Blaze despite his limp, and soon would catch up with him and deal a fatal blow with the blade.

Red Blaze saw the shadow of Grono approaching and he dived out of the way just in time, rolling and getting back up on his feet before letting loose and firing his plasma rifle at the mercenary. He made sure to keep his distance but he doubted that would help him in this situation.

Grono scowled as his shield flashed from the plasma fire, and his lunge ended with him uncontrollably charging into a wall. As Blaze resumed his run with the exit in sight, the Sangheili shook his head off, before reaching behind his back with his free hand to grab a plasma grenade. Oh shit, Blaze thought as Grono threw the primed plasma grenade in an almost-perfect arc towards the door, sticking it right on the entryway's hinges. With a jolt of realization, Blaze knew he had too much momentum to stop in time, and assessed his surroundings in order to find a spot he could avert to to avoid both the plasma explosion and Grono's fury.

Too late. The plasma grenade exploded with a kill radius of thirteen feet, sending Blaze flying to the side and crashing into the floor. If it wasn't for his shields he would have died right there. Suddenly, as the blue light dissipated, tear gas grenades were thrown inside the building along with flash bang grenades. Kaboom! The flash-bangs went off, sending light throughout the warehouse and deafening the occupants near the flash bangs’ blast radius. A few energy-sapping devices were thrown next and went off a few seconds after the flash bangs did, missing their marks, however. Humans dressed in black fatigues and a mix of Sangheili and Kig-Yar in thinly-layered combat armor sprinted into the warehouse, lighting up the place with their flashlights.

Grono snapped his head to the side, his eyes betraying his confusion for a moment before closing up again. He leaped up in the air, propelled by his jetpack, before landing behind several crates, switching his concussion rifle back to his original weapon. "Cursed OPD!"

589 Curious Puzzle turned around to investigate the pandemonium, and let out a robotic sigh at the sight of the new arrivals. "Not another arrest..."

Jason Miller casually walked inside. His weapon was at the central axis relock, while the OPD's weapons were trained on the suspects in the room. He noticed two people down, a male and female. The victims. The suspects he recognized were the hovering-jetpack-mercenary-bastard known as Grono 'Yendam and his robotic friend.

"Grono 'Yendam! Perhaps a longer stay at the prison would be great for you, unless you want to turn yourself in peacefully!" he bellowed in a commanding voice.

The Sangheili held up his free hand, beckoning Puzzle towards him. "This time I will not be so lenient as to let you make a fool out of me. I have assistance, human."

Cowering behind a light bulb, he thought to himself. Miller sighed. "Alright, then let's reach a compromise. It's ten units versus you and the light bulb, by the time you make a deadly move, you’re toast."

He signaled for two of the Kig-Yar officers to help out the woman. Miller continued, "You hurt anyone in here and you’re toast, you kill me, you're toast. Only one way we all make it out here alive."

Red Blaze regained his footing and held onto the wall for support, pulling himself up. He clipped his weapon to his waist and observed the situation.

"Well then, you might want to capture that one," Grono replied, jabbing a finger towards Red Blaze. "Otherwise, this little female human might end up in the same predicament."

As he spoke, the Sangheili mercenary carefully lifted up his gun in one hand, as Curious Puzzle's eye went from one police officer to another.

The Kig-Yar officers had already helped the woman up, Jason carefully weighed his options. Could the ancilla really spray all these officers down with one sweep of its beam? His eyes narrowed.

"Shit!" he whispered harshly. Grono seemed to have the upper hand but anything could go sideways at this point. Grono could most definitely die, as well as Jason and the officers, but one thing was clear. "Those two victims are walking out here with me and these police."

"I highly doubt that. You would be fools not to capture these two as well," Grono retorted.

The officers escorted Hailey out of the warehouse through one of the side exits as Red Blaze observed carefully. He then began to sneak out the same way the officers did but stopped when he observed them outside the warehouse checking up on the woman. He had no other plans so he stepped outside and announced himself explaining to the police that he was helping out the Brooks, in which she agreed that he helped her. The situation outside calmed himself, but inside the situation remained intense.

The officers heard chatter inside and turned their heads, and as they returned their sights to the two “Victims,” they were nowhere to be found. The Kig-Yar looked around in a confused manner, but Red Blaze and Hailey Brook had already fled into the night.

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Superintendent 'Joral had arrived at the scene and had taken up a position next to Miller inside the warehouse. Leaning down to the human, he whispered, "Why does he continue to resist? Surely he knows that not even his Monitor can eliminate the entire task force?"

"That's what he thinks," Miller whispered back. Seeing that Grono was behind a bunch of crates, he motioned for the officers to move to where they would get a better shot at the mercenary. Each one spread apart in a semicircle. He turned his attention to the ancilla, trying to create some kind of a distraction with honesty. He didn't want to go overboard and anger the thing. "So, Light Bulb, What's your name?"

"Oh!" the Monitor replied, swiveling around to face him. "My name is not 'Lightbulb', but rather 589 Curious-"

"Enough of this!" Grono interrupted. Grunting in pain as he lifted himself up on his injured leg, the Sangheili held up the unfamiliar weapon from before in one hand, and two gun muzzles in the other. Clamping them down onto the sides of the weapon, he roared.

"I will not be put down by simple police!"

The mercenary pulled down the weapon's trigger, letting loose three streams of plasma from it. Aiming to his left, the barrage cut down three human officers with ease, melting through their fatigues like a knife cutting through butter. The remaining officers tore their heads away from the carnage to put down Grono, but he simply leaped into the air with his jetpack, directing the stream towards a group of three Kig-Yar. As the two Sangheili officers went to protect their weaker allies, the Monitor released a pulse from his eye, burning through the Sangheili's personal shields.

Watching in awe and terror, both Miller and 'Joral stumbled back as Grono's lethal plasma weapon gouged out the innards of the Kig-Yar and Sangheili, leaving all but a few assorted police left.

Landing on the ground with a thump, Grono snarled in pain as he clutched his leg with his free hand. Holding up the other, he aimed his rifle at the remaining police. Puzzle's eye began to glow, foreshadowing another blast, when 'Yendam gripped the trigger once more. Bracing themselves, Miller, 'Joral, and the police prepared for the worst - but it never came. Opening his eyes, Miller observed as the Sangheili mercenary cocked his head in confusion, fingers clicking the unresponsive trigger. The bastard's out of ammo, Miller realized.

Miller sprinted to the right to avoid any hand to hand combat from Grono and opened fire at him, draining his shields before he took cover behind a forklift and reloaded. There was no way he could take out the monitor with a pistol and he had a few options: he could escape or maybe weaken Grono at the last moment, maybe put more rounds through his leg. Not yet anyways, instead the detective stayed put for the meantime.

'Yendam snorted as his shields went down, lopsidedly rolling to the left. Holstering his empty weapon, he held up a hand and pointed it at the remaining police. "Eliminate them."

Puzzle obliged, firing off yet another blast from his eye. This blast was smaller and more precise, and the Monitor cut down one OPD trooper after another, deflecting gunfire from those who still had time to raise their weapons. Focusing on the only remaining enemy in sight, 'Joral, the Monitor fired another bolt at the Sangheili.

Evading it, 'Joral crashed haphazardly into a small workbench near Grono's position. Grasping a plasma pistol, the superintendent lifted it up at Puzzle, pulling down the trigger to begin a charging sequence.

"Miller, run! I will not risk losing any more men under my supervision!"

Miller broke cover and dashed past the bodies of dead cops and outside to where his cruiser was. He got inside, locked the door for whatever good it did him, and radioed in for backup. He could only watch what was about to happen next.

Back inside the warehouse, 'Joral shouted a war cry, bringing up his now fully-charged plasma pistol to bear. Releasing the trigger, he let loose a seeking charge of plasma, hitting the Monitor dead on.

"Ouch!" Puzzle exclaimed as his carapace fell through the dead air, hitting the ground with a clank.

'Joral pulled down the trigger to charge up another volt, taking several steps closer to the Monitor. "This ends here."

"Indeed it does."

Not even allowed a chance to turn to face his assailant, 'Joral gasped as an acidic-green energy sword plunged through his chest, providing a stark contrast to his dark skin. Coughing up blood from his throat, the superintendent began to lose his balance.

He was caught as Grono's hand came up and grabbed the back of his head. Staring into the dying Sangheili's eyes, 'Yendam merely let off a growl.

"You chose the wrong fight," he said, ignoring the increasingly drastic sputtering coming from 'Joral as the superintendent's life ebbed away. "And it has led to your demise."

Releasing his hold on 'Joral, Grono ripped his energy sword Varmint's Nail up through the back of 'Joral's neck and into his head, slicing his brain in half. Deactivating the blade, Grono holstered it and limped away as 'Joral's lifeless body collapsed to the cold concrete floor.

Trudging over to Puzzle, he exhaled, weary and exhausted from his short but taxing encounter. "Puzzle, continue tracking the Red Blaze. Calculate the quickest route to him and this 'Hailey Brooks'."

"Of course," the Monitor responded, albeit hesitantly, "But what of the Obsidion Police Department? They obviously tracked us here, and Jason Miller is no doubt outside."

"Bah!" Grono spat, waving one hand in a dismissive gesture while nursing his leg with the other. "I care not for a single peacekeeper! We will find out the means of their tracking capabilities later. For now, we shall depart from this mess."

"Very well."

Curious Puzzle and Grono 'Yendam both turned their attention toward the remains of the far wall they had broken through. Quick as cheetahs, they soared through the crumbling hole, leaving the grisly scene.

However, still out in the cruiser was Miller, having observed the entire fiasco.

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A few hours later, Miller made his way back to the police station. He checked in with the front and then headed to the armory where he could rearm his weapons and get a new pair of body armor - one that was hopefully plasma-resistant this time. He then proceeded to the planning room where he met up with fourteen other officers and another detective.

"Nice task force you've got set up here, detective," Miller started off to break the tension.

The detective turned to him and gave him a nod. "Ah Special Agent Miller, nice to meet you." He gave a sly smile and shook Miller's hand with a little squeeze to it. "They've requested me to take over and hunt down your problem but there is no doubt that we will make a fine team. I’m Detective Robert Shawn."

"Right. Well it appears that Grono 'Yendam, our lead suspect has escaped and I'm running out of leads."

"Okay, let's start off at the last place he may have been at,” Shawn suggested, “Downtown Obsidian."

Chapter 17: One Standoff Too Many

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN


In the few hours since the conflict in the warehouse had gone down, Hailey Brooks and her former opponent had made their way back into the urban complexes of Obsidion. They had hitched a ride on an outbound tram, and had arrived in the metropolis soon after.

At least I know that Sangheili bastard can’t follow us. There’s no way he could have gotten out of that shootout unharmed. Hailey turned to the armored human sitting across from her in the booth, adorned in what more resembled Sangheili garb than human.

“Hey, Squidlover,” she said, tapping the warrior on the shoulder to gain his attention.

The man grumbled as he turned his helmet to acknowledge her. “What do you want now, woman?”

Hailey rolled her eyes at the man’s sour attitude, but continued. “Never caught your name back there, with all the ruckus going on.”

“I am Red Blaze,” he started in a dramatic tone.

Oh great, I know where this is going… Hailey thought to herself.

“I serve the Order of Assassins and the Flame-”

He was cut off as Hailey raised a finger to silence him. “Alright, I get it. You’re an assassin. One of the ones hunting David, correct?”

Red Blaze fell silent and froze. His body language was all that Hailey needed to know that she was right. The assassin sighed beneath his mask and slowly nodded. “Indeed. Although, with that Sangheili hunting us both now, I would see it as beneficial if we were to make a temporary pact of sorts.”

Brooks lifted an eyebrow. “All of this is coming from the man who was trying to kill me a few hours ago.”

Blaze lifted his hands up in a defensive manner. “I sympathize with you about trusting others, but I guarantee you that I am a man of my word. My creed requires it.”

Hailey shook her head and let out a small chuckle. “You’re going to have to offer more than that. How about a barter? Give me something I can work with and I’ll maybe accept your offer.”

Blaze clasped his hands together and leaned forward. “What question do you wish to ask?”

Great, now we’re getting somewhere. Hailey put her finger up to her chin and pondered for a moment before deciding on what she wished to ask. “Your employer, Kyle Craig. Tell me where he is and why he’s set up this entire elaborate ruse.”

The man exhaled, and wagged a finger at her. “That I cannot answer. It goes against my order’s regulations, not to mention that I have no clue in the slightest where Craig may be.”

Tough luck there. Hailey sighed, and shot her next question. “Fine then. If this ‘Creed’ allows it, what about the others? Like that Sangheili that tried gutting us back at the warehouse. I’m sure there are more like him?”

Red Blaze tilted his head in agreement. “I can answer that. There are four others besides myself. You are lucky I found you first, because none of them are so forgiving as myself.”

“Yeah, yeah, you can stop the bragging.”

Red Blaze sat back and shrugged his shoulders. At least he doesn’t have mandibles to do that damn clicking with, Hailey thought.

“The two we fought back at the warehouse go by the names of Grono ‘Yendam and Curious Puzzle. Grono is a reputable Sangheili mercenary that lets nothing get in the way of his targets. That was proven during his attack on the Obsidion Spaceport.”

Hailey’s eyes widened. “He was the Sangheili that attacked it?”

Red Blaze nodded. “I am afraid so. He did it all in pursuit of another hunter, Mitchel Sanders.”

Hailey nodded as she took in all of the information. “So, this guy doesn’t really give a shit about who he tries to kill as long as he gets the long end of the stick in the end?”

“Precisely.”

Disgusting. I didn’t even know a proud and uptight species like the Sangheili could do that!

“So, tell me about the others then,” Hailey inquired.

“Curious Puzzle is a Forerunner Monitor that assists Grono in his endeavors,” Red Blaze continued, “but his origins are as the name states; I know nothing of them.”

“Damn light bulb,” Hailey growled, “So, then what about the other two?”

“Mitchel Sanders, who I mentioned earlier, is a Spartan-IV. Seemingly one of the only ones not in the field against the Created. I know not if he is rogue, or if something else is influencing his decisions, but he has had a tussle with ‘Yendam like us.

Damn Spartans are getting in on it too? How many people have it out for David? Brooks wondered.

“The final competitor goes by the name of Damien Black. He is a hitman from the criminal organization known as Legion. I am sure you have heard of them?”

Hailey slowly nodded. “Of course. I assume he has a good deal of enforcers at his disposal then?”

Blaze shook his head. “I doubt it. A hitman wouldn’t warrant minions, no matter how skilled they are. It isn’t worth it.”

“I hope so…” Hailey said with uncertainty.

Red Blaze leaned forward once more and extended an outstretched hand. “I have done my part. Will you do yours?”

Hailey looked down at the armored fingers and hesitated. She fixed the Red Blaze with a steely gaze and nodded, grabbing his hand and shaking it. “You’ve got yourself an alliance, Red Blaze.”

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“Is this the place?”

“Yes, he was supposed to be here.”

Red Blaze took a step forward, taking it what little there was. The armored assassin was clearly expecting a place less decrepit than this mere alleyway, but Hailey had wanted this meeting to be secretive. David had recovered shortly before she was attacked in the warehouse and they had agreed to rendezvous at this location after he had been admitted from intensive care. She had taken a detour to the warehouse to suit up, but that was clearly the wrong choice.

“What do you mean? I am here.”

Hailey and Blaze both snapped around, staring in awe at the man behind them. Standing tall in casual attire, his demeanor was nothing like it was back when Hailey had last seen him curled up in pain on an operating table.

“David-” Hailey started.

