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Terminal.png This article, Vadam Legacies: Breaking the Covenant, was written by Sonasaurus. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.
Vadam Legacies: Breaking the Covenant
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The Great Schism has begun. Which side will you take?
Protagonist Autel 'Vadam
Author Sonasaurus
Date Published June 10, 2009
Length 10 Chapters
19,483 words
Author's Rating Violence
4/5 stars
Previous Story The Darkest Hour
Next Story The Fallen
Story Series Vadam Legacies


Super optimal.png The author of this article, Vadam Legacies: Breaking the Covenant, urges anyone who reads it to provide feedback on the quality of the article. Thank you!

Chapter 1: Damnation

Autel entered the Sanctum of the Hierarchs. He walked past the Sangheili Honour Guards whom were positioned on either side of him, ready to act if the Prophets were threatened. He stared straight ahead of him, and finally stopped in front of the Prophets of Truth and Mercy. Part of him was relieved that Regret wasn't present, which would resolve the complications he had foreseen with this appointment, but another part of him wondered where he was.

Autel kneeled in front of the Hierarchs. Almost immediately, Truth said, "Rise, young warrior." He complied, and the Prophet said, "Guards, leave us."

As the Sangheili filed out of the sanctum, there was a long silence. Autel felt a moment of apprehension. Were these Hierarchs part of the plot to overthrow the Sangheili? If so, then he had no doubt he would never leave here alive. Finally, Mercy floated forward, and said, "These reports you give us are most disturbing. One of the High Prophets had tried to cause turmoil within our Covenant."

"We had never suspected the Prophet of Regret — one of my closest colleagues for ages — would do such a thing," Truth said. "I realize how distressing these last few units have been for you. However, upon the word of the Hierarchs, I assure you that is all over, and I must ask you to keep your silence upon this matter. You shall soon see why."

Autel nodded. Truth looked him over, and said, "I am also pleased to inform you that your transfer to the Special Operations unit has been approved. I trust you will serve our Covenant well, Autel 'Vadamee." The Prophet's lips tightened, and continued. "Normally, we would hold a ceremony, but your...graduation has been unofficial, and we have another matter to deal with. One that is rather unfortunate."

Autel knew what it was. When the Honourable Intentions was repaired sufficiently to reach Threshold, he had seen the remains of Halo. And many had put the finger of blame upon Supreme Commander Thel 'Vadamee. His father.

"You may leave," Truth said, and Autel turned and walked out of the Sanctum. As he passed through the multiple layers of security he had to be checked at when he arrived, and stepped out onto the street, he spotted a group of Unggoy eagerly running by as quickly as their stubby legs would allow them.

"We hurry, it start soon!" one of them chittered.

"Me wanna see heretic burn!" another said. Autel sighed, and followed them.

As they got closer to the stands, he could see thousands of Covenant gathered around, watching. Autel was admitted, and he found a seat near the top levels. Across from him was a long platform, and between them was a massive chasm. High Charity's Forerunner Dreadnought could be seen in the distance.

Autel watched one of the massive screens. Groups of Councillors were seen listening to someone speaking. Truth and Mercy were already there, and the hologram of the Prophet of Regret was also visible beside them.

Autel's fist clenched. But he saw something even worse.

Standing before them was Thel 'Vadamee. He was being trialled.

"I was informed that they had confirmed the crystal's existence, deep underground," the Supreme Commander was saying, "but I could not aid them, for something had caught my attention in space."

"And why would that be?" Regret asked. "Surely the humans did not defeat your forces?"

The Councillors muttered amongst themselves.

"No," Thel said, "Not all of their fleet were gathered around the planet. The humans must have realized that we were searching the station for their navigation data. They successfully destroyed that as well."

"And what happened after? How many humans escaped?"

"There was only one ship," Thel replied. Autel could tell he intended to say "one ship" and not "hundreds of humans".

"One? Are you sure?"

Yes. They called it the Pillar of Autumn."

The Councillors seemed more agitated. Autel could make out a few of their features, and even the Sangheili did not look happy.

Why was it not destroyed, with the rest of their fleet?" The Prophet of Mercy asked.

"It fled, as we set fire to their planet. But I followed with all the ships in my command."

There was a pause.

"When you first saw Halo, were you blinded by its majesty?" Regret asked, and Autel realized with a flash of anger that the Prophet was trying to manipulate him.

"Blinded?" Thel asked cautiously.

"Paralyzed? Dumbstruck?"


It was a question with only wrong answers. "Yet the humans were able to evade your ships," Regret said, his voice ominously low, "land on the Sacred Ring, and desecrate it with their filthy footsteps!"

"Noble Hierarchs," Thel said desperately, "surely you understand that once the parasite attacked—"

But Regret's words sunk into to the Council. They began to shout audibly.

Mercy would not have it. "There will be order in this Council!" he cried over the din.

Truth raised his hand. Silence was complete and immediate.

"You were right to focus your attention on the Flood," he said, sounding much more calm than either of his fellow Prophets. "but this Demon, this 'Master Chief'..."

"By the time I learned the Demon's intent, there was nothing I could do." Thel said.

The Prophet Councilors stood up and began to shout again. The Sangheili Councilors were considerably less angry, but muttered disapprovingly to each other.

Regret whispered something to Truth, but the latter must have disagreed, for he held up a hand. Turning back to Thel, he said, "You are one of our most treasured instruments. Long have you lead your fleet with honor and distinction. But your inability to safeguard Halo...was a colossal failure."

The Prophet of Objection stood up. "Nay, it was heresy!"

The Councilors flared up, even the Sangheili. Autel saw Thel look back and forth between them.

"I will continue my campaign against the humans!" he said in his firmest voice, but it had an uncertain edge to it, as if he was trying to convince them as well as himself.

"No. You will not." Truth said in a final tone. Two Jiralhanae approached Thel and tried to grab him, but the Supreme Commander shook them off and walked out of the courtroom.

"Soon the Great Journey shall begin," Truth called after him. "but when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay your feet. And you shall be left behind."

Autel knew that Thel was coming to accept his punishment. He didn't want to watch, but he had to stay. For what, he didn't know. But he knew that his father's chances of survival were next to none. Once the Hierarchs made a decision, it was unchanged.

Who would believe you about a Jiralhanae uprising, he thought miserably, when you had delayed the Covenant's chance to take the Great Journey?

As Thel marched to the end of the platform, the Covenant shouted at him and taunted him. The Supreme Commander ignored them, his eyes clear and fearless.

The Jiralhanae Chieftain, Tartarus, was waiting for him. Autel scowled. Another traitor, hiding behind the reassurance of the Prophets.

Thel's wrists were magnetically held onto a pair of plasma cuffs. Tartarus said something to him, who responded in a bitter voice. The Brute stepped back as two bright beams lashed out at Thel, searing at his flesh and armour. The Supreme Commander shook but did not recoil. Autel gripped the edges of his seat, wanting to do something — anything — but knew that he could not. After the beams died down, Thel's golden armour was charred to a shade almost as dark as his skin, and he did not make a sound.

"This traitor has failed us all!" Tartarus shouted to the crowds, whom replied with shouts of savage triumph. "The Prophets trusted him to protect the Holy rings, and he has shunned that duty! There can be no greater heresy! Let him be an example for all who would break our Covenant!"

Autel growled. How dare this barbarian speak of heresy when his own recent acts stained his hands with the blood of Sangheili?

A pair of Jiralhanae pulled at Thel's armour, removing the now useless pieces. The cuffs floated higher, forcing the Sangheili to dangle in the air with his arms above his head. As Tartarus tore the helmet from Thel's head, a long staff began to rise from a platform, with a red-hot brand at one end and a long sharp spike at the other. The Jiralhanae took it, and pressed it hard into Thel's bare chest. Autel flinched and squeezed his eyes shut, hearing his father's long roar of pain. Unable to remain, he stood up from his seat and left the stands. He could not bear to watch Tartarus stab that spike into Thel and pronounce him a Heretic one last time before his dying heartbeats stopped.