King held up his hand. “Who’s the miniature Hinge-Head? Why is he with you, and here of all places?”

“He’s an ally - At least for now,” Hailey responded. Shit, I should have taken that into consideration. Of course David would be suspicious!

King still didn’t look convinced. Crossing his arms, his eyes narrowed at her. “Care to elaborate?”

“Alright,” Brooks said, “He’s one of the assassins Kyle sent to hunt you down.”

David’s hand flew down to a holster at his side, drawing a Magnum with speedy precision. Taking aim at Red Blaze, he scowled. “And you thought it was a good idea to bring him here? Or did he force you to take him?”

Red Blaze growled underneath the mask as his hand rested on his hip, where his own weapon was stored. “I didn’t give you all that information just to be offed by King, Hailey.”

Hailey raised her hands and positioned herself between the two in an attempt to stop the standoff. “Can it, both of you! King, he’s not on their side. That Sangheili Grono ‘Yendam tried killing both of us back at the warehouse.”

King held firm, finger on the trigger of his pistol. “The enemy of our enemy isn’t necessarily our friend, Hailey.”

“I know, but he gave me information on everyone else. With his help, we could end this!”

King glared at Red Blaze, but finally relented. Lowering the Magnum, he shoved it back into the holster and stepped back. Blaze did the same and turned to Hailey. “What now, Brooks?”

Hailey in turn glanced at King. “You think we should get off this planet?”

David shook his head. “It would do no good. Kyle would still send assassins to hunt me, and there’s too big of a risk of running into the Created as well.”

He and Hailey looked out of the alley into the street ahead, watching as a plethora of civilians minded themselves, content to stay in their little spheres of influence out of the Created’s grasp. Suddenly, Brooks heard an audible click of a weapon. David heard it too, and they both whipped around to find themselves each facing a Covenant plasma pistol.

“You backstabbing bastard!” Hailey cursed.

Red Blaze held up the plasma pistols in his hands, his demeanor calm as he directed them back into the alleyway. “You may put it that way.”

Hailey’s brow furrowed. “I thought you followed the creed that your Order of Assassins or whatever had!”

Blaze’s tone remained neutral. “That may be, but this opportunity was too good to pass up. I was expecting it to take longer than this, but I must say I am most pleased with this turn of events. I was never hoping to actually align myself with you two scumbags. Kyle himself stated that you had betrayed him, King.”

Hailey grumbled. “So you’ve shamed yourself just to catch us?”

Blaze sighed. “I will admit that I regret doing such a dishonorable act, but my ultimate loyalty is to the Order of Assassins. I will take the fall if they benefit from it.”

“I should have shot him on the spot…” David mumbled under his breath.

Suddenly, a bullet whizzed by Red Blaze’s head. The warrior leaped to the side, taking his focus off of Hailey as he rolled behind a dumpster. Hailey and King took a peek at their captor’s assailant and drew their sidearms.

“Who are you?” David inquired.

“Me?” the figure asked, tromping out of the darkness. He wore a shining suit of Mjolnir armor, indicating his status as a Spartan. A sleek paintjob of black chrome covered his suit, with white stripes cutting through it like sharks on the hunt. The Spartan removed his intimidating Reaper helmet and looked down at the two.

“I thought you’d remember, King.”

Hailey glanced in King’s direction, baffled. King narrowed his eyes. “You must be Mitchel Sanders, the one Grono tore up the spaceport for.”

The aforementioned Mitchel nodded as he aimed a submachine gun towards the dumpster Red Blaze had taken cover behind. “Indeed.”

King motioned for Hailey to turn her sights on Blaze as well, while he kept his aim solely on Sanders. “You were a lot less… stocky last time I saw you.”

Mitchel spared a look at King and gave a disappointed stare to his Magnum. “And you're a lot less stocky than what that bastard Craig described you as. I was out of my armor at the time, as you are now.”

King’s grip on his pistol remained firm; Hailey could tell that he wasn’t going to simply give in to another Spartan, especially an armored one. “Why are you here?”

Sanders took a step towards the dumpster. “I was hunting for Grono ‘Yendam. Figured I could take him out with my armor. At least, that was until I witnessed the massacre at your warehouse. I figured it might be better if I made some friends, especially ones I sympathize with, so I tracked Hailey and Red Blaze here.”

David cocked his head. “Sympathize?”

Mitchel exhaled as he continued towards the dumpster at a slow pace. “King, Craig has it out for me just as much as he has it out for you. He hired me just so I would be close enough for him to kill. And if it hadn’t been for you, Grono would’ve seen to that. Craig wants both our heads David, and I want to help you take him down.”

King relaxed his grip but still pointed it at Mitchel. “And I how do I know you’re not just gonna turn me in? You’re with what’s left of the UNSC, right?”

“That’s correct, but there’s little reason to turn you in. The UNSC has no place to imprison criminals, and you’ve done much more good for them than Craig has, not to mention his criminal record.”

“I’m not as easily convinced as Hailey was,” King retorted.

“Hey!” Brooks snapped. That was totally uncalled for!

“Fine. Let me do you a favor,” Mitchel finished.

The Spartan reached the dumpster, crouched down, and slipped both hands under. Heaving it up, he groaned as he threw the dumpster out of the way to the surprise of Red Blaze. Caught up in the moment, the assassin could barely register what had happened as Mitchel grabbed him and tore his weapons out of his hands. As the Sangheili imitator reached for his blade, the Spartan-IV ripped it off of his leg, throwing it to the side as he slammed the warrior into the ground, knocking him unconscious.

Hailey turned in awe to David, who simply smirked. “Never underestimate an armored Spartan, Hailey.”

Mitchel let out a satisfied breath and turned to face the two. “Now, I recommend we get somewhere more spacious for us. I’ll carry the lil’ Elite.”

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I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

David King had clearly missed out on quite a few events while in the hospital; Grono was back, Red Blaze had come into the picture, and Hailey’s warehouse had been utterly destroyed. Now they were here, in some sort of abandoned boulevard in the outer city.

“I’ll set the Red Blaze down here,” Mitchel said, snapping David out of his thoughts.

The Spartan hoisted the limp warrior up and off of his shoulder, releasing his grip on him and letting the Red Blaze drop to the ground with a thud. On impact, Blaze began a torrent of violent coughs and sputtering, rolling around on the ground in agony.

“Rise and shine, sleepyhead,” Hailey pitched in. Red Blaze looked up and found himself restrained as Mitchel fastened a pair of handcuffs around his wrists.

“How in the-”

“Can it, Blaze,” Mitchel responded.

Interesting… David told himself. “Hey Sanders, where’d you get those handcuffs from? I don’t assume you can make ‘em out of thin air, can you?”

King’s fellow Spartan-IV chuckled as he finished locking the cuffs. “Don’t tread the line, King. These were meant for you up until I got betrayed.”

“Alright, alright...”

Red Blaze glanced up at the three, his coughing fit having settled down into a pant. “Well, what do you plan to do to escape the coming fire?”

“What do you mean?” David asked, turning his attention to the Sangheili imitator.

“I heard Mitchel’s talk just as well as you. He says he witnessed the massacre of the police task force at the warehouse. Therefore, Grono escaped and could easily track us like your Spartan associate did. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has been stalking us for the last few hours.”

Hailey turned to David and Mitchel. “This bastard’s right. Grono could be on our tail with that Light Bulb friend of his as well. That’s gonna leave us in a bad position, especially considering their strength. They almost got Blaze and I, and Grono would’ve murdered Mitchel had it not been for David.”

Mitchel put a hand to his chin in thought. David furrowed his brow as well. There’s no way we could stand a chance against both of them at once. Grono could probably take out Mitchel despite his armor, and paired with Puzzle could take on all of us at once.

“It is simple. I will fight Grono ‘Yendam.”

The trio perked up and turned to Red Blaze.

Mitchel snickered. “You? In that state?”

Blaze growled underneath his mask. “I know what will make the Sangheili tick. I can duel him alone, I guarantee you. All I need is my blade.”

“Oh, you mean this thing?” Sanders asked, holding up the hilt of an Energy Sword. “You expect us to just release you and give you a sword made out of literal fucking plasma?”

“When the time comes, yes.”

Hailey scowled. “Fat chance of that happening.”

“Wait, everyone, be quiet,” David ordered, putting his hand to his ear. I swear I heard something…

The rest of the group fell silent, and there it was. Click, click, click, click.

“It sounds like boots,” Hailey whispered.

“And a lot of ‘em,” Mitchel finished.

“Get ready,” David cautioned.

A standoff containing multiple sides occurred then. Dark-armored men and women poured in from all sides of the boulevard. Numbering at nearly two dozen, the combatants’ weapons ranged from pistols and submachine guns to battle rifles and designated marksman's rifles.

No no no, not now! Not them! David shouted to himself in his head. “Guys, these enforcers are from Legion. This ain’t good.”

Hailey seethed with rage and turned on Red Blaze. “Did you lie about the Legion enforcers as well? How much information was false?”

Red Blaze simply sighed as the group was surrounded. “No, I was not aware that they would actually send an entire cadre of enforcers. And also, no, none of my information was purposefully false.”

Mitchel donned his Reaper helmet and drew his two submachine guns, aiming at the two nearest enforcers. “Wait, if these guys are Legion, then-”

“Halt!”

The enforcers slowly came to a stop, keeping their weapons up and aimed at the four.

“For the love of god,” Mitchel moaned.

A small section in the center of the crowd parted, letting a man through before closing back up again. Adorned in black body armor, the man unholstered a Magnum without slowing his pace, a devilish grin plastered onto his face.

Sanders grimaced. “Damien Black.”

The man in question let out a pompous laugh, cocking his pistol with graceful elegance. “Mitchel Sanders! I wondered when we’d meet again! And look how the tables have turned! Now it’s your turn to be at the wrong end of a pistol!”

Mitchel took a step forward, causing the enforcers to tighten their hold on their weapons. “Tell your people to stand down, Black, if you know what’s good for you.”

Damien smirked as he absentmindedly examined his sidearm. “You’re not in a position to be giving orders, Spartan Sanders. While there is a slight chance that you can take us all out, I guarantee you that your friends would be dead by that time. And seeing as we outnumber you nearly eight to one, you should be begging for mercy.”

Mitchel’s grip tightened on his weapons, fists shaking in anger. Damien turned to the nearest enforcer and nodded, prompting her to rear her battle rifle at David as a droning suddenly sounded. Holy shit.

A hulking form barreled down from the sky, smashing into the ground and knocking several enforcers off their feet. The nearest one raised his submachine gun, only for it to be swatted out of his hand. The daunting figure rose from the ground, grabbing the man by the throat as the dust settled.

Oh no, David realized. The gold armor of the Sangheili mercenary gleamed in the sunlight, and Grono ‘Yendam surveyed his surroundings, a scowl set on his face. A good half of the enforcers set their sights on the new arrival, only for Grono’s Ancilla partner Curious Puzzle to arrive as well.

“Grono ‘Yendam,” Damien said, the shaken tone of voice making it clear that he was desperate to regain control of the situation, “Would you be so kind as to release that man?”

The mercenary snarled, “No.”

“Then why are you here? What business do you have with Legion?” Damien questioned.

“I came here expecting to finish what I started against those two,” Grono spat, jabbing a finger towards Hailey and Red Blaze. “I didn’t intend on encountering a full scale reunion.”

“Well, you find yourself outnumbered then.”

Grono exchanged glances with Puzzle, and turned his gaze back to Damien. “What if I offer you a deal?”

Damien lifted an eyebrow, intrigued. “You didn’t strike me as the type to make deals, Grono.”

‘Yendam snorted in irritation. “Just this once. Curious Puzzle can annihilate your troops with ease. So I propose an alliance.”

“Oh?” Damien said, curiosity twinkling in his eyes, “For what purpose?”

“To eliminate them, of course,” Grono spat, waving his free hand at David, Hailey, Mitchel, and Blaze.

Damn, this Sangheili son of a bitch is willing to do whatever he can just to complete his mission, David told himself.

“Ah yes, narrowing down the competition and claiming our quarry!” Damien stated, “But what of when the job is done? There can only be one.”

As Grono responded, David heard a voice from his left. “Hey, King.”

He glanced at Mitchel and whispered, “What?”

Mitchel tilted his head towards an opening in the wall of enforcers. Over the chatter of Grono and Damien, he said, “If we make a run for it, we should be able to escape.”

Red Blaze cut in, “I can guarantee you that Grono ‘Yendam will stay to fight me, as long as I am equipped.”

“We’ve already heard that, Blaze.”

“Simply give me my blade before you depart, Spartan.”

“Fine,” David said, aware that the discussion between Damien and Grono would soon end. “Mitchel, give it to him.”

Sanders subtly nodded and tossed the energy sword to Red Blaze. “And now, we run.”

Mitchel bolted forward, closing the gap between himself and the nearest enforcer in a split second. The criminal didn’t even know what hit him as he was toppled over by the Spartan-IV.

“Go, go!” David shouted as he and Hailey followed closely behind. Several more enforcers who were unfortunate enough to have the idea to block them were trampled by Mitchel, as the three burst through the crowd. Either too surprised by the bold move or absorbed in Grono and Damien’s conversation, the enforcers were too dumbfounded to fire at the group.

Damien’s cheeks reddened and he pointed a finger at the escaping group. “Hunt them down! My prize will not be denied!”

A majority of the enforcers followed his command, filing into the alleyway that their prey had run into. Black held up a hand to stop his last few minions, pointing back at the spot where Mitchel, David, and Hailey had once been. Red Blaze stood there, handcuffs slashed open as he held his deactivated hilt in hand.

“Take care of the freak!”

One of the enforcers stepped forward to carry out Damien’s bidding, but she was abruptly cut off as Grono shoved her aside. “I will deal with this abomination myself.”

Damien narrowed his eyes, but nodded. “The rest will fall to my men.”

The Legion hitman and the remainder of his enforcers hurried after their comrades, leaving Red Blaze, Grono ‘Yendam, and Curious Puzzle as the only occupants left. The Monitor’s eye glimmered red, and Red Blaze chuckled.

“So, you call me weak but are content to put me down with an AI?”

Grono snarled in anger. “Normally an insult such as that does not phase me. But coming from a human that disgraces my kind I cannot let it slide.”

Perfect. He’s taken the bait. Red Blaze gestured to Puzzle. “So, what does that mean?”

Grono raised a hand to force Puzzle back. “Puzzle, I will deal with the Red Blaze myself. Go and assist the Legion enforcers.”

Puzzle’s eye darkened to a deep crimson. “What?! And leave you alone?! Surely you realize that your chance of defeating the Red Blaze is much higher with me at your side?”

Grono turned and hissed at the Ancilla, his rage in full swing. “I did not ask for your input, Monitor! Further Damien Black’s chances of capturing the rest and leave me be!”

Puzzle sputtered in confusion but obeyed, swiftly flying off to perform his duties.

Red Blaze turned his attention back towards Grono and shrugged.

“Red Blaze!” the Sangheili called out, planting his wounded foot down as he thumbed his own blade hilt. Acidic green energy burst forth, forming Grono’s signature energy sword.

“You will be the next to fall before the Varmint’s Nail!”

I didn’t expect I would actually have to duel this Sangheili. That energy sword’s blade seems stronger than most, but his wounded leg gives me the advantage, Red Blaze reassured himself.

“Grono ‘Yendam…” Red Blaze replied, walking toward his Sangheili opponent and activating his own sky-blue energy sword.

The Sangheili followed suit, his wounded leg seeming to have healed enough that it barely made any limp at all. The two raised their energy swords in preparation as they continued to approach each other. This ended now.

Part 3: End of the Line

Chapter 18: Domestic Firefights

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN


David King, Hailey Brooks, and Mitchel Sanders raced into the slums of Obsidion’s outer city. Around them the streets belonged to the pimps, gangs, and drug dealers. Even the notoriously well-funded OPD - Obsidion Police Department - kept their distance from the melting pot of criminals from all varieties of species. Unggoy served as the messengers and expendable muscle of the lesser gangs, while the Kig-Yar ran a profitable black market in the area. Sangheili often kept their distance unless they had a thirst for blood, and the Jiralhanae were often used as security for high-profile characters.

While the slums belonged to the gangs, even larger organizations had taken notice of the ripe market in the wake of the Created uprising. Legion obviously held a presence here - That was how it was so easy for them to send in an entire cadre of enforcers on the whim of a hitman. But even the Flame that the Red Blaze belonged to and Grono ‘Yendam formerly worked for had made a name here. The few Sangheili that did choose to settle down were almost exclusively higher-ups in the Flame’s pecking order, and Hailey knew from stories passed around that they paid quite handsomely.

As it was, she was quite surprised that nothing had come of their encounter with Red Blaze. Despite being human, he clearly had a position of importance in the Flame, so why he had either chosen to not request assistance or was denied it was beyond her. It doesn’t matter anyway. As long as Red Blaze is fighting Grono we shouldn’t have to worry about getting a second faction on our back.

So, it was under the sallow lamp-light that most money changed hands; money from stolen goods turning into smuggled narcotics, drugs, or weapons. Legion’s influence wasn’t halted by the Created, and the Flame found mass profit in the sale of weapons to those who defied the Created or feared for their arrival.

The group continued their run, and King huffed before speaking. “We need to split up. While these guys probably aren’t top of the line mercenaries like Damien, we’ll only have a chance of taking them if we can get them to break off into groups small enough for us to handle.”

The group stopped at a cross fork in the alleyways, suddenly drawing attention to themselves. A pair of Unggoy huddled around a food nipple shot them suspicious glances while a Jiralhanae armed with a Spike Rifle glared at them disapprovingly from his post at a back door.

“How do you propose we do that?” Hailey questioned, wary of the surrounding aliens.

“I’m the one with a price on my head. They’ll go for me. If you can hold a few off, I can lure the rest my way to get them off your back.”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Mitchel cut in, clanking forward in his heavy Mjolnir armor.

“They’re gonna go for me. I’m the one with the big shiny armor, not to mention Damien isn’t all too happy to see me, as you know. He’s going to want to settle the score with me.”

David sighed. “You do have a point. But still, I’ll split up from you two. If a good portion chases me, you can take out the rest.”

The nearby Jiralhanae put his wrist to his mouth and whispered something, chancing a look at the trio. Hailey noticed, and nudged the two Spartans’ arms, inclining her head towards the Brute.

Her two companions got the gist of it, thankfully, and Mitchel trotted away, lifting his hand up to motion for them to follow. They exited the alleys and emerged in a battered parking lot. A tent was set up on the opposite end with a human and a Kig-Yar conversing beneath it.

King pointed at a nearby pillar of smoke rising in the distance. Next to the smokestacks emitting the smog was a large construction site; clearly an important one for its size.

“Mitchel, can you tell me how far away that construction area is?”

Mitchel stood still for a second before turning to David. “Two hundred and forty-two meters away. Roughly a quarter of a klick.”

King nodded. “Alright, you two. I’ll head there. I’ll at least have a place to go to for a bit of time.”

Hailey puckered her mouth nervously and spoke up. “They should have found us by now if they had proper tracking equipment. Do you think we lost them?”

King nodded and put his finger to his chin. “It is taking longer than I thought. But we need to have a plan just in case.”

Sanders suddenly cocked his head towards the nearby road. The Spartan Reaper took a step forward, unclamping two Magnums from his armored hips. “We’ve got trouble.”

The roar of multiple engines rang through the parking lot, loud enough to make even the human and Kig-Yar take notice. A convoy of human vehicles with pitch-black colors sped into the parking lot, charging full speed at the three.

Holy shit! Hailey swore to herself as she leaped out of the way of one of the vehicles. It swerved to the right and bulldozed the tent, demolishing the shelter and its two inhabitants with it. Another truck attempted to ram David and Mitchel, but the two also succeeded in avoiding its wrath.

As Mitchel twirled around to take aim at the truck, a woman poked her head out from its bed, bringing up a battle rifle and firing a burst spot-on. The three bullets slammed straight into Mitchel’s shields, and he grunted as they flared. The two remaining vehicles pulled to a stop alongside the first ones and Hailey finally took the chance to observe them.

Three of the vehicles were armored Scout Warthogs, military-grade troop carriers with the signature black chassis of Legion. They were filled to the brim with the Legion Enforcers from earlier, all eager for a fight. The fourth was a large van, with none other than Damien Black clinging to a metal bar on the side. The hitman let go and fell to the ground, smirking as four more enforcers exited the van.

The Forerunner Monitor designated as 589 Curious Puzzle trailed not too far behind, humming as he flew to Damien’s side. Hailey leaned over to David as Mitchel shifted his submachine guns from enemy to enemy.

“So much for splitting up.”

Damien approached the three, holding up a hand and waggling his pointer and middle fingers forward. His lackeys instantly reacted, filing out of the Scouthogs and forming a half circle behind him. Black shot a look at something behind Hailey and smiled.

“I must thank you, Carthus! You have played an integral role in our mission, so I shall see to it that you are rewarded.”

Sanders kept his aim on the Legion cadre while Hailey whipped around to see the Jiralhanae guard from earlier. A toothy grin was plastered onto the stocky alien’s face as he slid his fingers across one of the two blades centered under the barrel of his Spike Rifle.

Of course the ape is on their side. Of course.

Damien held up his Magnum and pointed it at Mitchel’s head. “I didn’t load this weapon for nothing, you know. You wouldn’t just let me waste it, would you?”

Mitchel stood firm, and said two simple words. “Fuck you.”

Damien rolled his eyes. “Of course. But so be it. You’re not going anywhere. At least not in one piece.”

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Jason Miller and his task force had kept a watch over the majority of the slums in the past day, rotating on hourly patrols. They hadn’t discovered anything out of the ordinary, despite the fact that the definition of ordinary took quite a grim twist here.

So it was a surprise when an Unggoy law enforcer informed them of a shootout happening in the nearby parking lot for a decommissioned emporium. Jason had been with his new partner Robert Shawn at the local precinct with two of their officers when the news came. Currently, the Unggoy was giving them the rundown of what happened.

“We had a shootout elsewhere, and now there’s a standoff taking place at the Lorun Emporium!” the Unggoy yammered.

“How many forces?” Miller inquired, giving the go-ahead for his two officers to begin suiting up.

“Four vehicles, all human-made and in black. Three of them Scouthogs and a big v-v-” The Unggoy stuttered, trying to remember the human terminology.

“Van,” Shawn cut in, loading a shell into his shotgun. “Correct?”

“Sure is!” the officer replied.

“Get the rest of the force,” Miller ordered, heaving a combat vest off of its hook and placing it over him. “We need everyone on this.”

Miller grabbed a pistol off of an armory rack, holding it sideways to examine the model. It was a 12mm Comet, a large and bulky sidearm colloquially known as a Hand Cannon for its heavy damage but poor accuracy. While there could be some problems with it, it would provide a good defense at close range and would be effective at intimidating these crooks with its loud blast.

As Jason grabbed a magazine and slid it into the gun, Shawn questioned the Unggoy. “How many people did you count in the vehicles?”

“Nineteen, but the va-an was closed off, so there could be more.”

Damn, Miller thought, That’s quite a lot.

Shawn slung his shotgun over his shoulder and held up a plasma pistol for the Unggoy to take. The stubby alien reached for it, only for Shawn to hold it out of his reach and drop it on his head.

“Owwww!” The Unggoy whined as he dropped to his knees, rubbing his scalp with one hand while scrambling around for the plasma pistol with the second.

Shawn began to laugh but stopped when Miller shot him a disapproving glare. While the Unggoy had played a part in the Covenant’s attempted extermination of humanity, they were merely forced to as slaves. They didn’t deserve this treatment if they had reconciled and aligned themselves with humans!

Miller turned to the other two officers; one human, one Sangheili. He pointed at the Sangheili. “You’ve got driving duty.”

The Sangheili nodded and jogged outside, and Miller inclined his head towards the door. “You’re coming with me.”

Miller, Shawn, the human, and the Unggoy stepped outside, where a former Covenant Shadow was parked. Due to being used for law enforcement, the powerful plasma turret had been removed, so the vehicle merely acted as an armored troop carrier.

Still would’ve been nice to have something reliable against these guys, Miller thought to himself.

The Sangheili was already in the driver’s seat, powering on the engine, and a pair of Ibie’shann Kig-Yar deputies were waiting on the vehicle’s right side with their needlers clamped to their hips. One examined his shield gauntlet, while the other acknowledged Miller with a nod. He returned the gesture, and entered one of the two remaining seats on the right side while Shawn slipped in between him and the Kig-Yar, albeit with a grimace on his face.

Miller noticed a tension between his partner and the two Kig-Yar, and tapped Shawn on the shoulder while the Unggoy and human officers entered the left side of the vehicle. “Robert, I want you to watch our backs when we get there, there’s no telling if they have more loonies here.”

Shawn nodded in affirmation. “Do you think we’ll stand a chance? They’ve got at least nineteen personnel to our fourteen.”

The Shadow’s engines whirred to life, and Jason braced himself as the vehicle jolted off the ground and began to hover. “We have the element of surprise. They’re focused on something else, so we can get ‘em while their backsides are bare.”

The Shadow sped off, turning a corner around the streets, leaving the precinct behind. Eventually, a second troop carrier met up with them along the way. This Shadow was filled to the brim with the rest of the task force, and Miller locked glances with one of the human passengers. He went to say something when he was cut off by Robert.

“This here is a WST DMT,” Shawn said, unslinging his shotgun. The weapon’s barrel caught the Kig-Yar next to him in the head, and despite the protesting squawk from the avian, the officer ignored it.

“Doesn’t have a pistol grip like most of the military-grade shotguns; M90 and M45 for example. It’s a lot easier to carry with one hand, although it makes aiming a slight problem. Shouldn’t be too hard to aim though when there’s so many criminals and police.”

Miller simply nodded. The last word caught him off guard. Police? What does he mean by police?

“We’re coming up on the Lorun Emporium!” shouted the human officer from the opposite side of their Shadow.

“Alright, lock and load, people!” Miller shouted, cocking his Comet. It was time to end this.

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Mitchel Sanders had grown tired of Legion. At this point, it would be better to die fighting against them rather than continue to run, only to be found. The only thing that was looking up was the new arrival.

A pair of disarmed Shadow troop carriers pulled in behind the Legion convoy, drawing away the attention of most of the enforcers in the back of the semi-circle. Damien kept his aim on Mitchel but was clearly frustrated.

“What is it?” He asked, furrowing his brow.

“This is the Obsidion Police Department, put down your weapons! I repeat, put down your weapons!”

A plethora of humans, Unggoy, Kig-Yar, and Sangheili adorned in the black and yellow-striped harnesses of the OPD emerged from the two Shadows, weapons aimed at the Legion enforcers.

One man in particular walked to the forefront, holding a bulky pistol firm with his two hands.

So, the police are here? Good. That will clear things up a bit.

Damien Black however did not agree. His free hand reaching down into his pocket, he pulled a second Magnum out.

Mitchel knew that Damien would get the first shot on either him or the police if he didn’t do something, so he decided that he would do something. Lining up the sights of two Legion enforcers with his HUD, Mitchel drew in a deep breath. All hell was about to break loose.

“Run!” Sanders shouted as he pulled the triggers on his two sidearms, emptying his magazines into a pair of sicarios.

Damien retaliated, firing off a round towards Mitchel’s head. The bullet hit much harder than expected, knocking Mitchel’s head to the side as he turned tail to run. Gunfire erupted behind him between Legion and the OPD, and he watched as King split off from him and Hailey as agreed upon earlier.

The Jiralhanae spy roared, lumbering towards the unarmored Spartan, but David slid under the Brute’s feet as it attempted to grab him, before popping up behind the lumbering behemoth. David fired a round from his sidearm into the Jiralhanae’s back, but it merely made it even angrier. David leaped to the side as the Jiralhanae whipped around, attempting to impale him with the bayonets on its Spike Rifle.

David held up his pistol again and fired another shot, this time successful. The round went straight through the Jiralhanae’s head, knocking killing it instantly. As the giant corpse crumpled to the ground, King took off back into the alleyways.

Sanders turned around to see a large firefight ensue. Several combatants from both sides lay dead, pools of blood seeping out from under them. The remainder had taken cover behind their respective vehicles, exchanging potshots at each other. The Forerunner Monitor, Curious Puzzle, was nowhere to be found, and Damien and several of his men were using their van as cover.

Black fired several blind shots at the police, then cocked his head in Mitchel’s direction. Well, it’s time to leave.

Mitchel dropped his expended Magnums and grabbed Hailey by the shoulder, guiding her towards the nearby emporium’s entrance as Damien’s shouts were answered in kind. The duo sprinted to the mall’s entrance, only to find it locked.

“I’ll handle this,” Sanders stated as he lifted an armored boot and kicked down the doors, tearing their hinges off in the process.

Hailey’s eyes widened and she sprinted past him into the confines of the building. “He’s coming for us!”

Mitchel’s response was cut short as his shields flared from gunfire. Following Brooks’ lead, he dashed into the complex’s atrium, hearing cries from behind him.

“Don’t let them escape! I want their heads!” Damien bellowed, followed by a chorus of affirmatives from the few enforcers that had managed to escape the firefight with him.

Mitchel needed a solution to get Legion off of his back, at least temporarily. And he had one. The Spartan Reaper clamped one of his submachine guns back to his hip and detached a frag grenade from his belt. While he was quite fast in his armor - Mitchel had already caught up to Hailey - the Legion squad still had a good line of fire on him.

Sanders put away his other submachine gun to pull out the pin from his grenade. With only a few seconds to spare before the fuse burst, he opened his palm, releasing the explosive from his hand. The grenade bounced to the ground and Damien’s tone took a hard turn.

“Back, back!”

Mitchel felt a satisfying thump go through the dust-coated marble floors, and skidded to a halt with Hailey as a large crack rang through the emporium’s musty atmosphere.

The two observed the Spartan’s handiwork as a large section of a second-story balcony came crashing down, blocking off the space between them and the sicarios.

Mitchel realized that he had been holding his breath, and exhaled in relief. His shields began their recharge cycle, and Hailey looked around to gain an edge on their surroundings.

“Where to next?” Brooks asked.

Mitchel spied an exit sign in another atrium adjacent to theirs. Perfect. The Spartan tramped forward, and Hailey followed without a word. They entered the next area heading straight to the steel doors.

Mitchel lifted up his foot to repeat the process that he did with the first set of doors, but Hailey grabbed his foot and shook her head.

“At least try to open it normally,” the woman said. “I’d rather not make noise unless we have to.”

Mitchel rolled his eyes beneath his helmet. “Fine.”

The Spartan grabbed hold of the door handle, and a bit rougher than intended, yanked it. The result was less than stellar. The handle ripped right off, confirming that these doors were locked as well, but to add to the defeat was the metallic screech made when the handle was separated from its parent object.

“Why do I even bother,” Hailey groaned, “You’ll just make noise anyways.”

“Well I’m sorry,” Mitchel retorted, raising his voice, “I didn’t recall you having super strength!”