Autel didn't know where he was going, but he didn't care. He did not want to think about anything right now. He had lost everyone he cared about. Fira and Sesa 'Refumee were missing. His mother, the Seer of Sanghelios, was dead. And surely the Jiralhanae would unjustly take another Sangheili's life — Supreme Commander Thel 'Vadamee, who would die not as a warrior to be praised and revered to the Vadam line, but as a heretic who would be remembered forever as the one who had failed the Covenant.

Chapter 2: A Mixed Blessing


He stopped, turning to see who had addressed him. It was N'tho 'Sraomee, a Special Operations soldier he had fought alongside during the Jiralhanae's betrayal.

"You are here," Autel said, trying to smile but found that he could not.

"Yes," 'Sraomee replied. "Commander Rtas 'Vadumee would like to see you. He had agreed to transfer you to Special Operations, and after what happened at Sanghelios, I would say it was the right decision. Please follow me."

Autel had been to the Special Operations facility before. But the last time, there were less Sangheili present, and Sesa 'Refumee had been in charge. As he walked through the doors, a silver-armoured Sangheili was waiting for him. Rtas 'Vadumee.

"Greetings, Autel," he said, clenching a fist over his chest. The young Sangheili did likewise, and realized that 'Vadumee was missing his left mandibles. The wounds looked recent as well, but he decided not to ask him about it, just as the Commander did not ask him about his skin tone.

"'Sraomee has told me about what has happened recently," 'Vadumee said. "I do not trust the Jiralhanae, but I believe they would not attempt to do the same while the Prophets are present. Come with me."

Autel followed the Commander, who continued, "I believe you will make an excellent asset to Special Operations, whom deal with less...pleasant sorts of missions. Speaking of such, we have a mission assigned right now, and we must begin soon. The Prophet of Truth has told me that we were expecting an additional soldier for it, but I am as of yet unaware of who it may be." 'Vadumee stopped, looked Autel over, and gestured to a few nearby cabinets. "Your armour will be suitable for our mission, but you may choose a few additional garments to appear less conspicous."

Autel bowed his head slightly. "Thank you, Excellency."

"Help yourself," 'Vadumee said, "Let any of these Sangheili know if you require assistance." He returned to the massive screen Autel had seen 'Refumee use, looking at something. He opened a few cabinets and found spare armour parts and Adaptable Skin Membranes, or ASMs. The membranes were artificial and could cover any shape of skin. They had minimal protection, but were very flexible. Most Sangheili wore them to cover their face, arms, and legs during infantry combat. Autel placed them under his armour plates, effectively hiding the pale colour, and also put on a pair of protective eye lenses that also darkened the colour of his irises. Replacing the damaged parts of his armour, he put them all back on, and returned to 'Vadumee.

"Finished?" the Commander asked. "Please sit down. We must finish planning the mission." As Autel took a seat, 'Vadumee continued, "We believe the Heretic leader is inside this Gas Mine. He has sent us multiple broadcasts, spouting nonsense about the Great Journey and speaking ill of the Prophets — it is as if he is asking to die."

Autel's mind reeled. Who was this Heretic Leader? It must have been a new faction, as they had arrived at Threshold a little more than three months ago. Did he find something from the destruction of Halo?

"Now, the Gas Mine is currently inside one of the gas giant's storms," 'Vadumee continued. "I believe we can arrive undetected, and find the Heretic Leader. Once we silence him, then we leave." The Sangheili exchanged a few comments confidently among themselves. "I think we are ready. This mission should be relatively simple. Warriors, follow me!" The chosen Sangheili stood up, readied their weapons, and Autel walked alongside 'Sraomee as they headed for the hangar. This time, the trip was not as harrowing, as there were no Jiralhanae to impede them.

'Vadumee called a group of Special Operations Unggoy to meet them at the hangar, and they were waiting inside the three Phantom dropships. The lead Phantom's pilot was examining the new dropship's plasma single plasma turret and twin cannons.

"Are you ready?" 'Vadumee asked him as they approached.

"Yes, leader," the pilot replied, and Autel recognized his voice. "These Phantoms should be much more efficient than the Spirits."

"'Pyronee," Autel said, moving towards him. The pilot turned, and his mandibles split into a smile.

"Autel," 'Pyronee said, placing his hand onto his shoulder. "It is good to see you again. I have not seen you since—"

'Sraomee shot him a warning glance. Not in front of the Unggoy, it said. Autel also saw He would rather not talk about it.

"—since my injury," 'Pyronee finished quickly. Looking to 'Vadumee, he hastily asked, "Leader, has our expected soldier arrived yet?'

"No," 'Vadumee replied. "But are the dropships ready?"

"Yes," the pilot said. "We are just waiting for him. Is that him?"

Autel saw a Sangheili walking towards them. He was wearing an old set of armour, decorated with patterns and an unusual helmet design. He was obviously in some sort of pain, wincing every time he took a step.

"That is the armour of the Arbiter," 'Vadumee said, astonished. "But who is it?"

Autel recognized him before the Commander had asked. As the Sangheili stopped in front of them, he felt a surge of relief that he was alive, but also a slight sadness, for he knew the Sangheili's only remaining purpose to live.

"Commander," Thel 'Vadamee, now the Arbiter, said, "Let us go now. There are Heretics to deal with."

Chapter 3: Turning Point

"Slowly," Fira 'Demal said. "We do not want to miss anything."

Behind the pilot's seat, 'Tullum nodded, not voicing what they were both thinking. If they went too fast through the debris field and hit something, there wouldn't be much left of them.

Fira was looking carefully over all the panels, scanning every possible object that could get them out of this predicament.

They didn't have a lot of time before the dropship's oxygen ran out. Fira hoped that something was still intact from Stoic Courier's debris field.

A warning flashed on the screen in front of 'Tullum. He looked at it quickly. "Five subunits of oxygen remaining," he said with deceptive calmness.

Fira returned to his task, trying to keep the panic he felt inside. There wasn't much time.

The same screen flashed repeatedly over the next few subunits. When there was only two subunits left, the dropship had cleared the debris field for the third time. 'Tullum spun the Spirit to go in from another angle, and Fira pounded his panel in frustration. They were going to die here.

"Fira?" Warra 'Mantakr said, walking over to the cockpit.

"I am busy," he snapped.

"It is the second dropship," Warra insisted. "They have found something."

Fira had decided to send the other Spirit around the planet to search for other means of supplies in case they were unsuccessful.

"Does it involve our survival?" he asked, slightly distracted.

"Yes," Warra replied. "That and more."

'Tullum looked over to Fira, who nodded. The makeshift pilot spun the dropship around, out of the debris field. As the Spirit painstakingly made its way towards the far side of the planet, Fira prayed that it was something that could save all their lives.

As the dropship finally rounded the planet, Fira squinted as he saw something in the distance. He gasped as he realized what it was.

As the Phantoms ripped through the highest clouds in Threshold's atmosphere, Autel watched Thel intently. His father seemed more serious and distant than before, and his eyes were somewhat dimmed.

Perhaps he may not survive this mission, the young Sangheili thought sadly.

Commander 'Vadumee was broadcasting to all three dropships.

"Think not of the heretics we are to hunt as those whom once served the Covenant. Think of them as scum whom would only obstruct us in our quest to find the Great Journey." Autel couldn't help but be think of Thel, and what he had recently been through.

"Remember what these heretics cannot," 'Vadumee continued, "when we joined the Covenant, we took an oath!"