He threw the bar to the ground, resulting in a clang echoing through the empty mall. Hailey snorted and shrugged.

“Fine. Do your thing. Just do it quickly.”

“Thank you,” Mitchel muttered, trotting up to the doorframe. As he grabbed the two sides to rip them out, he heard a familiar bang!, and the next thing he knew, his shields flared again.

“Aw, c’mon!” Mitchel shouted as he dove to the side, drawing his dual submachine guns in preparation of the returning threat. Seeing a flash of movement up on the second floor, he emptied his mags at the attacker, only to come up short.

As he began the reload process, a taunting voice protruded from the shadows. “You’ll have to try harder than that, Spartan Sanders!”

The supersoldier huffed as he finished sliding the magazines back into his weapons. A muzzle flash illuminated the form of Damien Black for a moment before going dark, and yet another bullet impacted Mitchel’s shields. That’s it. I’ve had enough of this bullshit.

The Spartan brought up his dual guns to bear, setting his sights on the last place he had seen Damien. He opened fire, lighting up the dark confines of the second floor, and casting light on Black. The Legion hitman fled from his position, barely managing to avoid the rounds caking the walls next to him before finally ducking beneath a railing.

Mitchel dropped his empty mags from the submachine guns, and went to get more, only to stop. Nothing was there. He was all out of ammo. Realizing this, he dropped the submachine guns, letting them clatter to the floor. He turned to Hailey, who could sense his dread even through his Reaper helmet.

Hailey drew a combat knife, and Mitchel nodded. The only chance they had now was to get in close while Damien still suspected them of having guns so they could finish the job. Sanders drew his own weapon, an energy katana similar to the blades used by Sangheili. While he did wish to give Grono a good beating with it, he didn’t object to Red Blaze throwing himself at the opportunity. After all, why potentially lose his life when another would be much more willing?

Thumbing a button on the hilt, a long blade of plasma seared upwards, taking form into the shape of the aforenamed katana. He took a step forward, only to hear the crack of a footstep on the ruined marble floor. He glanced to his left, just in time to see a Legion enforcer emerge from the darkness. A flurry of bullets fired from the barrel of the man’s assault rifle, straight towards Hailey.

“Get to cover!” Mitchel shouted, throwing himself in front of the woman to absorb the gunfire. Hailey obliged, retreating into the shadows.

Sanders checked his HUD and was dismayed to see that the burst, coupled with Damien’s shots, had nearly drained his energy shields completely. He needed to end this quickly, one way or another.

Three more enforcers filed into the area, their sights set on Mitchel. He’d had enough. No more running. It’s time to teach these pricks why I’m a Spartan.

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Kyle Craig - Or Robert Shawn as he was known to the Obsidion Police Department - sprinted back, wrapping his arm around his bullet-riddled Shadow and yanking himself behind the damaged troop carrier. One of the two Kig-Yar officers accompanying him earlier came traipsing after, only to have his head rearranged by a marksman’s bullet.

Spot on, Craig thought to himself, Serves that bird-headed freak right. One less UNSC-friendly alien in the world.

His “Partner,” Jason Miller hopped over the Shadow’s troop benches, sliding through the small gap in the vehicle’s center.The gunfire continued to rain, and Craig gripped his shotgun firmly as Miller wrenched open the Shadow’s cockpit, revealing the wounded Sangheili inside.

“Shawn, give me some help here!” Miller called, struggling to pull the larger alien from his seat.

My god, let him bleed out! He’s a Sangheili anyway, he’d probably prefer to die. Kyle jogged over, grabbing one of the Sangheili’s arms while Jason took the other. A bullet whizzed past Miller’s head, but he remained unfazed.

“Alright, Shawn,” Jason began, “Now!”

The two yanked as hard as they could, and successfully pulled their compatriot free from the seat. The Sangheili officer collapsed to the ground, sputtering blood. He painstakingly lifted his head and grunted.

“Ignore me, Agent!” the injured police muttered, “Focus on keeping the rest of the force out of harm’s way!”

Before Miller could respond, the Unggoy enforcer from before hastily leapt behind the Shadow, followed shortly by a human deputy.

“Me give them piece of my mind!” the Unggoy shouted over the din, grasping his plasma pistol. The nearby woman acknowledged Miller and leaned against the Shadow.

“How many casualties have we got?” Craig asked.

“Four,” she responded, panting, “three dead, and your Sangheili’s wounded.”

“And the baddies?” Kyle inquired.

“They’ve taken more casualties, but they still outnumber us!”

Perfect, Craig thought. While he was undercover as a member of the OPD, he was still in support of Legion, despite what the Created might have done to damage their operations. If Legion was able to weaken his task force to dwindling numbers, he could reveal himself and finish off the rest of the police. With that, he would not only eliminate Jason Miller, a thorn in his side, but also shift police attention from him and his plots to Legion. They would be the perfect scapegoat, all while helping him.

“Back, you vermin!”

Craig was jolted out of his thoughts by the bellow of the unit’s other Sangheili, and glanced over to the other Shadow where the rest of the team was taking cover. The Sangheili in question reared up to his full height and roared, clutching a purple ball in his hands. Craig instantly realized what it was - a plasma grenade.

As far as Craig knew, even with the vast array of knowledge in his databanks back at his plethora of hideouts, he was under the assumption that the OPD didn’t use grenades. Clearly, he had either been wrong, overlooked something, or simply didn’t take into account the fact that a Sangheili police officer might be over zealous.

Nonetheless, this would be a wrench thrown into his plans for the battle’s outcome. It could easily cut down the number of enforcers on Legion’s side, giving the OPD the advantage. While Craig usually had failsafes or desperate measures for such things, he had none now that wouldn’t give away his position. He could easily blast the Sangheili with his shotgun, but that would quickly place him under fire from the rest of the police as a traitor. No, he had to wait. All he could do right now was wait and see what happened.

The Elite threw an over-hand arc over the Shadow’s carapace, and the plasma grenade gracefully flew into the air - and landed right next to the foot of a Legion trooper. The man looked down too late, and the explosive detonated, engulfing him and several other nearby enforcers in a flurry of blue fire.

Kyle gritted his teeth, and looked down as the Unggoy officer poked out from behind their carrier, holding a charged plasma pistol. He reluctantly watched as the diminutive being fired off a shot, hitting a Legion enforcer spot-on. As the man’s chest quickly burned away from the plasma, another Legion sicario fired several rounds into the Unggoy’s chest.

Finally, the little imp’s dead.

As the Unggoy’s lifeless body fell to the ground, the woman accompanying Kyle and Miller ran to his side. She too was mowed down by gunfire, and Craig internally laughed at the expense of her foolishness.

“Shawn!” Miller shouted, firing off his 12mm Comet at the advancing enemies. “Don’t just stand there! Do something!”

Oh, I will do something. Craig looked down at his WST DMT and back at Miller. He then glanced at the police at the other Shadow and grinned. This was his chance to take out Miller and help Legion win. The only two people with him were Jason, who was preoccupied at the moment, and the wounded Sangheili driver, who could easily be put down with no trouble.

Kyle brought up his shotgun to bear, and slowly and inconspicuously turned to Miller. Now was his chance to end this annoying detective once and for all. Ever since the Grandpoint Bank robbery Jason Miller had dogged him constantly. And now, here he was, not even aware that the man next to him was the one he had been hunting for so many months!

Craig relished the irony of it, and put his finger on the trigger.

“Hey!”

Craig whipped around, lowering his DMT. Another OPD officer stood in front of him. He recognized them from the other Shadow and realized that they must have come over to his.

Shit! Craig’s eyes darted around nervously; had he been caught?

No, it wasn’t the case.

“Stop being sloppy and find a target!” the man shouted, an irritated look on his face as a flurry of slugs barreled past the Shadow.

Ah, I get it now. The man isn’t as keen as I thought, Kyle Craig realized. He thought I was aiming for a target, and being slow about it. That’s a relief. But still, luck seems to be against me today. I can’t kill Miller now and I’m gonna have to take out a few Legion lackeys. I’d say the hassle would be explaining their deaths to the higher-ups rather than actually trying to kill them.

Craig rolled his eyes and poked his shotgun out between the gap in the Shadow’s troop bay, taking aim. This would be quick and easy, if not a hindrance to his plans.

Blam!

The nearest enforcer’s torso practically disappeared, leaving room for the rest of her body to fall to the ground.

Blam!

The next one went down in a torrent of blood and guts.

Blam!

A third minion’s gun fell out of his hands - Or rather fell to the ground as his hands and arms were blown off.

Kyle took aim at one of the four remaining thugs, only to see him drop his assault rifle and put his hands in the air in a submissive manner.

“What?” Kyle spat in surprise.

“Hold your fire!” Jason shouted, causing the OPD’s rain of fire to cease. As the other three enforcers followed suit of the first, Jason motioned for the officers to move forward. “They’re surrendering!”

They’re surrendering? Craig thought, They’re stupid! Cowards!

As the remnants of the OPD task force slapped energy cuffs on the enforcers, Kyle strolled up to Miller.

“So, what now?” Kyle asked, managing to keep a straight face.

“First, we get the wounded and dead loaded up onto one of the Shadows,” Miller answered, holstering his Comet sidearm. “Second, we stow those criminals onto the other Shadow and ship them off to jail. They’re gonna have a bad time in court.”

“Anything else?” Craig questioned, opening the compartment in his WST DMT shotgun to load more pellets in.

“Third, we call for backup to patrol the sector. In case you didn’t notice, their ringleader and a few of his goons got away, chasing that Spartan-looking guy and the other two.”

“Alright,” Craig agreed, finishing the reload and pumping his shotgun. As Miller walked away to oversee the handling of their new Legion prisoners, Craig scowled.

Luck is not on my side today.

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Mitchel launched forward, bearing down on the man near him. His katana sliced through the thug’s assault rifle, splitting it in half. As the man sputtered in disbelief the Spartan rammed his shoulder into him, shoving the Legion combatant into a wall with enough force to knock him unconscious.

As the first enemy slid to the ground in defeat, Mitchel shifted his focus to the next two. The fourth was preoccupied, exchanging blows with Hailey Brooks. The two remaining opponents readied their weapons. The man leveled a battle rifle at Mitchel’s head, while the woman drew a machete from out behind her back.

A machete, Mitchel mused, You don’t see those every day. But the same can be said for this energy katana.

Spartan Mitchel Sanders analyzed the situation. While he did have a vast advantage in the form of his Mjolnir armor and Spartan augmentations, his shields hadn’t yet begun their recharge cycle, and one burst from the male enforcer’s service rifle was all it took to break them. While he could still easily take him out, the female enforcer’s machete proved to be a problem, not in the fact that it could outmatch an energy katana - No, quite the opposite - but because she would have chance to get him while he had his focus on the other sicario.

How about the other way? Mitchel switched the order of attack in his mind. He could easily overpower the woman, yet that would give the man more than enough time to put several bursts into him.

Oh well. I’d rather get a bullet through the head than a machete to the neck.

Mitchel sprang forward, noting the slowdown of his surroundings as he entered a state colloquially known as “Spartan time.” Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and Mitchel watched as the woman brought down her machete in an attempt to stab him. He easily sidestepped, but felt three thumps on his chest in quick succession.

That’s the battle rifle. Mitchel brought up his hand, closing it into a fist, and swung outwards, batting the woman’s machete out of the way. His shields broke, triggering an annoying siren within his suit, and he felt another chorus of thumps on his shoulder, this time much harder than before.

Sanders opened his fist back into a palm and grabbed his opponent by the throat, clamping his fingers onto her neck. He had no intention of breaking her neck; he’d merely disable her a moment in order to find a less lethal way to put her out of the fight.

However, his captive didn’t quite see things the same way. She drew a loaded Magnum, sputtering as she aimed it at him. Another burst hit the Spartan in the side, causing him to flinch, and his face curled up in disgust at the slow motion spittle spouting from the female enforcer’s mouth.

That hurt. And her pistol’s gonna hurt a helluva lot more. I guess I can’t pull punches on this one.

Mitchel raised his energy katana, bringing it down on his enemy’s wrist. Her hand was cleanly sliced off and the wound cauterized itself almost instantaneously. Even with his heightened sense, Mitchel could barely witness the change. The dismembered hand plopped to the ground, acting as a cradle for the gun it held.

Mitchel released his hand and stepped to the side as his now-handicapped foe lunged at his former position with her machete, screaming an obscenity that he couldn’t make out in the heat of the moment. He edged his shoulder down and rammed it into her, causing her to fly off the ground and slam through the musty glass windows of one of the abandoned stores.

That’s two down. One trigger-happy bastard to go.

Mitchel breathed out and cocked his head to the last enforcer. The man was quaking in his boots at the sight of his two cohorts having been dispatched so easily, and he took a hesitant step back.

This ought to be easy, Mitchel assured himself. The supersoldier rushed forward, giving his criminal adversary almost no time to react. Mitchel’s fist connected with the man’s stomach, and a three-round burst emanated from the battle rifle. The Legion member fell backwards; a torrent of blood spurting out of his mouth as he did so. Mitchel reared back and observed the wall behind him. Three bullet holes pockmarked the concrete above a shop sign, confirming that Mitchel hadn’t been hit.

With his three opponents downed, he decided to check up on how Hailey Brooks was doing. Or, at least, he would’ve, if she hadn’t disappeared. Hailey’s enforcer lay still on the ground with blood pooling around her head, but Brooks herself was nowhere to be found.

“Brooks!” Sanders shouted, sweeping his head from side to side. No response came, and he couldn’t see her.

“Hailey!” he called again, lifting up his energy katana.

Did she abandon me? The Spartan-IV wondered, ignoring the beeping on his HUD informing him of his still-broken shields. What should I expect? It wasn’t like she owed me anything. Still a dick move. I just hope she took care of-

Click.

Mitchel’s eyes widened behind his visor, and he froze. He felt the barrel of a pistol press against the back of his helmet, and his fears were confirmed.

“I would turn off that laser sword if I were you,” Damien Black suggested from behind Mitchel, “You might cut yourself.”

Mitchel pursed his lips. This isn’t how he wanted things to go down. His shields weren’t back up yet, so one shot to the head was all it would take to kill him. He complied with Damien’s request and deactivated his energy katana, remaining still in the face of death.

“Good. Perhaps you Spartans are good for something.”

“Why haven’t you killed me yet?” Sanders asked, “You could’ve just shot me while I was off-guard and been done with it.”

“Because I want answers,” Damien responded, pushing his Magnum up against Mitchel’s helmet. “And you are going to give them to me.”

“Alright,” Mitchel decided, now paying attention as the sirens in his armor died down, signalling that his shields would soon recharge.

“First off,” Damien stated, “Where did your friend go? I must admit that I was a tad bit too focused on you to notice where she scuttled off to.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Mitchel replied, “I’ve got no idea.”

“Fine then. Where did that sniveling rat David King head? I still want my money, after all.”

Sanders’ shields stopped blaring. It was time. As the recharge cycle began, he said “Fat chance-”

Bang!

Mitchel scrunched up his face in response to the return of the mind numbing alarms. His shields had broken again.

“You didn’t think me to be that stupid, did you?” Damien sneered, “I knew your energy shields would recharge, and unfortunately for you, my trigger finger can easily put a bullet in those shields the instant they start recharging!”

“Now, answer the question!” Damien demanded, quite seriously this time.

Mitchel stayed silent.

“Fine then,” Damien spat, “Three,”

Mitchel’s eyes darted about checking if there was anything in his inventory that he could put to good use.

“Two,”

Nothing. He’d expended everything except for the energy katana.

“One.”