"According to our station!" the Special Operations Sangheili chanted in unison, "All without exception!"

"On the blood of our fathers, on the blood of our sons," 'Vadumee said, "we swore to uphold the Covenant!"

"Even to our dying breath!"

"Those who would break this oath are Heretics, worthy of neither pity, nor mercy! Even now they use our lords' creations to broadcast their lies!"

"We shall grind them into dust! And scrape them as excrements off our boots!" The Sangheili replied as one.

"And continue our march to glorious salvation!" 'Vadumee concluded.

When he was finished, Autel said quietly, "Fath—Arbiter..."

Thel turned, but he was looking past him. The Autel realized that 'Vadumee had approached them.

"This armor suits you," the Commander said, "But it cannot hide that mark."

"Nothing ever will." Thel replied.

"You are the Arbiter, the will of the Prophets. But these are my Sangheili. Their lives matter to me. Yours does not."

"That makes two of us," Thel said firmly.

"Hmm," 'Vadumee said, with a slight smile on his two mandibles.

Autel looked out the hatch and saw that they were approaching the Gas Giant. "Leader," 'Pyronee reported, "there is no doubt: the storm will strike the facility!"

"We'll be long gone before it arrives," 'Vadumee assured him.

The Phantoms landed, deploying the Special Operations Sangheili and Unggoy. "Warriors, prepare for combat!" 'Vadumee barked.

Autel leaped out, Plasma Rifle ready. He heard Thel's Energy Sword activate behind him. Here we go, he thought. His first official mission. Get inside the Gas Mine, kill the Heretics inside, and get out. And his father — the Arbiter, was with them. How hard could it be?

Autel's shields flickered and vanished, and he ducked behind a pillar as a glowing orange beam flew past the spot where his head was a moment ago. He waited for them to recharge, and leaped out of cover, firing his Plasma Rifle.

The blue bolts rapidly tore through the other Sangheili's energy shields. Autel's rifle overheated, and he moved fast, crushing his opponent's skull with the steaming gun.

Autel frowned and looked down at the body. The heretic bore a disconcerting resemblence to his old classmate, Cepa 'Drell. He moved forward to take a closer look.

Thel ran past him and down a ramp, towards the hangar bay door.

"Deal with him, my brothers!" a familiar voice shouted. Autel ran after Thel, but the heretic had escaped in a Banshee, and by the time he and the others found their way around the door, he was gone.

Thel took another Banshee, coloured to represent the ownership of the heretics. 'Pyronee's Phantom dropped in and picked them up.

"The heretics have weapons emplacements all over the facility, Arbiter," the pilot told him over the speaker as he followed Thel's Banshee. "We'll take them out, one by one, until we find the Heretic Leader."

Autel could only watch as his father flew around, killing heretic ground forces and trying to find the heretic leader. Who could it be? And why did he sound so familiar?

The heretics were proving to be very difficult to kill. They had even deployed Unggoy armed with Fuel Rod Guns. After several harrowing air assaults, they finally located the heretic leader.

"That was the last of them," 'Pyronee said, "but there are more ahead." He put the Phantom down next to Thel's damaged Banshee and opened the hatches. Autel and the others jumped out, with 'Vadumee looking around to make sure the enemies were all dead.

"Inside," he said quietly, and they approached Thel, who was waiting by the door.

As Autel and the others followed the Unggoy through the door, he heard Thel exchange a way glance with the Commander.

"What is it?" the Arbiter asked.

"That stench," 'Vadumee hissed, "I've smelled it before." Autel felt a sudden and unexplainable dread.

As the squad moved through the empty rooms, roars and screams were heard below them, accompanied by the sound of plasma fire. A group of Heretics were trapped below them, and Autel could see them battling an overwhelming number of shadowy foes beneath the glass floor. "By the rings," he whispered, "what is that?"

One of the Unggoy whimpered, and 'Sraomee said, "Quiet." However, his eyes were also drawn to the creatures below. As the last Heretics had fallen, he said, "It's moved on. Quickly, before it returns, let's find the Heretic Leader and finish him off."

The squad moved into the next room. Bodies of heretics and the same unidentifed creatures were strewn around the floors. "What happened here?" Autel asked, looking around. What were those things?

"Me have bad feeling about this," one of the Unggoy said nervously.

"You always have bad feeling!" the second Unggoy replied, who sounded just as scared. "You had bad feeling about morning food nipple!"

"Close your jaws, or I shall bind them shut!" 'Sraomee snapped.

Something moved into the room. Instantly, all weapons were trained on it. A red-armoured Sangheili Heretic appeared into the air.

"See! Heretic!" the Unggoy squeaked, involuntarily stepping back as he fired his Plasma Pistol. The rest of the squad followed suit, to no effect.

"Hold your fire. Hold your fire!" 'Vadumee barked. However, Autel had not even raised his rifle, because he was staring at the hologram in horror as he realized who it was.

Chapter 4: False Heresies

"I wondered who the Prophets would send to silence me," Sesa 'Refumee said, "an Arbiter... I'm flattered." He had given no sign that he had recognized Autel, which was unsurprising as he was wearing an ASM.

"He's using a holodrone. He must be close," 'Vadumee said, "Come out, so we may kill you."

'Refumee laughed. "Get in line."

The renegade officer vanished, and moments later, small bulbous creatures dove down and tried to attack the squad.

"Leader!" 'Sraomee called in alarm.

"Stand firm!" 'Vadumee shouted. "The Flood is upon us!"

Autel stared at the spot where 'Refumee had been a moment ago. Why had he done this? How could he betray the Covenant? However, the young Sangheili had to put his shock aside to attack the new enemies. So this was the Flood. He fired a burst of plasma, easily destroying the tiny pods. That wasn't so bad—

One of the pods crawled away and slipped into a gap in one of the nearby corpses. They began to reanimate, and it stood up. The thing ran at Autel as tentacles sprouted out of its arms.

Thel leaped in, cutting it down with his Energy Sword in one swift stroke.

When the commotion finally died down, and the remaining corpses were destroyed, a door opened. "Go, Arbiter!" 'Vadumee said, "I'll follow when our reinforcements arrive."

"This place is filled with the parasite!" 'Sraomee spat as he and Autel followed Thel out of the room. "Not even Heretics deserve this!"

All too true, Autel thought, reloading his weapons. He decided to ask 'Refumee what had happened once they found him. But for now, he had to focus on staying alive, especially with the deadly Flood pressing in from everywhere.

As they held a descending circular platform against Flood and Sentinels, Autel began to familiarize himself with the creatures. He shot one in the centre of the chest with his Carbine, and it immediately collapsed as the infection form inside was killed. More leaped down from openings in the walls, but it was easier when the Sentinels' fire was drawn to the Flood. Finally, the platform reached the bottom, and the door opened. Autel moved in step behind Thel, with 'Sraomee behind them. They moved past more hallways littered with bodies. "We should have brought weapons to burn these bodies." 'Sraomee growled. "Every one is a potential vessel for the Flood."

They entered another room, where Flood prowled the floor below. Thel smashed open one of the glass panels and leapt down, firing his weapon. Autel started after him, but 'Sraomee said, "We should provide him with cover fire from here. We have a better vantage point than he does." Autel placed his nearly depleted Carbine onto his back and took out his Plasma Rifle. They shot some of the Flood operating plasma cannons, and a few more leaping around. As the commotion died down, Autel lowered his rifle and looked at 'Sraomee.

"'Refumee is the Heretic Leader," he said disbelievingly. "Why would he do such a thing?"

"I do not know," 'Sraomee said grimly. "We were wondering why he never joined the fleet after the destruction of the Holy Ring. But he must have his reasons. Perhaps something to do with the Jiralhanae. If we can find him—"

Both Sangheili raised their weapons as the door hissed open. A clumsy-looking Flood form waddled in, charging at them with its stubby legs. For some reason 'Sraomee did not fire, but tried to back away from it. Autel shot it.

The Flood form collapsed, expanding in size. It exploded, sending infection forms everywhere. 'Sraomee yelled in surprise as it drained his shields, and the little pods scuttled towards him. Autel opened fire, popping as many as he could. One latched onto 'Sraomee, waving its penetrators. Without hesitation, Autel dropped his weapons and grabbed at it. The little Flood form was surprising strong. With an almighty wrench, he jerked the infection form from 'Sraomee and crushed it between his long fingers.

As 'Sraomee picked his weapons back up, Autel said, "My apologies. That was unexpected." The other Sangheili nodded, and they rejoined Thel, where a door had opened. They were outdoors again, and more Flood were seen occupying the stretch.

'Pyronee's voice was heard over the com. "Leader, the storm is about to hit! We cannot maintain our position!"

"Bring the Phantoms closer to the mine. We're not leaving until the leader of these Heretics is dead." 'Vadumee declared. "Arbiter, the Flood have spread throughout the station! We don't have enough troops to manage such a large infestation. Find the leader of these Heretics, kill him now!"

As 'Pyronee's Phantom dropped in, and quickly eliminated the Flood, 'Vadumee and his reinforcements joined them. Thel, at the front, was shooting down the heretics with a deadly accuracy. As they finally made it into the central structure, and opened the door, 'Refumee was seen running to an opposite door.

"Heretic boss!" an Unggoy barked, "You see, you see! "

Needles and plasma peppered 'Refumee's armour, but could not penetrate his shields. He activated a barrier to lock the door.

The Flood in the room were cut down, and Autel saw Thel approach the door.

"This will save me from the storm, but you will be consumed." 'Refumee said, shutting the door.

Thel pounded angrily on the sealed door, unable to reach the one behind it.

"Arbiter, where is he?" 'Vadumee asked. Seeing the door, he growled, "Stinking Floodbait boxed himself in tight. We'll never break through this."

Thel was staring at a schematic of the facility, deep in thought. Finally, he said, "Then we shall force him out."

"How?" the Commander asked.

Autel already knew what he was thinking before Thel said it out loud. "The cable. I'm going to cut it." Turning back to 'Vadumee, he said, "Get everyone back to the ships!"

Autel began to protest, wanting to accompany Thel both to ensure his survival and to question 'Refumee. But he knew that it was not his place.

"Warriors, return to the landing zone!" 'Vadumee ordered. "The Arbiter is going to continue upward, cut this station loose, and scare the Heretic from his hole!"

Autel looked at Thel one last time, and realized that it may be the last time he saw him. "May our Lords guide you," he said. Both of you.

"We shall not forget your sacrifice," 'Sraomee said before they left the room. Autel saw 'Vadumee giving Thel his Energy Sword before joining them.

'Pyronee's Phantom was waiting for them at the bottom level, and as they climbed aboard the dropship, Autel knew that 'Refumee was as good as dead. If the storm did not take his life, then Thel would. He wondered again why the former commando had committed such an atrocity.

Chapter 5: Reunited

"Fira!" Warra shouted, jumping up and gazing into the sky.

Fira followed his gaze, and inhaled sharply. Did this mean that their beacon had been received?

A Covenant carrier had appeared out of Slipstream space, and were already deploying troops onto the ground.

'Tullum was frowning at the panels in the Spirit's cockpit. "I have picked up on their radio traffic. That carrier belongs to the Prophet of Regret."

Regret? That wasn't good. "We should avoid them for now," Fira said. "We have enough supplies to remain here for a long time. Hide the dropships in the cavern," he told 'Tullum. "We should remain wary of them. Perhaps we shall see if we can trust them."

They had been here for a while now. They were living on the surface and found a cave large enough to hide out in and be near a source of water. They had also hunted and trapped many of the exotic animals inhabiting here.

Fira had taken Stoic Courier out of Slipstream space...and found a Halo ring.

There had been no Covenant forces present here, so they had to survive on their own. Even being on one of the Forerunner's sacred ring worlds had proved redundant as they could not activate it.

But now they may have a chance. If Regret's forces were not hostile...then maybe they could rejoin them.

The question was: what had brought the Prophet here?

Autel watched as the Sangheili honour guard reluctantly handed his helmet to the Jiralhanae. The young Sangheili was outwardly impassive, but inside he cringed at the sight of it. The barbarians were fighting each other over the armour, by the gods! How could such undisciplined brutes be competent at protecting the Prophets?

Rtas 'Vadumee obviously felt the same. "This is unprecedented," he said. "Unacceptable."

"A Hierarch is dead, Commander." The Prophet of Truth sounding surprisingly calm after the recent events and this...blasphemy.

"His murderer was within our grasp," 'Vadumee persisted. "If you had not withdrawn our Phantoms—"

"Are you questioning my decision?" Truth asked in a dangerously quiet voice.

"No, holy one!" the Commander said hastily. "I only wish to express my concern that the Jiralhanae—"

Truth held up a hand. 'Vadumee fell silent.

"Re-commissioning the guard was a radical step, but recent events have made it abundantly clear that the Sangheili can no longer guarantee our safety." He said, in a final tone that meant that the discussion was over.

'Vadumee knew better than to argue with Truth. "I shall relay your decision to the Council." He said. The Commander turned around to leave. Autel and 'Sraomee followed suit, as Thel entered the Sanctum. 'Vadumee gave the Arbiter a quick nod, which was returned, and he led Autel and 'Sraomee out of the chamber.

The Commander was silent as they proceeded down the long hallway. Autel thought about everything that had happened recently.

Thel had killed 'Refumee in the Gas Mine, but returned with two things. The first was one of the seven Oracles. The second was a disturbing claim from 'Refumee about the Great Journey being a lie. Autel didn't want to doubt the former officer, but he couldn't bring himself to believe that all they believed in over the Ages were falsehoods.

They had received a transmission from the Prophet of Regret's fleet afterward, requesting reinforcements to be sent to the location of the Ark. Impossibly, the humans had already taken the planet and held a firm defense against it. The ensuing battle had not turned out well for Regret, and he fled alone, leaving his fleet to be decimated by the humans. Truth had not been impressed.

However, Regret's carrier had exited Slipstream space, and amazingly, wound up upon another Halo ring. Truth had ordered all Covenant vessels to the system immediately.

When they arrived, it was discovered that a human ship had followed Regret to the Halo, and sent a Spartan, a demon, to kill the Prophet. Truth had located the temple where Regret had taken refuge, and ordered it to be destroyed once the demon had slain him. They had yet to confirm the Spartan's death.

Now, things were hassled at High Charity. Squads were sent to find the Halo's Library before the humans did, and prevent the destruction of another holy ring. And ships were also leaving for Earth, to continue fighting until they found the Ark, to conclude the 9th and final Age of Reclamation, and begin the Great Journey once and for all.

It did not sound easy, especially with the humans impeding them whenever it came to one of the Forerunners' sacred worlds.

'Vadumee led them to the Special Operations chamber, where Sangheili were busy with various tasks. They had obviously been assigned for an upcoming mission on the Halo.

A crimson-armoured Sangheili walked over to them. "We are to head for the surface," he said. "The survivors from the Prophet of Regret's legion have yet to discover where the Library is."

"Very well, 'Tahamee," 'Vadumee said. "Was there something else?" he asked.

The Sangheili glanced at a nearby computer terminal. "It seems that there has been a virus inserted into High Charity's database. We do not know where it has come from, but we are having difficulty finding it. The systems are shutting down. Three Huragok went missing when they tried to find it manually."