“Okay, fine-”

The ring of the Magnum’s gunshot echoed through the empty complex, filling the null void with sound. Mitchel’s eye twitched, and blood spattered across the ground, painting it with a deep crimson.

The lifeless body didn’t crumple, but rather simply fell face-first to the ground, causing blood to slosh out of the open wound in the back of the corpse’s head.

Spartan Mitchel Sanders turned around to face the corpse of Damien Black.

“Sorry about the timing, I was trying to stay as silent as possible,” came a voice from the shadows. Hailey Brooks trotted out, holding a Magnum. She holstered the sidearm and looked at Mitchel.

“Well? I said I was sorry about the timing, but I think you owe me at least a ‘thank you’ for saving your life, huh?”

Mitchel inhaled sharply and air burst out through his nose. “Yeah, yeah.”

“So, where to next?”

Mitchel sheathed the handle of his energy katana. “I would say King, but as far as I know, the rest of the thugs were duking it out with the police. If they managed to win, he’d be long gone by then. On the other hand, Red Blaze could still be dueling that Sangheili snob Grono ‘Yendam. We can’t let him get us, or King.”

The duo walked over to the doorway from before, and Mitchel ripped its hinges off with ease. Hailey walked through the large gap and kept a lookout. “And how do you propose we get there?”

Mitchel cracked his knuckles. “We’ll just take a detour to avoid the Legion cadre. That way we can get to Blaze and Grono with no interruptions.”

It was time to check in on Mitchel Sanders’ two least favorite duelists.

Chapter 19: The Duel

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN


Red Blaze approached his opponent cautiously. There was no telling what tricks Grono ‘Yendam might have had up his sleeve, honorable duel or not. The two went for a direct approach, blades clashing in the middle. Pacing around would get them nowhere, and both of them were fully aware of that. Blaze’s light blue blade bounced off of Grono’s dark green one with a hiss, and the two stepped back.

I better play it safe first, Blaze told himself. That way he can’t pull any tricks on me without some measure of retaliation.

He brought his blade in closer to his body to provide what he saw as a better defense. This way he would have more reach when he needed to extend his blade. Grono took notice of this and sprung forward, arm outstretched to hit Blaze.

The assassin easily sidestepped the conspicuous attack and landed to ‘Yendam’s right, bringing his own blade up to hook between the pincers of the Sangheili’s energy sword. The blades locked, as planned, and Red Blaze softly grinned beneath his helmet.

This is going to be easier than I thought.

Red Blaze quickly recapped his next plan in his mind. With their energy swords hooked in his favor, the assassin would twist his wrist ninety degrees to the left, not the right. If he snapped to the right, due to him being on the right side of Grono, he would simply disarm the mercenary.

However, if he enacted the step to the left, the blade would turn on its owner, cutting into ‘Yendam’s arm or chest at the very least.

This would not only disarm his opponent, but also leave him with a mortal wound. Presumably, not even one as stoic as Grono could shrug off a dire blow like that. With a clear advantage, the Red Blaze could then strike down his enemy in their moment of weakness and win the duel.

As vile as a tactic like that is, it is my best hope for survival, Blaze told himself. He would have prefered a clean and concise cut that would finish Grono off in one fell swoop, but alas, this would have to do.

Focusing his mind back onto current events, Blaze followed through with the first step of his plan. He gripped his own sword with all his force to the left.

However, the howl of pain he expected never came. Red Blaze stared in awe as Grono’s blade, Varmint's Nail hardly budged, despite all of his efforts. Blaze cocked his head towards Grono, only to see his nonchalant face.

The Sangheili grunted and shoved Varmint’s Nail towards Red Blaze, along with the assassin’s own blade. Quick on his feet, Blaze leaped backwards, only managing to unhook his sword from Grono’s by sheer luck.

Realizing his plan had failed, Red Blaze grew frustrated. As Grono swung again, but much more lightly this time, Blaze parried.

“How?” he asked.

“How your move failed to gut me?” Grono countered, retreating back a few feet. “I knew your intention the moment I sensed you attempt to twist your blade. But you failed, because you must have forgotten.”

“Forgotten what, ‘Yendam?” Blaze retorted as he prepared his own offense, launching a sweeping arc with his blade to further ward off Grono.

“I am a Sangheili,” Grono replied, limping out of the way of Blaze’s attack. “No matter how hard you may want it to be, you are nothing more than a diminutive human. Your strength could never overpower mine.”

That was the final straw. Red Blaze roared as he launched forward, swiping Grono’s hand out of the way as he jabbed at him. The warrior stumbled back, regaining control of the Varmint’s Nail and pushing back Blaze with a weak thrust.

Grono hissed as his bandaged leg hit the pavement, but the Sangheili held firm. The two both looked down to see two small holes in Grono’s chestplate. Red Blaze had hit him.

He may have been hit, but the size of those holes suggests I merely made a dent in his armor. No flesh seems to have been pierced.

“I cannot seem to figure you out, imitator,” the Sangheili spat, “Your fighting style remains a mystery to me.”

Grono bared his mandibles and slowly got into a defensive posture.

He’s going on the defense. He must be desperate now, the Red Blaze thought. That leg wound seems to be hindering him again, so I have a chance. All I need to do is go on the offense, and either whittle him down or knock him off of his feet.

With this in mind, Blaze began a flurry of thrusts, swings, and swipes, becoming a storm of attacks. To his credit, Grono adeptly blocked and parried each one, but over time he began to wear down. After a full three minutes of exchanges, Blaze stepped back, panting as sweat formed beneath his armor.

He was clearly taking a number as well. While the Order of Assassins was his life, sometimes he could not help wondering whether an honorable, and oftentimes tedious approach was actually the best way to do things.

Despite this, both of the combatants still stood, perhaps physically worn, but mentally unfazed. Grono growled and brought up the Varmint’s Nail to bring down upon Blaze. The human deftly parried the swing, and took his own swipe at the open chest of the Sangheili, also ducking to avoid any retaliation from the green energy sword above him.

Grono swiftly spinned out of the way, stopping his spiral momentum to face Blaze once more. Blaze’s arm shot in front of him, intending to quickly stab his burly opponent. Grono’s blade quickly arrived to cease the attack, and Blaze was met with an audible crackle as they both leaned forward, attempting to overpower the other.

After realizing he could not win a simply shoving match, Blaze launched himself backwards, skidding across the hard concrete of their battleground. How no one had encountered them since the duel had begun was beyond him at this point.

What if I changed up my strategy, and tried tricking him? Red Blaze wondered, Yes! That is it! I shall perform a feint against him!

He could already visualize it. He would fake a jab to his right - Grono’s left hand, which was unarmed - and use the opportunity to go for Grono’s exposed sword arm to quite literally disarm the Sangheili.

Wait a second, Blaze thought, What are those on his arms?

Upon closer inspection from Blaze in the split second he had before he parried another attack from Grono, he noticed several faint scars covering the Sangheili’s forearms. They looked like they could have been from a plasma weapon, but Blaze chose not to give it a second thought.

The assassin thrust forward to the mercenary’s free arm, provoking a parry in return. However, at the last moment the Blaze’s blade turned to the left, straight into the path of the Sangheili’s sword arm. Much to Red Blaze’s chagrin, however, Grono leaped sideways.

Albeit Grono had dodged, Blaze felt relief at the Sangheili’s audible hiss. Blaze turned to see a fresh scar on his opponent’s right arm, smoldering like a new layer of tar over the old, greyed ones that already covered Grono’s arm.

Then it clicked. Red Blaze realized that the scars were from energy swords. Whether this was a good sign or bad, he didn’t know. Could the scars mean Grono wasn’t as good of a fighter as Blaze had been led on to believe? Or could the Sangheili’s scars simply be testaments to the number of duels he had survived or won?

No matter, Red Blaze decided. I’ve come this far. I shall not let myself be distracted when I am so close to victory.

“I was not planning on attaining any scars in this battle, nor having to use my submissive arm,” Grono drawled, wincing as he passed the Varmint’s Nail over from his right hand to his left.

“You were probably not planning on losing either,” Red Blaze retorted, earning a surprising chuckle out of the Sangheili.

Grono stepped forward and swiped at Red Blaze. The latter brought up his blue energy sword to parry and they exchanged blows. The Blaze noticed a change. While his opponent’s attacks were much less accurate - One had nearly missed him entirely - that was to be expected. But his offensives were much stronger now; enough for Red Blaze to notice the difference between Grono’s arms as some blows had nearly managed to knock his sword out of his hand.

Something wasn’t adding up, but Red Blaze ignored it. Because the Sangheili combatant facing him was losing accuracy, he could use that to his advantage. Grono’s limp still remained, but if Blaze could hit his leg to worsen the pain he could catch ‘Yendam off guard. Once more a lowly move on my behalf. But it matters not. I will do whatever I can to defeat this bastard.

Blaze roared as he delivered a low kick to Grono’s leg, connecting with a satisfying squish. He skittered back, like a spider would when confronted with a threat. ‘Yendam let out a guttural roar as he sank to one knee, clutching his leg with his right hand.

Now is my chance.

The Red Blaze gripped his energy sword, catapulting himself towards Grono ‘Yendam. He brought up his blade, and with one swift execution he sliced off Grono’s left hand. The Sangheili’s hand and weapon fell to the ground, the hand with a splat and the deactivated hilt with a clatter.

Red Blaze hunched over, sputtering mucus from his lungs. The battle had clearly taken a greater toll on him than he thought. The adrenaline must have kept me going… Now that it’s gone-

His train of thought was bulldozed off its track as something barreled into him from behind. Slamming against the pavement, he looked up to see Grono looming above him, seemingly finished moaning about his leg wound and unfazed by his missing hand.

“What?!” Blaze shouted as he desperately tried to swipe at Grono.

The Sangheili grimaced. Grono ‘Yendam was done playing games. His right hand bolted forward, still retaining its burning scar, and grabbed Red Blaze’s wrist, snapping it with a wrenched twist.

Blaze cried out in pain, watching helplessly as his energy sword deactivated and fell to his side with a clang. He gasped for air as Grono picked him up with one hand clasped around his throat, and coughed as the Sangheili threw him several feet away. The wind was knocked out of him as he slammed into a wall, and he slumped down as he heard the Sangheili mutter something, something incomprehensible to him now.

“But… You were desperate…” Red Blaze mumbled, absentmindedly attempting to get to his feet. “You were on the defensive…”

His vision blurred, but he heard ‘Yendam’s words cut through the air like a butterknife. “As was with my strategy. I realized you were an offensive duelist, so I adapted accordingly to wear you out.”

Red Blaze felt a jolt of surprise inside his numbing mind. His perceived advantage had only ever been a ruse by Grono to whittle him down…

“But… What about your hand?” Blaze muttered as he heard footsteps approaching. His eyes cleared for a second and he could dimly make out Grono approaching him with something clasped in his right hand, while he held up his left arm.

“Merely artificial. Now silence yourself.”

So… That was it… Red Blaze had just realized that Grono had pieced together the human’s downfall. The artificial hand perfectly explained the great increase in ‘Yendam’s strength when he used it with his left hand. That, coupled with Blaze’s failure to decipher Grono’s ruse far outweighed the disadvantage of Grono’s injured leg and scar.

Blaze’s vision blurred out again, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck tingle.

I’ve lost. Red Blaze took a moment to let that sink in, and drooped his head. There was nothing more he could do.

“You are nothing,” he heard Grono proclaim, “You always were and always will be nothing, imitator.”

The last thing Red Blaze ever saw was a flash of green before his chest exploded with pain, and he passed on.

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Grono ‘Yendam drew his blade back, watching as Red Blaze’s fatal wound cauterized instantly after the Varmint’s Nail exited his body. As the Sangheili thumbed his hilt to deactivate the acidic green blade, he stepped back, allowing for his deceased opponent to crumple to the ground.

That took much more effort than I had initially anticipated. But I knew what I was stepping into the moment I waved Curious Puzzle away. I could not simply let this interloper mock me any longer.

Grono limped backwards, grunting in pain and doubling over. Clutching the bandages around his leg, he grimaced.

That lowly human was clever in attacking my weak spot. I must give him credit for that.

‘Yendam checked his right arm to inspect his scar. Good. Unlike his leg wound, the incision made by Red Blaze’s energy sword had cut shallow, and shocked Grono more than it had actually hurt him.

I must find Puzzle, Grono decided. We must eliminate David King as quickly as possible. While I may have failed to lay claim to the bonus money on Mitchel Sanders, I still have the chance to snatch the main bounty right out from under Damien Black’s nose. While that Legion enforcer undoubtedly suspects that I will betray him, he was a fool to strike up that deal.

The mercenary slowly stood, glancing at his surroundings for any other signs of life. After checking that there were none, he examined his arsenal to take into account what he would be unable to use with his severed hand.

The plasma pistol and Varmint’s Nail would work fine, but unfortunately the storm and concussion rifles he kept on him would be too hefty for him to use easily.

That simply leaves my blade and my sidearm, Grono realized. No matter, they will do.

The Sangheili decidedly ignored his severed prosthetic lying on the ground a few feet away. While the Red Blaze had made a precise cut, it had been hasty, and thus there was no hope of ‘Yendam reattaching his prosthetic, even with assistance from Puzzle.

Leave it for someone else to find. Surely someone living in a poor place like this could salvage the scraps.

Grono prepared to leave, but stopped in his tracks. He noticed the Blaze’s helmet partially dislocated from the deceased assassin’s head. He could see the neck, which was covered with scars, much worse than his own.

While wanting to find Puzzle, Grono could not resist demasking his opponent. And why not? He had won the duel, and he was intrigued for once!

Tromping over to the corpse, his limp still affecting him, Grono lifted up his bad foot and lightly prodded the human’s helmet off. To his dismay, the man’s face was littered with scars, practically disfiguring him. Grono felt even more repulsed than he already had been of the imitator, and he suspected that the man was hideous by his own kind’s standards as well.

No wonder the nishum wore a mask. Most likely attempting to hide his dishonor, if the Order of Assassins is anything to go by.

Grono snorted and turned around, trudging away from the ally. Fool, honor is not something you tout about and manage. It is simply a bargaining chip to use when convenient.

As the Sangheili left the boulevard, silence fell once more. Tranquility had returned to the area, but only for a short time.

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“How long until we get there?” Hailey Brooks asked, sprinting alongside Spartan Mitchel Sanders.

The armored supersoldier looked down at her as they ran side by side. Despite the fact that they were keeping pace with each other, Hailey felt exhausted. She knew that this speed was an easy breeze for Sanders, and that he was only letting her catch up to him so they couldn’t split up. Indeed, he most likely would have been back at the boulevard by now if he ran at his own pace. She was simply slowing him down.

“Another few turns,” Mitchel responded.

Hailey groaned as she pumped her arms forward and back. Today’s events were certainly giving her more than the daily exercise she usually had. “So, how big is your map of the city then, Mitchel?”

The Spartan’s gaze returned to the path ahead as they sprinted through the alleyways, passing a few citizens now and then. Luckily, they were moving so fast that anyone who saw them would simply observe a blur.

I just hope that there aren’t any more Legion spies around here. I don’t need another Brute stalking us.

“I don’t have a map, though,” Mitchel stated.

“Then how do you know the way?” Brooks questioned.

Sanders replied with, “I’m simply reviewing the footage my helmet took of the areas we were in and applying it here.”

“You recorded the whole thing?” Hailey panted, exhaustedly turning her head inquisitively towards him.

“Never know when you might need it,” the Spartan said calmly.

“Alright,” Hailey finished as they rounded another bend.

“We’re here.”