"It could be the Jiralhanae," 'Vadumee said, "although what purpose they wish to serve is beyond me. Autel, can you find this virus?"

"Yes, Excellency," he replied, moving to the terminal. He listened as 'Tahamee told him about the details.

As Autel activated the terminal, he accessed the main database. Not surprisingly, there were error logs attached to at least fifty sectors. He frowned. This was oddly conspicuous. How did this happen?

Hangar bay 26-E had a deactivated gravity lift, and the doors couldn't open.

'Tahamee frowned. "Our weapons are in those dropships at hangar 26-E. We took to great pains to make sure we are prepared for our mission."

This wouldn't do. They had to get those weapons to get past the Flood and into the Library. It would take at least 10 units to replace them. Autel stood up, and headed out of the chamber and towards hangar 26-E, bringing two Huragok engineers with him as he went.

When he reached the gravity lift, the Huragok immediately floated over to the control panel. After a few minutes of fruitless fiddling, they worked more vigorously, seeming almost frustrated.

Something moved past the hallway behind them. Autel turned around, but there was nothing.

One of the Huragok gave a triumphant chitter as the gravity lift reactivated. Autel looked down the hall again, and stepped in, holding the two engineers.

The hangar had a few Unggoy trying to fix the door. One of them saw Autel, and gave a happy laugh. The Huragok rushed to fix the hangar door.

'Pyronee approached him. "Thank you for coming," he said. "We have been stuck here for a few subunits."

To Autel's surprise, the doors opened without difficulty. Behind them, a group of Jiralhanae entered, led by Tartarus.

The Chieftain gave him a sharp look, but before he could say anything, Thel came up the lift after them.

"I see that the hangar doors have been fixed," he said. "We should be able to leave now."

Autel nodded. He placed his fist over his chest in the "good luck" gesture, and watched as they boarded a Phantom. A moment later, 'Vadumee and his Sangheili entered.

"Greetings, Commander," he said. "The hangar is now available, but I have yet to find the virus."

'Vadumee nodded. "We must go now. Join us when you are finished." They headed for 'Pyronee's Phantom, and the two dropships departed.

Autel watched the Huragok trying to reactivate the magnetic clamps, and was about to leave when another two dropships entered the hangar. Not Phantoms, but Spirits.

He frowned. The DX-class dropships had been scrapped and decommissioned a month ago. What were these doing here? He approached the nearest Spirit, watching as the hatch lowered.

Half a dozen Sangheili came out, wearing training armour. Most peculiar. And he realized that he knew them. There was Warra 'Mantakr, and 'Tullum, and—

"Autel!" Fira 'Demal ran forwards when he saw him.

"Fira," he said in amazement. "I thought you were dead."

"No," his old friend said. He told them about everything that had happened after the events at the Stoic Courier as they left the hangar, and where they had been.

"...once we heard that the Prophet of Regret was dead, we decided to return." Fira finished. He listened as Autel told him what had happened at Sanghelios as well.

"You are a hero!" Fira said, laughing. "Where is Sesa 'Refumee?"

Autel froze. Slowly, reluctantly, he told him about 'Refumee's defection, and how the recruits Fira had freed were killed at the Gas Mine.

"But why?" Fira asked. Autel shook his head. "I do not know." They had reached the Combat Command Centre, and requested to see the Sangheili in charge. They were admitted, and a silver-armoured Ultra was there to greet them. Fira gave a very slight smile, which Autel did not miss, but did not question why.

The Ultra was looking down at a datapad. "You are being registered to the list of Sangheili soldiers. I assume you require no further training?"

Fira shook his head.

"Name?" he asked, still not looking up.

"Fira 'Demal," he replied. The Ultra looked up in surprise.

"Fira?" he repeated. "You are alive?"

"I am fairly sure," Fira said, smiling. "How are you, Sona?"

The Ultra continued typing on the datapad, looking surprised. "I am better knowing you are well." He closed the datapad and pointed at a door. "There is armour for you there. You may change and I will brief you on a mission." Fira nodded, and the other recruits signed up with Sona as well.

"I have an assignment to complete," Autel told him. "I must go now."

"Very well," Fira said. "I will see you in a while."

Autel left the room, feeling happier than he did in a long time.

Chapter 6: True Heresies

Autel had an idea. He had reenabled the gravity lift and the hangar door, and he was sure that whoever planted the virus would take notice, and attempt to disable it again. So he could lure it towards the hangar again, and would know where it came from.

Keeping the hangar's status on the screens, Autel activated a tracer and kept its signal hidden behind a firewall that protected the hangar. He watched them intently.

After a few long subunits, all the computers in the room deactivated. The Special Operations Sangheili working at their respective terminals swore and tried to reactivate them. However, Autel patiently turned his back on and returned to the hangar's status. The gravlift and doors were once again inoperable. His tracer wasn't transmitting.

He was hardly surprised. The hacker had to be smarter than that. But Autel had planned this. He entered the main database instead, which was open. He looked into the logs, and found his own terminal, S274, unit 19.


Autel recovered the stored data on his tracer, and slowly scrolled back the information before it was destroyed, microunit by microunit. There, the firewall was deactivated, and the attached tracer probed for another source. A decay virus made contact with it five microunits later, destroying itself and the tracer. However, Autel had placed a timed transmitter there as well, knowing that the hacker would focus on the tracer and not that. It was destroyed eight microunits after the tracer, but it had already sent the information to the main database, which had remained online.

Autel checked that, and saw that the virus had originated from terminal B612, unit 7. He called 'Tahamee over, and showed him the information.

The veteran smiled triumphantly. "Well done," he said. "Let us confront the hacker, end this trouble." He called over a few other Sangheili, and they grabbed some weapons. 'Tahamee handed Autel a Plasma Rifle, and they left the facility.

He saw Fira in a nearby hangar. His friend waved, and walked over. "I am going to the humans' home planet. Our brothers require our help there, and the heretics are putting up a good fight." He sounded strangely excited, as if finally getting to kill humans gave him anticipation.

"I will see you there," Autel said. "May fortune be with you." Fira made the "goodbye" gesture, and climbed into a Phantom, which flew off towards a cruiser orbiting High Charity.

'Tahamee lead them through several levels in the city, and stopped when they reached the lowest level. "The hacker is in there," he said. "Ready your weapons."

The door opened, and the Special Operations squad moved inside.

Two Jiralhanae blocked them. "What do you want, Sangheili?"

"We demand to search your computer terminals for a virus," 'Tahamee said.

"Absolutely not," the other Brute growled. "We have already enough inconviences from that without your tampering."

"Would you like to take this matter to the Hierarchs?" 'Tahamee asked quietly.

"There will be no need of that," said another voice. The Prophet of Truth floated towards them.

"What are you doing here, Excellency?" the veteran asked.

"That is none of your concern," Truth replied. "What is going on?"

"Hierarch, we have strong evidence that a virus was originated from here. We are trying to find it."

"The virus will not cause you any more trouble," the Prophet said in a voice Autel had heard before, but he didn't know what.

"We have been unable to contact the Arbiter or the Commander," 'Tahamee said, "and if this mission is as important as you say—"

"Try it again," Truth said in the same familiar voice. "Return to your facility and let me know if you are successful."

He couldn't disobey a Hierarch. He bowed his head, and led them out.

"The Jiralhanae have done it," one of them growled as soon as they were out of earshot.

"I know," 'Tahamee said. "But we cannot tell the Hierarchs without evidence. They would only assume it was our long-term rivalry."

They entered the Special Operations facility again, and 'Tahamee activated a transmission.

"This is Usze 'Tahamee to Rtas 'Vadumee. Commander, do you read me?"

To everyone's surprise, 'Vadumee's voice was heard. But what he said wasn't good.