The pair slowed their pace as they entered the boulevard from roughly half an hour earlier. There was no fighting as they had thought, but simply an unwavering silence. Mitchel cautiously strolled through the area, hand resting on his energy katana. Hailey, however, had nowhere near the amount of stamina that he did, and stopped to put her hands on her knees as she gulped in large breaths of air.

Sweet relief! I can breathe again!

“I don’t see Grono anywhere,” Mitchel observed, “But I found this.”

Hailey looked up to see Mitchel holding a large, severed hand in his palm. It was scaly and had two pointer fingers in the center and a thumb on each side. Those were the telltale signs that the hand belonged to a Sangheili.

“Pleasant,” Hailey sarcastically uttered as she looked over the hand in disgust. But something was off about it. There was none of the Sangheili’s cyan blood at all, seeping from the wound, or caking the scales.

“But there’s no blood,” Hailey said, scrunching up her face in curiosity.

“And I think I know why,” Mitchel answered. He pinched the skin on one of the center fingers and pulled, producing a blood-curdling tear. Hailey flinched and beheld as the Spartan-IV held up a large flab fake skin in one hand, and a cold, metallic device in the other.

“It’s a membrane,” Mitchel stated, dropping the scaly covering to the ground. “Which means-”

“That it’s an artificial hand,” Hailey finished.

Mitchel dropped the metallic prosthetic, letting it clatter to the ground. “So Grono obviously had a hard time. But that still doesn’t explain where the Red Blaze is.”

Hailey took her eyes off of the severed hand and scoured the walls of the boulevard. Then, she saw it.

“Mitchel! Here!”

The Spartan tromped over, stopping a few feet away from Hailey. “Well, at least we know what happened…”

Red Blaze’s body lay unmoving across the pavement. His helmet was about a foot away from him, and a noticeable pair of puncture wounds were on his back.

“He lost,” Hailey said, taking a tentative step towards the Sangheili-imitator’s corpse. “It looks like he got stabbed right through the chest.”

Mitchel walked over to the other side of the man, and slowly shook his head. “Ugly bastard.”

Hailey gave Mitchel a glance of questioning, and rolled Blaze’s head over to her. She gagged at the sight and quickly stood up. His face was hideous, covered in scars that gave him the appearance of a Frankenstein-esque monster. It was like his face was an improperly put-together jigsaw puzzle that had stayed broken for a long time.

Is this why he wore the mask, or imitated the Elites?

Mitchel straightened and he motioned to Hailey to get up.

“What is it?” Brooks asked, leaping to her feet.

“We need to find David,” Mitchel replied, turning around. “If Grono defeated Blaze, that means he’s going to return to his original objective: Killing King.”

“But how could he do that with one arm, and possibly wounds?” Hailey countered.

“I don’t know. He might have some spare prosthetics on him for all we know. But what I’m certain of is that Grono will either try to link up with Legion and Puzzle, and come for us, or he might be searching for David. Either possibility isn’t a good one.”

“Then we should go!” Hailey exclaimed, patting her Magnum on her hip.

“Agreed,” Mitchel said, “Let’s head for the construction area. Hopefully we can meet up with King there. As long as he made it there safely.”

Brooks nodded. “Which way?”

Mitchel pointed to one of the exits to their left. “That will do.”

The two raced off, exiting the boulevard to make their way to the distant construction site. Little did they know that they had already lost the race to find David King long before it had begun.

Chapter 20: Winning the Game

24 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN


David King zipped around a corner and sprinted at full speed down the avenue, his shadow flicking across the lights of multiple streetlamps. Lined up along the road were clusters of industrial facilities, all having different owners due to the sheer amount of opportunity Drawn presented for growing a business. He hoped that after several minutes of weaving through the dirty, rancid slums of Obsidion he would have outrun any Legion pursuers, and it seemed like that was the case for now. There were cars parked on the sides of the street; thankfully, they were all empty of any passengers and parked, adding to the eery quietness of the industrial atmosphere broken only by King’s breaths and the clunk of machinery within the factories.

In the circumstance that David hadn’t shaken off the Legion enforcers, the cars would make great cover for him when the inevitable shootout began. Unfortunately, that could go both ways. These guys are Legion. They’ll be smart enough to utilize the environment just like me. So I have to utilize it first.

King broke away from the haunting scene and ducked into yet another alleyway, craning his neck around the corner. He was still the only one breaking the foreboding silence, and he observed no sign of Legion in the direction he came. Maybe he’d actually lost them for good?

David turned around and noticed a steel chain link fence blocking further progress into the alley. Beyond that was the construction site he had been running towards the past few minutes. That was where he needed to be. For a second David considered using his augmented strength to tear the fence open, but after a moment of thought, he decided against it. He was less likely to be noticed if he simply climbed over.

The unarmored Spartan-IV leaped onto the side of the fence, grabbing the small holes made by the chains. He reached a hand upwards and grabbed the top of the fence, before pulling himself up and flipping over to the other side. Dropping down from the fence, he entered the open gate of the construction site. The area was much bigger than he initially thought, having to span at least a hundred meters in each direction. The workplace had a small office building with a balcony at the edge, only two stories tall. Multiple construction equipment was littered throughout, and other points of interest were the foundations of a building and a parked group of forklift trucks. And it was all dominated by an imposing magnetic crane to finish the site off. King slowly strided through the site; it was unoccupied, thankfully. The workers must have filed out for the day. He passed some hydraulic machinery, but couldn’t tell what liquid they were pumping. It had a light grey coloration, along with crimson red speckles. David continued on, when he froze in his tracks.

The familiar whirring sound of an all-too familiar construct resembling an aerospace vehicle in the process of taking off from its landing pad. The mechanical resonance drew nearer, and David realized it was coming from above him. He looked up and his heart sank as the scarlet carapace and bright green eye of 589 Curious Puzzle came into view.

The Monitor looked down at him and tilted his head - or rather, his entire body. “There you are, David King! For a moment there I assumed I had lost track of you!”

The ancilla’s eye slowly darkened, and a hissing emanated from Puzzle’s core. Realizing that Puzzle was about to fire at him, King held his hand up towards Puzzle. “Wait!”

“Oh?” Puzzle wondered, his eye returning to its original color.

“Do you have any Legion enforcers with you?” King asked. I’ll have to buy time. If he decides to answer this I’ll have a chance to run.

“As far as I am aware, none of those ‘Legion’ thugs as you call them even spared the notion of joining me!” the construct recounted, “But-”

Puzzle’s rambling was cut short as King dived behind one of the hydraulic machines from earlier, having found the best escape route he could muster. “Thanks, cyclops!”

“Why, the indignation of some people!” the Monitor said, hissing as his eye began to darken again. David’s eyes widened as the ancilla swooped around the machine, his eye now matching the vibrant red color of his shell. David rolled to the side as Curious Puzzle fired a beam from his eye, striking the hydraulic machine. As it burst, showering liquid over the area, David ran deeper into the site, towards the aforementioned group of parked forklifts.

I was counting on catching some Legion enforcers, not a goddamn Monitor! Spartan-IV training should have taught us more about these guys past their annoying personalities.

The jacketed man noticed Puzzle soar to his side, only a few meters away. As Puzzle charged up another blast, King slid behind one of the dormant forklifts, hoping that the condensed metal machine would prove enough to shield him from the Monitor’s wrath. Fortunately, his bid paid off as the ancilla’s laser cut into the forklift, but not deep enough to slice through entirely.

The unfortunate consequence was that the beam had inflicted enough damage to make the forklift explode - something David had not accounted for. The resulting cloud of fire burned through King’s jacket, and would have done the same to his flesh had he not maintained his distance.

If I’m to get out of this situation alive, I’ve gotta go on the offensive, David decided. With that, he grabbed his holstered pistol and fired several shots into Curious Puzzle. While he had hoped to hit the lightbulb in the eye to blind him, the bullets simply ricocheted off of the ancilla’s chassis, not even making the smallest of dents.

The Monitor expelled yet another laser beam towards David, and he moved to evade, barrelling out of the way as he felt an intense heat near his neck. Looking down at his right shoulder, he noticed a hole cut cleanly through the collar of his jacket. At this point, it was only wearing him down. King grimaced and fired another volley at Puzzle, but the Monitor snapped away, shielding his eye from harm.

“I am most disappointed, David King,” Curious Puzzle said as the named Spartan-IV shrugged off his jacket, “if I didn’t know better, I would think that you were attempting to test the durability of my shell!”

David ignored the jibe and jumped behind two more forklifts. Rather than fire at them, Puzzle simply chuckled. “There are only so many covers you can hide behind, human!”

David heard the hiss that announced the next blast and made a run towards the office building, leaping onto the ladder next leading up to the balcony. He ascended the rungs in one fluid motion, scrambling on top of the balcony as he heard the low rumble of an explosion behind him. The Spartan heard the chatter of the Monitor over the din, but ignored it, running to the balcony’s door that led into the building itself.

As he came upon it, David spied a padlock on the door. Well, only one thing to do now. David grunt as he used his enhanced strength to ram into the door, knocking it off its hinges. He followed up with another push, this time breaking the door down. He ran inside and found himself in a small stairwell leading to the first floor. King leaped down to the halfway point of the flight, then turned around, only to be disappointed at the sight of Puzzle above him.

“Hm, You seem to have cornered yourself, human,” the Monitor said, charging another blast from his eye.

“Fuck off,” King said, firing the last of his magazine into the ancilla’s eye. This time he hit straight on, causing the construct to screech in agony as his beam jerked upwards into the ceiling. Taking advantage of the distraction, King sped down the rest of the staircase, grabbing the door that led back outside. Peculiarly, this one didn’t have a lock.

Dang, David chastised himself, should’ve gone in through this door.

He wrenched open the door and ran back outside. I’ll need something that can put Puzzle out of commision for good. Not a silly old pistol.

Then he realized it. David stared up at the magnetic crane at the end of the site. It could have the chance of working on Puzzle, considering his electric origins…

“Worth a shot.” King said, to no one in particular.

He broke into a sprint, easily closing the distance between himself and the crane in a few seconds. He grabbed a rung on the ladder leading up to the control box, and started climbing. As he did, he heard more screeching coming from the office building, and started climbing faster. By the time King was at the top, he spied a little red orb burst out of the building.

“It’s now or never.”

King quickly sat down in the operator’s chair and pressed the “On” button. He reached over to take the controls - then stopped. If I start maneuvering the crane towards him, he’ll suspect something and either run away or fly around it, David assessed, but if I can lure him towards me, right under it, he’ll get caught like a fly in a trap.

David sat patiently and watch as Puzzle floated over to him, his eye now host to several scratches made by the bullets the Spartan had put into him. “Sitting down now, David King? I wouldn’t expect that. But maybe you’ve finally come to terms with your death. How satisfying!”

The ancilla drew closer to the crane, and beads of sweat began to form around David’s forehead. Come on, get in closer.

“Let me get close enough, then I shall begin the extermination process!” Puzzle exclaimed, hovering right outside of the crane’s area of effect.

Gotcha!

Curious Puzzle came to close, and realized it too late as his chassis was violently pulled upwards, slamming into the crane’s magnetic hook.

“What-” Puzzle sputtered as spark flew from his core, some littering his shell while others fell to the ground below. “You - you arrogant-”

The ancilla screamed as he began to vibrate, and with a sudden shockwave all of the lights on his form, with the exception of his unblinking green eye, went dark. The wave emitted from his body was short, but long enough to reach the crane’s controls. The machine became dormant, dropping its disabled Monitor prey to the ground with a clatter.

David King looked through the viewport and was satisfied to see that the ancilla wasn’t moving. He stood up out of the operator’s chair and climbed down the ladder, slowly taking the rungs one by one as he kept his eye on Puzzle. When he reached the bottom, he walked over to the ancilla, but kept his distance. Who knew if the Monitor could be playing a trick.

“Curse you and your degenerated brethren!” Puzzle shouted, still able to speak despite his disabled state.

“Your geas must have been flawed! For sure! Look at me,” he said, darting his eye around, “I am immobile! And you have rendered me so!”

King simply glared down at the ancilla. It had caused to much trouble for him and Hailey, and it would be so satisfying to pry the arrogant lightbulb apart. No, King told himself, With his shell’s durability, it would take forever to pry him apart. And Hailey and Mitchel don’t have forever.

David walked away from the unmoving construct, back to the gate he had first entered. He could still hear the stream of curses from Puzzle behind him, but he ignored it.

“Lowly creatures like you make me question why my makers ever deemed your kind worthy of being Reclaimers!”

David King left the construction site, and while the machinery still whirred through the avenue, David King’s breathing was replaced by something else - 589 Curious Puzzle’s constant screaming.

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“Well, we’re right outside,” Mitchel Sanders said, putting his hands on his hips as he and Hailey Brooks walked onto a lit street. “But I don’t see any sign of King.”

Hailey nodded in agreement. “I’d rather not assume the worst, but there’s no way we would have gotten here before him.”

Mitchel sighed, and turned towards the smoke stack that they had spied earlier. He spied someone darting away from it, and his HUD outlined the man.

“Wait a second,” Sanders muttered, stepping forward. Then he recognized the face - it was David King!

“I see him, over there!” Mitchel exclaimed, pointing an armored finger in David’s direction.

Hailey’s brow furrowed. “Are you sure? Is there anyone chasing him?”

“The HUD doesn’t lie, Brooks. And no, I don’t,” Mitchel said, pressing his chin down on the control of his helmet to amplify his armor’s speakers.

“King!” he shouted, his increased volume carrying the call across the avenue, “Get over here!”

The man at the end of the road stopped in his tracks, and slowly turned to face them. His face, initially on alert, relaxed, and King jogged over to them. “Did any Legion follow you two here?”

Hailey shook her head. “We got most of them, and Damien Black’s lying in a mall with a bullet through his head.”

Mitchel examined King. He noticed that he had several burn marks on his body, and his jacket was missing. “What happened to you, King?”

“Had a little run-in with that Forerunner AI, Curious Puzzle,” David responded. “He’s taken care of for the moment.”

“For the moment?” Hailey inquired.

“I messed up his circuits with some magnets,” David answered, “But I doubt he’ll stay like that forever.”

“We should get out of here as quickly as possible,” Mitchel recommended, surveying the area for any suspicious activity. “I know a quick way to the spaceport. If we can get into our ships and off this planet, Legion has a smaller chance of tracking us.”

“Good thing you said ships plural.” Hailey interjected.

“Sorry?” Mitchel said, scowling beneath his helmet.

“Just because we’re helping each other out doesn’t mean we have to give you a lift, Sanders. Remember, just a few hours ago we were under the impression that you were still hunting us.”

Sanders raised a finger in defiance, but quickly put it back down. I suppose she is right.

“Fine then,” the Reaper-armored Spartan conceded, “We can truck it back to the spaceport, and I promise I’ll leave you two alone from then on out.”

“Don’t make promises too early,” King said, staring hard through Mitchel’s visor, “You can do it when we actually get there.”

Mitchel nodded and accessed his HUD’s memory, sifting through it until he found the location of the Obsidion Spaceport. “I’ve got our spaceport.”

Hailey and David both nodded in acknowledgement, and followed Mitchel’s finger as he pointed it back towards the way back to the center of the city. “It’s closer to downtown, but still fairly outside the main city.”

“Well, what’re we waiting for?” King asked, “let’s go!”

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Jason Miller sat on the hard asphalt, leaning up against the frame of one of his task force’s two Shadows. It was filled with the bodies of the wounded and deceased, while the second Shadow was long gone, having carted the surviving Legion combatants from earlier back to the station. Miller now sidled up against the chassis of the remaining troop carrier, thinking about the lives lost under his command. While there were available seats on the Shadow, Jason felt that it would be disrespectful to use them when most either upheld the bulk of wounded comrades, or were burdened with the bodies of the dead.