"Send more units to our position! The Jiralhanae have turned on us! Tartarus has killed the Arbiter and taken the Sacred Icon—"

Autel felt a sudden shock. The Arbiter, dead? It couldn't be—

"Beware, brothers! The Jiralhanae are killing Sangheili. The fleets in space—"

There was a loud boom as the door exploded. A group of Jiralhanae came in, firing their bladed grenade launchers. The transmitter was destroyed, and 'Vadumee's voice faded. Without hesitation, the Sangheili drew their weapons and returned fire.

When the force was cut down, 'Tahamee barked, "Everyone, to the hangars! There will be more coming!" As they left the facility, 'Vadumee's words were still ringing in Autel's ears. The Jiralhanae had betrayed them again, and Thel was dead? With a sense of dread, he thought of Fira. How many Jiralhanae were on Earth, waiting for the Sangheili to arrive?

Sadness would come later. They needed to find 'Vadumee, and stop the Jiralhanae here. Then, they would pay. All of them.

When the cruiser came out of Slipstream space, Fira was already in his drop pod, awaiting the order to deploy. When he got Sona's signal, he punched the release button, and his pod lurched, and with a hiss, fell away from the cruiser.

He could hear the muffled wind whistling past his pod as he entered the atmosphere, and ignored the feeling of weightlessness as he continued to drop. When his pod broke through the last cloud layer, Fira looked upon the humans' planet.

It was mostly blue, where the vast oceans stretched across the surface, with land that was not volcanic red like on Sanghelios, but a deep green. Something flashed through the air, and a dozen pods were vapourized. Fira heard cries of alarm over his radio, and Sona ordered, "Spread out! They are targeting us!"

Another glowing projectile impacted with a pod, the explosion taking only three this time. Fira's pod shook with the impact, and began to spin off course. He frantically worked at the controls, shifting the weight on his pod so that it was a straight drop again. He adjusted his course so that he wouldn't land in the water, and in little more than a subunit, landed with a thud.

Fira kicked open the hatch, grabbed his weapons, and stepped onto the ground. He seemed to have landed in an urban area, although the streets and houses were abandoned. Needle Rifle ready, he hurried to regroup with his squad, taking advantage of the planet's relatively lower gravity to move quickly.

He turned the corner, and something exploded. Ducking into cover, he saw that a group of Marines had established a perimetre around the area. They seemed to be waiting for something.

"Contact," Fira heard one of them whisper.

"Weapons ready," another one said.

The first Marine was speaking into a comm. "Sarge, how much more time do you need?"

"We've got about fifty civilians left to evac, Corporal," a gruff voice replied. "Hold out."

"Roger that," the Marine picked up his rifle. "Alright boys, let's take him out."

"Careful," the second one said. "There could be more."

Fira jumped out, firing his Needle Rifle. He caught one Marine in the unprotected head, dropping him immediately. Metal bullets melted against his shields, and he moved to avoid them. He tossed a plasma grenade, attaching it to another human, and silenced two others.

A sniper round took his shields down, grazing his shoulder. Fira ducked back into cover, waiting for them to recharge.

A Marine came around the corner. The Sangheili cracked his carbine over his head, watching him go limp. When his shields recharged, Fira looked around.

There were about six Marines left. One of them was watching for him with a human sniper rifle. The others held position with scoped rifles. Behind them was the body of two Brutes, and a pair of Ghosts. Perfect.

Fira moved out, firing his Needle Rifle at the sniper. The rounds tore through his chest, and he fell, screaming with pain. The others fired their rifles in three-round bursts, rapidly chipping away at his shields. He managed to make it to a Ghost, activated it, and fired the thrusters.

A sniper round glanced off the vehicle's hood. Fira saw that the wounded sniper had picked up his rifle again, and trying to shoot him. His aim was bad however, and the Sangheili steered the vehicle down the street before they could stop him.

Autel fired his Plasma Repeater into a mass of enemies, well aware that he was running low on ammo. And sure enough, its battery depleted a moment later, just as more hostiles attacked them. Dropping the empty weapon, he pulled out his Energy Dagger, stabbing a Jiralhanae in the stomach and taking the Mauler out of his limp hand. He fired the captured weapon, and a second alien dropped, with a dozen red-hot mini shells in his head. A third one charged at them, and he threw the hand shotgun. The sharp bayonet lodged in his throat, and without waiting another moment, he climbed onto the Phantom, which took off a moment later.

'Tahamee watched as they moved farther and farther away from High Charity. No aircraft pursued them, as it was difficult to tell who was friend and who was foe. Autel looked upward. There was an enormous battle in space. The ships were firing at each other, lighting up the vacuum with blue-white flashes.

The Phantom moved in towards 'Vadumee's signal, and he told them everything that had happened during the battle at the Library.

"The Flood is widespread throughout the Halo," he said. "And Tartarus heads to the Control Centre with the Icon."

"But that means the Journey will begin at last," 'Tahamee said.

"It makes me uneasy," 'Vadumee said. "We must find him, and question him as to who ordered him to do this."

"Perhaps he is acting out of his own decision," the veteran pointed out.

"Then why do the Prophets do nothing?" 'Vadumee said. "If you would not mind, we may need that," he added to the pilot, who immediately dropped the Spectre the Phantom was carrying. "Autel, come with me. The rest of you, rally our brothers. We need to put down this Uprising." 'Tahamee nodded, and they entered the Phantom again, which took off.

'Vadumee led Autel over to the Spectre. "Autel, I am very sorry to hear about your father," he said gently. The young Sangheili blinked in surprise.

"Yes, I know he is your father," the Commander said. "Thel has told me what had happened at Stoic Courier, and how you stopped the Jiralhanae at Sanghelios. He is with the Journey."

Autel nodded, unable to speak.

"Can you drive?" 'Vadumee asked quietly. He nodded, and took the controls. He made sure the Commander was behind the turret, and steered the vehicle towards a distant battle between the Sangheili and the Jiralhanae, relishing the coming feeling of revenge.

Autel boosted the Spectre to its maximum speed, watching with satisfaction as two Jiralhanae were crushed beneath it. He turned it to face a pair of Wraiths.

"We are almost at the Control Centre," 'Vadumee said. "Put us close to one of those tanks." He complied, and felt the Commander leap off the back of the vehicle. 'Vadumee landed on top of the Wraith, pried open its hatch, and snapped the driver's neck. He pulled the Jiralhanae's body out, and took over. The mortar fired, destroying the other tank.

Autel steered the Spectre after 'Vadumee, and saw that a small drop led to a massive lake, and the Control Centre in the middle of it.

A door in the cliff wall suddenly opened, and out stepped—

'Vadumee opened the hatch and stared at him in amazement. "By the rings, Arbiter?" Thel lowered his weapon. "The Councilors! Are they—"

"Murdered," Thel said grimly, "by the Jiralhanae."

'Vadumee cursed. "Vile, disloyal beasts! The Prophets were fools to trust them!"

Autel started to climb out of his Spectre, when something roared across the sky. A Phantom flew over them and towards the Control Centre. He knew it was Tartarus.

Thel looked to the massive structure across the lake. "What is that place?"

"Where the Councilors were meant to watch the consecration of the Icon." 'Vadumee replied. "The start of the Great Journey."

Thel was silent, thinking about something. Then, as if he reached a decision, said, "I must get inside."

'Vadumee had obviously expected this. "Then mount up, Arbiter. I know a way to break those doors." He closed the hatch on the Wraith and activated its engines.

Chapter 7: An Unlikely Alliance

Thel approached the Spectre and gripped the turret. "I am happy to see you are alive, father." Autel said. The Arbiter nodded, and turned the cannon at an incoming Ghost. Autel steered the Spectre towards them, filled with purpose and determination.

They had passed through a structure, killing Jiralhanae and freeing Sangheili, with the intent of capturing a Scarab walker to storm the Control Centre. 'Vadumee had gone to take a cruiser back from the Jiralhanae, but they now had many Sangheili, even a pair of Councillors, and four Mgalekgolo whom were only too eager to tear the Jiralhanae apart.

Thel, at the very front, opened a door. A very familiar voice was heard.

"Mine will do," Tartarus said, "kill the others."

"Yes, Chieftain," a Jiralhanae said. "A day's ration says I can do this in one cut," he said to his fellow Brute.

"Two cuts at least," his pack mate replied.

"Done." He froze. "Wait, movement!"

The group charged, firing their weapons.

"Go, go, go!" A human voice barked. A trio of Marines grabbed Plasma Pistols and attacked the Jiralhanae.

The Jiralhanae were cut down, and before any Sangheili could apprehend the humans, they leaped into the Scarab.

Thel turned to face the Scarab, and saw that the cannon was faced directly at him.

"Listen," the human leader said, "you don't like me and I sure as hell don't like you. But if we don't do something, Mr. Mohawk's gonna activate this ring. And we're all gonna die."

The human was certainly daring, no doubt about that. And had a very odd sense of humour.

"Tartarus has locked himself inside the Control Room," Thel said.

"Well, I just happen to have a key." The cannon glowed and its flaps opened as it activated. "Come on, Grab a Banshee and give me some cover. They're gonna know we're coming."

Two Sangheili landed their Banshees on the platform. "Take my Banshee, Arbiter," one of them said. As Thel took off after the humans' Scarab and flew out of sight, a Phantom dropped in.

"The Commander has sent me," 'Pyronee said. "I am to take you to the Control Centre."

As the Sangheili climbed aboard, the dropship flew towards the Control Centre.

"How is the Commander faring?" Autel asked the pilot.

"He is gathering forces to take the cruiser," 'Pyronee replied. "He wants to find more Sangheili and take them off the Halo. The Flood is becoming a great threat. There are rumours that High Charity has fallen and is under their control."

The Phantom approached the Control Centre, and saw that the door was blasted open. The Scarab was positioned against the platform, and Thel's Banshee was next to the door.

'Pyronee opened the hatches, and they disembarked, heading through the collapsed corridors and into the Control Centre. They ran down a wide hallway and heard voices.

"...Prophets have betrayed us," Thel was saying.

There was a thud, and a human grunted in pain.

"No, Arbiter!" Tartarus said. "The Great Journey has begun and the Jiralhanae, not the Sangheili, shall be the Prophets' escort!"

Autel turned the Corner, and saw that Thel and the human leader was attacking the Jiralhanae. He fired his Plasma Rifles at the nearest Captain, and ducked as a launched grenade hissed over him.

Tartarus had jumped off the extension and onto the control centre. A human female was on top of a revolving platform with the Oracle. Thel leaped after Tartarus, and Autel, along with the other Sangheili, followed.

"Charging sequence initiated," the Oracle announced. "Primary generators coming online."

"Well, shut them down!" the female said.

Autel moved away as Tartarus swung his weapon, the Fist of Rukt, at him. Shock waves pushed him against the wall. Thel slashed at him, to no effect. The Chieftain seemed to be wearing some kind of shield.

"...will take some time to go over the proper procedures," the Oracle said slowly. "I—"

"Quit stalling!" the human snapped.

Autel winced as Tartarus swung his hammer again, this time connecting with a Zealot. The Sangheili didn't even have time to scream before all his bones were crushed, and he fell off into the shaft, broken.

A purple beam glanced off the Jiralhanae's shield, which faltered. Another one broke through, and Tartarus flinched.

"Hey, Mohawk!" the human called tauntingly, "How's that feel?!!"

He is sniping him, Autel thought. It seemed that Tartarus wasn't invincible after all.

"Under more controlled circumstances, I would suggest the Reclaimer simply remove the Index," the Oracle finally said, reluctantly.

"That's it?! Johnson, I'm on it!" the female said.

"Hang tight, ma'am!" the human called Johnson said. "Not until that Brute is dead!" He fired the Beam Rifle again, knocking out Tartarus' shield for the second time.

"Secondary generators charging. All systems are performing well within operational parameters," the Oracle said gleefully. He seemed to really want the Halo to activate.

The human female felt completely the opposite. "You're telling me that you cannot stop the sequence?

"Reclaimer, please understand that interrupting the wave generation process will severely damage this installation."

"Give me a direct answer!" she said impatiently.

"I am but a Monitor. The Reclaimer can do as it likes."

Tartarus moved behind a wall, where Johnson couldn't shoot him. A Sangheili moved to engage him, followed by a bang and a spurt of purple blood.

"Power generation phase complete," the Oracle said. The installation is ready to fire. Starting final countdown."

"Come on, Arbiter! Kick that guy's ass!" Johnson said, sounding slightly urgent for the first time.

"Firing sequence initiated. And may I say, Reclaimers, it has been a pleasure to serve you both. Goodbye."

Thel threw a plasma grenade around the wall. Tartarus involuntarily leaped out of cover, and Johnson took advantage of it to score three hits on him.

Tartarus saw Thel, and decided to attack. The Arbiter ducked under his swing, stabbing his Energy Sword into the Chieftain's back. The Jiralhanae roared, bleeding severely, and fell. He was still.

The human female leapt onto the main platform, and grabbed the Index. Dark blue energy shot upward.

Was it over? Autel thought. Has the Journey begun?

Thel had said something about the Prophets betraying them. Had they been in on the Jiralhanae uprising? So what did the Journey mean?

The human female was standing in front of a holographic depiction, joined by Johnson who was clutching the Oracle.

"What's that?" the female asked.

"A beacon."

"What's it doing?"

"Communicating. At super-luminal speeds with a frequency of—"

"Communicating with what?"

Autel was surprised how casually she was talking to the Oracle. Most Sangheili held a Monitor of a Halo in highest regard. "The...other installations."

"Show me."

The Oracle turned to the panel, where seven holographic Halos were seen.

"Fail-safe protocol," he explained. "In the event of unexpected shutdown, the entire system will move to standby status. All remaining platforms are now ready for remote activation."

"'Remote activation?'" the female asked. "From here?"

"Don't be ridiculous," the Oracle said patronizingly.

"Listen, tinkerbell," Johnson snarled, "don't make me..."

The female put a hand on his shoulder, and turned back to the Oracle. "Then where?" she asked patiently. "Where would someone go to activate the other rings?"

"Why, the Ark...of course," he said, baffled.

Thel approached them. "And where, Oracle, is that?"

"Here," the Oracle said, still uncertainly. "The coordinates are in the seventh quadrant—"

But the female was looking at the hologram. "That's...Earth."

"Of course," the Oracle said. "That is where the Forerunners have decided to—"

"We'd better get moving then," Johnson said. "Our boys at Earth are proably up to their necks in trouble." he turned on a comm. "Stacker, you read me?"

"Yes, Sergeant Major," came another human voice. "We've got Elites on board the Scarab. They're...not really sure what to do with us."

"Wait right there," Johnson said. "We'll be out ASAP." He turned to the human female. "Ma'am? Let's find a way off this hellhole."

"I think we can help," Autel said. "Our Commander is capturing a cruiser right now, and I think we would want to find the Ark...for one reason or another."

The humans stared at him. The Councillors looked surprised. Finally, the human female said. "Thank you. That would be very helpful."

As they moved out of the Control Centre, Thel said, "Well done. The first step to an alliance is to give what you have to offer. It creates a connection between us and them."

Autel nodded, and they moved back outside. Now they had to get to Earth...and finish this fight.