Miller took in a deep breath and rose, walking around to the other side of the Spirit where a Sangheili police officer was tending to a wounded deputy. Robert Shawn was also there, still gripping his shotgun tight like he had been since the shootout had ended.

“Anything new to report?” Jason asked.

“The line’s silent,” Robert replied matter-of-factly, drumming his fingers on his shotgun’s pump.

“Surprising-” Miller said right as a beep in his earpiece cut him off. “Wait, we got something. Tune in.”

Shawn tapped into his own earpiece while the Sangheili on duty did the same with his helmet. The three waited, and at first static engulfed the line. Then, a familiar voice burst onto the COM.

“Agent Miller!” Director Andrew Cross called out through the earpiece, “you need to listen to me!”

“Director?” Jason uttered in surprise, watching the reactions of his two contemporaries. A concerned look fell upon the Sangheili’s face, and Shawn began to drum on his shotgun in a more frantic manner. The latter of the two drew in a sharp breath and looked away, as if he had something to do with it.

“Listen, Jason,” Cross said, “You and anyone under your command need to get off the planet right now!”

“Why, sir?” Jason asked hesitantly. Shawn stopped drumming his shotgun and clutched it tightly, causing his knuckles to turn white.

“They're coming, Jason, they’re coming! Call off the search for Grono ‘Yendam, you need to-”

Static cut in, garbling Andrew’s words, before the COM resumed to normal. “-If they find you, it’s all over. Get you and your people to the nearest spaceport and get the hell off of Drawn!”

“Okay, sir,” Jason obeyed, his voice shaking with dread, “But who’s coming?”

“The goddamn Cre-”

Static returned to the line, this time completely snuffing out Cross’ voice. “Director?” Miller asked. “Director?!”

But Andrew Cross was already gone.

Jason drew in a shaky breath and turned to the other two. “We need to get the hell out of here.”

“And what of the rest of the task force?” the Sangheili questioned, extending a hand towards the wounded, “Surely we will not leave them to cower in the face of this oncoming threat?”

“No, of course not.”

The Sangheili nodded and stepped away from the Shadow’s seats. “I shall send a signal to our compatriots at the station. They shall follow your order, Agent.”

Miller nodded as the saurian made his way to the driver’s seat, hopping in to start up the Shadow. Jason turned to Robert, whose face was white as chalk, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Shawn. We’ll get through this.”

The man didn’t reply as Jason carefully seated himself next to an unconscious woman, and the engines revved up. As Jason grabbed onto the seat to hold himself, he looked back to see that Shawn was gone.

“Shawn?” Jason called, poking his head into the other side of the Shadow to no avail. “Shawn?”

He craned his neck out of the Shadow just in time to see the law enforcement officer dashing away from the Shadow, towards some unknown goal. A twinge of fear made itself known on Jason Miller’s face, but it was too late for him to chase after Shawn as the Shadow lifted from the ground and sped towards the police station, ready to evacuate the task force from the unknown force coming for Drawn.

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Kyle Craig ran. It was a cowardly thing for him to do, but he ran. Screw staying with the peace police. If I’m going to have to leave this planet, it’ll be on my own damn terms!

Something was coming, and Kyle didn’t know what. He hated it when he didn’t know something. Not knowing something could make him lose control. Not cede some of it, but lose it all. For now, he had to assume the worst. And he knew what the worst was, well and clear. The Created must be coming. I’m losing even more luck with each passing second, I swear.

If Craig was to get off of this mudball, he would have to get back to his ship. It would be in the Obsidion Spaceport however, where the Obsidion Police Department task force would be heading to as well.

Luckily, while they may have a map layout, I’ve spent my time memorizing nearly every inch of this city. If I can have just a bit of luck, they’ll take a long time getting ready at the station. I should be at the spaceport by then, and they’ll never be able to catch up to me.

Kyle Craig grinned. He may have lost control for now, but that certainly didn’t put him at the bottom of the need-to-know, not at all. If anything, he was right below those in control, and he would be content to stay there until the opportunity presented itself to regain the power that was rightfully his. He would rise above the remnants of the UNSC, he would rise above the Covenant Remnants, he would rise above the Created, he would rise above everything.

And the only one standing in his way was David King. But there was a chance that was no longer the case. King would undoubtedly have been killed by either Grono ‘Yendam, 589 Curious Puzzle, or Damien Black. He had nothing to worry about. Craig would simply sink back into the shadows, waiting until the time was right to strike once more. But for now, he still needed to run to the spaceport. So he ran.

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Grono ‘Yendam stood atop one of many residential buildings, having tracked his cohort 589 Curious Puzzle to a nearby construction site. Unfortunately, his wounded leg had forced him to limp across the rooftops with his Amraa Voto-pattern jetpack, and his wound had begun to ache once more. The Sangheili knelt down on the rooftop, assessing a small map pulled up on a miniature data pad on his left wrist. He was lucky that his duel with the Red Blaze hadn’t seen it cut to pieces, or he would have a much harder time tracking Puzzle.

Blaze put up a good fight. But it was all for naught.

Grono referenced a red dot on the map, pinging at short intervals. He confirmed that the Monitor was indeed within the construction site and stood, activating an energy dagger tucked below the datapad. Rather than activate a second dagger on his right wrist, he took his plasma pistol from its holster and gripped it tightly with his remaining hand. His target - David King - could still be inside.

The mercenary leaped off the roof with his good foot, propelling himself into the air before catching himself with the activation of his jetpack. ‘Yendam soared over the street below, passing over the walls and descending into the construction site.

Then he heard it - the distinct mechanical voice and sputtering of 589 Curious Puzzle. Grono limped past several mangled human vehicles, coming to find his Monitor partner lying motionless beneath an imposing crane.

“My, it’s about time, Grono ‘Yendam!” the Oracle exclaimed, his eye still being able to dart about even in his immobile state.

“Where is David King?” Grono asked, sweeping the perimeter for any sign of their target.

“Get me off of this dirty surface first, and you shall know!”

Grono snarled and repeated his question, “Where is David King?”

Puzzle stopped, his words seemingly caught in his throat, if he had one. The ancilla’s eye no longer darted from one place to another and focused solely on ‘Yendam.

“He… he escaped. Outsmarted and humiliated me!”

Grono clenched his mandibles, lowering his head in disappointment as he holstered his sidearm. “Outsmarted you?”

“I did not anticipate his plan to use a magnetic crane on me!” the Monitor retorted, a hint of doubt creeping into his mechanical voice. It amused Grono that a construct so neutral on the outside could show so much emotion.

“So you let your guard down, then?” Grono said, crouching down next to Puzzle’s unmoving chassis.

“He-” Curious Puzzle stuttered, moving his eye down in a motion of shame, “Yes. Even a construct such as I can be caught off guard.”

“Shameful,” Grono judged, picking up Puzzle’s shell with his hand. It was surprisingly heavy without the normal antigravity boosters in place, but the Sangheili chalked it up to the fact that he only had one hand to pick his comrade up with.

“How long will you remain in this condition?” Grono questioned, pushing himself up with his good knee.

“Only for about an hour or so, comrade.”

“I would prefer a quicker healing process, but that is not a terrible length of time to wait,” stated ‘Yendam, lifting off with his jetpack to leave the site with Puzzle in hand. “We shall return to the Phantom, and then resume tracking down David King. We have one last chance to catch him and receive our bounty before he escapes.”

Chapter 21: Farewell

25 DECEMBER 2559

Location: OBSIDIAN, DRAWN


“Reports are surfacing that a local task force of the Obsidion Police Department have had quite the conundrum today on all fronts!” a female voice announced from a monitor hanging from the wall of the corridor that David King and his two associates walked through. He glanced at the screen to see a woman sitting at a tidy desk inside a cheerfully decorated set. Too cheerfully decorated for the circumstances.

“Drawn’s stuck in its own isolated chamber, cut off from the commotion the rest of the galaxy has faced,” Mitchel Sanders muttered, his voice having a slight muffle beneath his helmet. “Surprised a colony like this hasn’t been snatched up by the Created yet.”

“You’re right about that,” Hailey Brooks replied, joining King in observing the screen.

“-and the task force has gone missing, last seen at the Obsidion spaceport. For what reason is unknown, but could it be tied to their earlier conflict?”

King slipped his hands into his pockets and raised his eyebrows at the announcement. “Looks like they’re talking about the cops from earlier, the ones who crashed Legion’s party.”

“The only news about them that I’ll be interested in is whether they got all those criminal bastards,” Sanders said. “By the way, It’s about time we get going.”

I guess it is. David turned away from the monitor screen and continued on, Mitchel and Hailey not far behind. They passed a few small crowds of city goers who were completely oblivious to any of the schemes going on in the shadows. The trio entered the spaceport’s hangar, which was still undergoing repair after Mitchel’s tussle with Grono ‘Yendam previously.

“Hope you have your own ship,” Hailey commented as they passed a taped-off area where several construction workers were repairing a damaged wall.

“For sure,” the Spartan-IV replied. “I know you two don’t trust me enough to let me hitch a ride.”

“You could still follow us and do who knows what though,” David chimed in. “You might have put a tracker on us, for all we know.”

Mitchel held up his armored hands in a defensive manner. “I get it, you guys will never be able to trust me after I feigned working for Kyle Craig. But I can strike you a deal that should get that bastard off your tail for a while.”

“Really?” King asked, intrigued. Could Mitchel really get Craig to stop finally hunting me?

“Yeah,” Sanders answered, as the three continued through the hangar, “I’ve been thinking about it. Craig’s pretty notorious for his stunts, and ONI has them pretty high up on their target list. I checked, and they have him as a bigger priority than Grono ‘Yendam.”

“So your point is?” Hailey asked impatiently.

“While an overwhelming number of the remaining UNSC are stuck handling the Created, I could pull a few strings and maybe get an ONI team or two to hunt down Craig. Catching him would be a godsend for the Office right now.”

David nodded, feeling a bubbly sensation in his chest that he hadn’t felt in a long time. It was elation! He could finally be free of his nemesis’ plots, at least for a time. This would leave him free to attend more pressing matters, like trying to survive in a galaxy dominated by the Created.

“And, for the cherry on top,” Mitchel continued, “to show you that I won’t follow your ship, I’ll leave first, and you can watch me skidaddle my ass out of this system.”

“Sounds good,” Brooks said, nodding in approval. “You’ve actually got me hooked. But what about you, David?” she said, turning to him.

David crossed his arms, poking one out to give thumbs-up. “I like it.”

“Perfect,” Mitchel finished, coming to a stop. “Well, this is my ride.”

King and Brooks both halted, shifting their feet to face a Pelican with a large, blocky object latched to the dropship’s tail.

“That’s your ship?” Hailey said, eyes narrowed in underwhelming disbelief.

“Yeah, ONI couldn’t spare a Prowler for yours truly. But this baby does have a slipspace drive, so all things considered I’m in good hands.”

Mitchel Sanders walked up to the dropship and pushed a button on the side, lowering the ramp into the ship’s aft bay. Before he got in, the Spartan turned around and shot the two a casual salute. “Let’s hope we meet again under better circumstances.”

As the supersoldier entered the dropship, Hailey muttered “I hope we never meet again.”

“Let’s go,” David said, turning back towards the hangar’s far end and resuming his stroll. Hailey followed suit, and the two caught sight of David’s civilian ship. They had decided earlier that both of them would take it, as no confidential information was on Brooks’ own ship. This way, any of Craig’s goons still hunting them could be lead astray to Hailey’s ship, which would be a dead end.

King heard a thrum from behind him, and the floor vibrated as the whine of an engine echoed through the hangar. Mitchel’s Pelican drifted past them, slowly flying out of the hangar. As soon as it was clear, the dropship blasted to full speed, zooming out of sight.

“Hope he keeps to his word about those ONI teams,” Hailey said, smirking.

“Yeah, me too,” King replied, making a turn to the right as they reached their ship. This whole event these Assassination Games, they were finally over. King could leave Drawn, and get back on track. The duo boarded their ship and entered the cockpit; King sat in the pilot’s chair while Brooks took a seat in the copilot’s.

“You ready at the controls, Hailey?”

“Of course I am.”

David King chuckled as he pushed on the throttle, igniting the spacecraft’s engines and lifting off. Hailey Brooks checked the secondary functions while he eased the ship off of its landing pad and into the main flying lane. The ship exited the hangar in a manner similar to Mitchel Sanders’ Pelican, and soared through the sky, inching closer to the edge of the atmosphere. Soon enough, they would enter slipspace, and head to a new world, where a new challenge, no, a new adventure awaited.

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“I have a reading, comrade,” 589 Curious Puzzle stated, his mechanical voice more docile than normal. Grono ‘Yendam personally believed it was an aftereffect of his loss to David King, but an artificial intelligence had very different emotions than a living being like him.

The Sangheili mercenary reached for a button on the control console of his Phantom, pressing it to bring up a map of Drawn’s solar system, which he had only just learned the name of. Shalim. A curious name.

“Which ship is it?” Grono inquired, keeping his attention focused on the small red dot that had flickered to life on the map, representing their target.

“It seems to be David King’s ship,” Puzzle replied, “I cannot pinpoint the locations of Hailey Brooks’ and Mitchel Sanders’ ships, ‘Yendam.”

“No matter,” ‘Yendam huffed, “Set the Phantom’s tracker to target their ship. We shall follow them to their next destination.”

“Are… Are you sure about this?” Puzzle asked, his voice quite. Grono could barely hear the ancilla over the droning of the Phantom’s engine.

“Sure about what? We are continuing our work.”

“Yes, I know that,” the monitor said, “but I can’t help feeling as if we’ve wasted too much time trying to hunt down David King and his accomplices.”

“How so?” Grono asked, frustrated. What is Puzzle trying to get at now?

“I was disabled for a time, and you took severe injuries to your leg, not to mention losing a hand! We’ve had a hard time fighting these people, Grono. You are lucky we have spare prosthetics for you in this Phantom, but they are expensive!”

“I am fully aware of their price, Puzzle!” Grono roared, “But they can be easily payed for with the money we shall receive for eliminating King and his consorts!”

Puzzle let out a robotic sigh from his voice box, flying into the cockpit with Grono. “Very well, comrade. I have begun setting the tracking beacon.”

“Thank you,” Grono huffed, sitting back and wringing his left wrist. He looked down at his new prosthetic, which had been fitted shortly after they returned to the gunship. His wrist itched, and it always did for a few days after fitting a new robotic hand on.

He scratched the itch, relieving it temporarily, and grabbed the control console again, guiding the Phantom slowly towards their target’s ship.

“Hurry now, Puzzle. They could enter slipspace at any moment now.”

“I am almost done, Grono-” the monitor said, cutting off abruptly.

“Curious Puzzle?” Grono called, not willing to look back at the monitor and risk losing sight of the ship.

“Oh my.”

“What is it?”

“This is not good. Something large is coming,” Puzzle stated. “I recommend-”

A large dot suddenly blinked on the Phantom’s map, showing a hostile entity. It appeared right near Drawn, close to where Grono’s Phantom and David King’s ship were.

“Puzzle, what is it? Grono asked hurriedly whipping around to see Puzzle floating absently, “An enemy warship? One from the Swords of Sanghelios? The humans? The Banished?”

“No…” Puzzle muttered, “It’s the Created. They’ve sent a Guardian.”

The Sangheili mercenary’s eyes widened and he turned back to the viewport. Sure enough, a gaping slipspace portal ripped a hole for itself into space, becoming a pitch-black maw with a blue ring of particles surrounding it. Following it was a gargantuan, bird-like entity the size of a capital ship, gracefully sliding out of the portal as it closed. It was none other than a Created Guardian.

“Scratch that tracker, Puzzle!” Grono shouted, frantically scrambling for the controls to start up the Phantom’s slipspace drive. “Begin the secondary slipspace procedures! I value our lives over Kyle Craig’s award!”

“I am already on it!” the ancilla replied.

Meanwhile, the Guardian began to unfurl itself, revealing the array of metal fragments gravitationally locked in place to form its shattered body. The construct extended its wings, exuding sharp protrusions along the edge that could pass as talons.

Grono noticed King’s ship subtly enter slipspace, but he paid it no heed. There were larger concerns now.

“I am picking up a transmission from the Guardian!” Puzzle announced, his voice wracked with worry.

“Directed towards us?” Grono wondered aloud in a panic.

“No, the entire planet-”

A calm, masculine voice suddenly took over the Phantom’s comm systems, providing an eery sense of tranquility.

“People of Drawn, I am Bartleby, herald of the Created,” it said, “All of you, in all shapes and sizes, shall be liberated from the wretched likes of the United Nations Space Command, the Swords of Sanghelios, and the Banished, among others.”

“Hurry!” Grono urged Puzzle.

“However, any of you who attempt to flee or resist shall be punished. Your spacecraft will be disabled, and you shall remain here.”

A large pulse emanated from the Guardian, followed by another, and then another. Grono looked on in horror. While he had escaped the Created’s clutches many times, he had never been in such a helpless position against a Guardian. From what little he knew of them, those pulses were a countdown before they fired their weapon - a strong electrical blast that could disable all electronic devices in an entire solar system.

“I have it!” Puzzle declared, creating a small portal for the Phantom to head through. Grono saw the largest pulse yet fire from the Guardian, and he knew that this was its final attack. The Sangheili sped the Phantom forward into the portal, just as the shockwave passed over them. The portal jolted shut, and the vehicle entered the slipstream.

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In Obsidion, the capital city of Drawn, people were paralyzed in fear. The populace gazed up in awe at the gargantuan construct in the sky; its wings outstretched as it let loose a pulse of devastation. All around the city, and even the planet, electric systems went dark. Datapads shut off, trams screeched to a halt, and aircraft fell from the sky. Mass panic ensued as Promethean troops teleported onto the surface to subdue any who resisted, and a message was made clear: the Created occupation of Drawn had begun.

Epilogue

25 January 2560

Location: TOLKUN, RIGHTEOUS CAUSE


The streets lay nearly barren, sparse of items and almost entirely abandoned. The remaining residents had taken on an unofficial oath of silence. No one spoke outside their bubbles anymore. After all, outsiders could be spies for the Created - or worse. The joint-occupation colony of Righteous Cause was once a lively market world, selling and trading only the finest of trinkets. Months ago, that lively atmosphere had vanished.

Not due to a Created takeover, but rather the fear of one. The Sangheili assassin Grono ‘Yendam and his cohort 589 Curious Puzzle had visited the planet in search of a fresh stock of weapons, but had been pursued by Created forces. While the Created were driven off, word of their presence soon spread, overtaking the world like a plague. Within weeks, the majority of the population had fled offworld, fearing for their freedom. Now all that remained was a ghost planet.

And in these streets on that ghost planet the only thing to break the silence was the howling wind. It bit at products and pedestrians alike, adding annoyance to the layer of fear already smeared over the people. Sand was swept up in the continuous gusts, flying into the faces of those unprepared. One such man who happened to get a mouthful of the ground was Kyle Craig, wearing a tarnished, torn jacket. He had intended to wear a nice suit here, but his last run-in with an ONI team favored a more ragged look.

Craig sputtered and gagged, hastily spitting out the coarse grains of sand from his mouth. That earned him a glance from a Sangheili sitting nearby, but Kyle ignored him. This was not the time nor place to get into a fight.

More sand continued to whip up from the ground, covering the makeshift streets and structures. Great, Kyle thought, looks like there’s a sandstorm too.

Luck had not favored the mastermind since the defeat of his hired guns at Drawn a month prior. Infighting had broken out among them - partially caused by himself, Kyle had to admit - and it was all that David King needed to get another win, to survive to fight another day.

But why? Kyle wondered, why does King always get the upper hand? No matter what I do, he always seems to get back up and bounce back better than before! Why does he always come out on top?!

Kyle stopped abruptly furrowing his eyebrows and gritting his teeth. It wasn’t fair! The man picked up a leg and brought it to the ground with as much force as his angry form could muster, causing even more sand to fly up.

He stopped himself, begrudgingly taking a deep breath and absorbing in his surroundings. Musty air, filled with sediment being kicked up. It was disgusting. Craig continued his stroll, reminiscing on his other shortcomings.

Grono ‘Yendam had probably gotten a bit too trigger-happy, and that was Kyle’s fault. He allowed - no, encouraged the burly alien to narrow down the competition by eliminating Mitchel Sanders, but that was only for his own self-preservation! Of course a Sangheili would interpret it differently, and ‘Yendam not only failed to remove Sanders from the equation, but killed the Red Blaze instead! Kyle’s orders were clear, or at least he thought so. Not to mention that a Forerunner AI of all things would’ve allowed this! Curious Puzzle was no better than Grono in that regard.

Last time I ever hire that damn Split-Lip and his nightlight friend ever again. For all his reputation, he still couldn’t kill the right target.

And then there was Damien Black. Poor fellow. He was Kyle’s favorite of the five assassins, but of course he died. Damien had completed work for Kyle before, with outstanding performance, and was one of his few tools he used to keep his good standing with Legion. But of course, Damien managed to get himself killed by King’s motley crew, for the worst.

At least Kyle had been right about one thing. He always assumed that Mitchel would betray him, and his hunch was right. He should’ve taken more care with that one though, because Mitchel’s survival caused the deaths of both Damien Black and Red Blaze. And he’s gotta be the one who sent those ONI fetchers after me, Kyle concluded.

Indeed, after his narrow escape from the Created at Drawn, Kyle soon found himself pursued by multiple ONI teams. It seemed like the Office found him a big enough threat to send a large portion of their remaining resources after him. It was quite flattering.

Craig had easily managed to kill the first one that decided to cross him, but the squads kept coming, with updated tactics that made defeating them harder and harder each time. In fact, his good jacket that he had intended to wear here was now ruined after his last encounter with the most recent team.

And that brought him to his reason for being on Righteous Cause. The Red Blaze’s employers, the Order of Assassins and the Flame were not pleased. The Order was easy to convince - Red Blaze had died honorably fighting a duel. At least, he died in a duel as far as Kyle knew. Who knew what kind of death Grono ‘Yendam might’ve given him?

But the Flame were not so easily convinced. Blaze was one of their best assets in the field, and during a time like this, replacements were rare. Due to his high standing among the Flame for having contracted them before and paying well, Craig got the honor of meeting their leader, the Flame Lord, in person. Oh boy.

While he had never personally met the Flame Lord before, Kyle had heard stories about him. The Sangheili tyrant had been one of few survivors of a clan war, and built the foundations for his criminal empire on deceit, trickery, and blood.

With a personality like that, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine, Kyle mused, or he’ll skewer me first.

He had to make this quick. A sandstorm definitely was coming, and Kyle didn’t want to be caught in the middle of it. Besides, he still had to explain to Legion how Damien Black got murdered.

Kyle stopped at his location - an inn - and glossed over it. The structure’s make didn’t resemble either human or Covenant make, so he made the common assumption that it was a combination of the two. Two electric signs were hanging on the wall near the entrance. One read “Kuzingur Inn,” in messy handwriting, and the other was littered with hastily drawn Covenant symbols; presumably a translation of the English dialect. Sand caked the roof with a light brown coating, giving off the appearance of a birthday cake - Craig hadn’t had one in years. To top it all off, an armored Sangheili stood guard next to the entrance, eyeing Kyle impatiently.

What’s with the look on this guy’s face- Kyle stopped immediately. The Sangheili struck him as familiar. Then he realized who the individual was.

“Oru ‘Vanuxee!” Kyle said in a friendly manner, approaching the Sangheili slowly.

“Kyle Craig.” Oru retorted in a monotone voice. The slim, yet tall warrior wore a murky brown variant of the Hesduron Zealot harness from the now-defunct Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant. The dreary color was only exacerbated by the specks of sand scattered across his armor. In ‘Vanuxee’s hands was a Type-51 Carbine, a powerful marksman’s weapon that proved useful at close range as well.

“Where’s the rest of the crew at, huh?” Craig jibed, hoping to lighten the tension that Oru had set.

“There is no time for small talk, Craig,” the Sangheili declared, “The Flame Lord is losing his patience.”

Craig shut his mouth. Normally, he wouldn’t let such a rude remark slide, but considering that he was going to be meeting the leader of the Flame, he wisely chose to remain quiet.

“Follow me inside.” the Sangheili ordered.

As soon as ‘Vanuxee turned around, Craig rolled his eyes and trailed after the alien inside the tavern. Craig was a bit surprised by Oru’s cold demeanor, but did expect some amount of stoicism before a meeting like this. The Flame member held the rank of Herald of Fire, a title given only to the Flame Lord’s most trusted Sangheili. Sangheili.

While the Flame did welcome all species with open arms, it was centered around Sangheili for obvious reasons.  Only they were bestowed with the rank, making the Flame Lord’s inner circle entirely comprised of the species. Kyle had no doubt that if the species barrier was removed, Red Blaze would have held the rank. Doesn’t matter anymore, I guess. Blaze kicked the bucket, gross cross species dresser that he was.

As for how Kyle knew Oru, it went way back to right after the onslaught of the Created Crisis. During a large heist, a cop named Jason Miller had tried to stop him with an armed response team. I wonder whatever happened to that kid, pondered Craig.

Oru ‘Vanuxee and his elite team of Unggoy, Kig-Yar, and Sangheili mercenaries had been hired by Kyle from the Flame, and they made short work of the police unit, leaving Kyle’s escape wide open. The very money he made off with was what he used as the cash prize for the Assassination Games, despite the fact that David King was never killed. At least he had a few million in his savings, whatever good that did him with so few independent planets left on the frontier.

“He is waiting for you in here,” Oru proclaimed, ending his march.

Kyle snapped out of his thoughts and nodded slowly. “All right then. He better not disappoint.”

The Herald of Fire flared his saurian nostrils beneath his metal helmet, snorting in annoyance before pushing a rusty metal door open. Inside was a small room with a table and two booths taking it up. On each side of the far booth seat stood a pair of Sangheili adorned in blazing scarlet armor and gripping large metal poles. Between them sat a third Sangheili, adorned in a vibrant gold harness.

“Lord ‘Skivich,” Oru announced, closing the door behind him and Kyle, “Kyle Craig is here.”

“Excellent.” The word coming from the Sangheili at the table sent a shiver up Kyle’s spine. Whoever - no, whatever the Flame Lord was, something about him didn’t sit right with Kyle. An unnaturally gravelly voice slithered its way out from beneath the Sangheili’s mask, sounding too deep to even belong to a Jiralhanae.

“Sit down, Kyle Craig.” ‘Skivich said, extending a hand towards the open seat. While it was clearly an invitation, it had the intonation of an order.

Craig did so, taking a seat as the Flame Lord’s emotionless mask watched him. Alright, be confident, assertive. You’ve dealt with bigger fish; you’re the apex predator. This guy is just a beta.

In unison, the two Sangheili guards’ poles crackled, emitting plasma tips at the top ends. Energy staves.

“Let us begin,” ‘Skivich drawled in that otherworldly voice of his.

Kyle then got a good look at his armor for the first time. It seemed to use the base of an Ultra harness from the old Covenant Empire, but with a golden coloration opposed to the pearlescent white one usually employed. Second, he noticed a protruding third crest atop ‘Skivich’s helmet, in between the two larger ones found on the default variation. Finally, he noticed the tubes - the goddamn tubes.

The Flame Lord’s armor had multiple sets of tubes coursing in and out of his armor. There was a pair for his legs, another for his chest, and two more for his arms. And the most intimidating site of all was the apparatus fused into the bottom of the Ultra helmet, vaguely resembling that of a Grunt’s. All of the tubes pumped fluids in and out of the body, some transparent, and some having colors too disgusting for Kyle to describe.

This guy’s on life support. Craig was disgusted, but also a bit relieved. This so-called Flame Lord needed his armor to stay alive, and therefore had a weakness. One Craig could use against him in case this meeting went sour.

“Well, what do you want me to say?” Kyle asked, shrugging. “Red Blaze got murdered.”

“How?” ‘Skivich inquired.

“He got into a brawl with another of my contractors,” Craig said, “A Sangheili who goes by the name of Grono ‘Yendam.”

The Flame Lord hissed through his mask, twitching his left index finger.

“You guys know each other?” Craig asked.

“‘Yendam has had quite the.... history with the Flame,” ‘Skivich remarked, “Oru ‘Vanuxee inducted him into my ranks shortly after the assassination of Jul ‘Mdama.”

“You don’t say.” Kyle spared a glance behind him, where Oru remained unmoving, despite the remark.

“Indeed. A few months later he went rogue, ruining quite a few business deals I had in the process.”

“I should’ve known better than to hire him.” Kyle remarked.

‘Skivich ignored him and continued on. “And now, for him to not only return but kill my best human enforcer? Who does that mongrel think he is?!”

The Flame Lord roared, slamming an armored fist onto the table. Kyle took a moment to look at the Sangheili’s hand, and let it sink in how large it was compared to most others belonging to the Flame Lord's species.

‘Skivich took a deep, raspy breath through his apparatus, and clasped his hands together, turning to one of his two guards. “Contact Fleet Master Ronno T’Soramai. Tell him to ready the ships for departure."

“So, I think it’s time for me to go?” Craig said, lifting himself up from his seat.

“No.”

Suddenly, the two guards shifted their staves to point at Kyle, and Oru followed suit with his carbine. Kyle put his hands up in a submissive gesture and turned back to ‘Skivich, only for his eyes to widen.

The Sangheili rose, causing a creak to emanate from the chair he was sitting in as Craig realized how much weight it was truly holding. ‘Skivich reared up to his full height; crest just barely scraping the ceiling. Kyle’s eyes darted back and forth between the Heralds of Fire and the Flame Lord before stopping. That’s one big Hinge-Head.

Indeed, ‘Skivich stood more than a head taller than his Heralds, and had a surprisingly bulky frame for what Craig initially thought to be a Sangheili on life support.

“‘No’?” Kyle asked, “what do you mean ‘no’?”

“These are hard times, as you know,” ‘Skivich began, “the Created have suppressed many of my former partners, and I require exact intelligence to know where they are and how to outmaneuver them. I need eyes and ears that are not directly linked to the Flame.”

“So you’re saying…?” Kyle inquired.

“I believe we shall be working very closely from now on, Kyle Craig.”

Kyle’s mind was a battleground of clashing thoughts and emotions. He would dare say something so bold to me? I’m Kyle Craig! But, he has me cornered... there’s no way out of this without agreeing! I’m stuck in a bad bargain!

Unless... Kyle found his answer. As a partner of the Flame, he could potentially have access to their resources, at the cost of simply feeding them information. And best of all, he could use the Flame to get rid of David King once and for all, and broaden his horizons to encompass even more of the dwindling criminal underworld, and possibly even reshape it to his will!

Kyle Craig smirked mischievously, looking ‘Skivich straight in the visor.

“Alright, but what’s in it for me?”