Chapter 8: Victims of Hatred

The Ghost sputtered and died, dropping to the ground as its glowing engines faded. Fira leapt off the vehicle, which was leaking plasma and sending sparks everywhere. He had escaped four squads of Marines and a pack of Jiralhanae, but was still out of range of communication with Sona.

There was fighting up ahead. To his relief, they were Sangheili. And they were killing humans. Not the Marine soldiers, but civilians. Commoners who were defenseless.

Despite his hatred for humans, Fira felt almost sorry for them. His sympathy vanished, however, when someone grabbed him from behind, and a tall human male charged him with a kitchen knife. He easily slipped out of his attacker's grasp, knocked him down, and killed the knife-wielding human with a single shot from his Needle Rifle. He saw more running everywhere, being rapidly cut down.

"Kill the ones inside!" a veteran ordered. Fira ducked his head as he entered a house. The humans' possessions were everywhere, scattered through the floors. Another human held a pistol in his hand, aimed it at Fira, and fired.

It was a flare gun. The Sangheili's vision swam as the bright flash was printed into his retinas. He fired blindly, emptying his clip into where he thought the human was standing. He felt a thud, and when his vision returned to him, he saw that a female was standing in a corner, terrified, her arms spread out to shield something behind her.

Fira discarded the empty rifle and fired his Needler at her. She screamed as the sharp projectiles tore into her, and she fell, bleeding. Moving forward, he saw that the female was protecting a child. He hesitated. Should he kill it? It was barely out of infancy, and completely helpless. It would be very dishonourable.

"Our tanks are bombarding the houses," the veteran said. "Clear the area, and regroup at my position."

Fira heard the sound of Wraiths firing mortars, and decided to do it quickly. He raised his weapon to the child's head, when another message came through.

"This is Arbiter Thel 'Vadam, to all Sangheili. Cease your slaughter of humans immediately. Our only enemies are the Prophets, and their lackeys, the Jiralhanae. We must fight side by side to defeat their deception."

Fira lowered his weapon. A truce with the humans? How could it be? And why? He flinched as he heard the sound of a Wraith mortar impacting on the house's roof. Pieces of wood and melted metal showered down onto the floor. He looked back to the child. He could kill it right now, and no one would ever know. But it would be even more dishonourable. And disobeying the Arbiter was heresy.

Fira holstered his Needle pistol, turned and ran out of the house, moving back to the veteran's position. He looked back. A final mortar impacted on its roof, destroying it completely. Had the child made it out? He shook his head, turned, and kept running.

Autel looked over the bodies. Humans. It wouldn't be long before the Flood found them, so he hid their corpses and moved on.

Thel had gone to Earth with Johnson and the human Commander, Keyes. 'Sraomee and 'Tahamee had also gone with him, along with a large amount of humans they had found. They took a corvette and headed off at best speed.

Autel had remained behind at Halo with 'Vadumee, who was now turning his attention to a powerful cruiser he intended to capture. In the meantime, he sent a few squads to rescue Sangheili and humans from the hands of the Flood.

'Vadumee had obviously wanted to object against Thel's decision to ally with the humans, but he did not. And true to his word, he agreed to find any humans on the surface as well.

Autel moved down a small hill, where a camp was established. They were Unggoy.

The young Sangheili cursed. The Unggoy and the Mgalekgolo had not wanted to help the humans, and joined the Jiralhanae instead when Thel made his proposal. The diminutive aliens opened fire on him, but he easily cut them down. He kept moving, and saw a squad of wounded Marines up ahead.

They had a lot of supplies and weapons, and a destroyed jeep, but a Marine hastily clambered onto its intact turret and opened fire.

Autel ducked behind a rock, calling, "Wait! I am an ally!"

"Flush him out," he heard one of them say. He tried again. "I swear upon the blood of my fathers that I will not harm you!"

"You'll be telling us that when you stab us in the back," another human said, priming a grenade.

Autel pressed a button on his armour, activating a message. It was a hologram of Johnson.

The Marines paused, confused. The Sergeant looked strange upon the Covenant device.

"Stand to, Marines," Johnson said. "The alien you see in front of you is trying to help you. He might like you, he might not, but he's trying to help you. Go with him, he's gonna get you evac'd and back to Earth. That's an order."

The Marines lowered their weapons hesitantly, and the leader said, "I don't trust you, but I'll have to...for now."

Autel nodded. He had found three other squads of Marines already, and had to play the message twice. He turned on his comm, and said, "'Pyronee, we have another group of humans."

"I am on my way," the pilot said.

Suddenly Flood infection forms leaped down, attacking them. Autel shielded the Marines, and fired at them. The humans held automatic handguns and helped, popping the pods.

A Combat Form leaped out, lashing at a Marine. Autel activated his Energy Sword, and cut it in two. Two more came, and he killed those as well.

He turned to the Marine. "Are you alright?" The human nodded, wiping blood off the gash where the Combat form had struck him. "Thanks," he said.

'Pyronee's Phantom flew in, and its hatches lowered. There was another squad inside as well, with a few Sangheili whom were eyeing the humans suspiciously.

"I think these are the last ones in this area," the pilot said. "I have done a scan and found nothing."

"Maybe they're hiding from you," a Marine said.

"Anyway," 'Pyronee continued, ignoring him. "The Commander is calling everyone back to our base. We need that cruiser." Autel climbed aboard after the Marines he just rescued, and the Phantom took off.

'Vadumee had found a large temple, which he used for their makeshift base. As 'Pyronee dropped them off at the "landing pad", the Marines were escorted to the sector nicknamed "the human area".

Autel entered the adytum, and saw 'Vadumee examining a hologram he laid on the centremost tablet. It was a small model of a cruiser.

"The Tenacious Predator," he said. "Quite a formidable vessel. Taking it will not be easy."

"How many have we rescued?" Autel asked.

"Three hundred and fifty-seven," 'Vadumee said. "Most of them are Sangheili. Would the humans be willing to help us?"

"I hope so," he replied. "How many ships do we have?"

"We have two other cruisers taken from Jiralhanae," the Commander said. "Then once we have the Tenacious Predator, we will rally our brothers in space."

"I can speak to the humans," Autel said. "I may be able to convince them to help us."

'Vadumee nodded. "If I believe that any Sangheili could do that, it would be you."

Autel walked out of the room, and into where the humans were waiting. As he approached them, they looked up at him warily.

"Who is your commander?" he asked.

A Marine in a black suit stepped forward. He was holding a visored helmet under one arm. "Me."

"What is your name?"

"First Lieutenant Joseph Forenson."

"Very well, er, Lieutenant Forenson. We are preparing an assault on a cruiser, which we are planning to take to Earth. Would you be willing to help us?"

Forenson nodded. "You guys saved us from those things, I guess we owe you a favour. Besides, who doesn't want to get into a good fight?"

"We're not all Helljumpers, Lieutenant," said one of the Marines from off side, whose side was heavily bandaged. "And some of us are pretty injured."

"This is the only way we're getting back to Earth, Marine," Forenson said sternly. "But you don't have to participate. I suppose you'd kill yourself if you tried doing what you did last time again."

Some of the Marines laughed, and the ODST turned back to Autel, smiling. "We're in."

The young Sangheili nodded, and moved off to tell 'Vadumee. It seemed the Lieutenant was easily likable, and not as determined to give him a hard time.

The Phantoms flew stealthily through the overcast sky, their active camouflage seen only as a blur in the cloudy air.

Autel looked around. There were six other Sangheili in the cargo hold, their expressions neutral, holding onto the plasma grips. The eight Marines inside the dropship were standing in columns as well. They were too short to reach the grips, and were held in place only by the magnetic platforms below their feet. Half of them held human weapons, and the rest whom had expanded their ammo already had borrowed Plasma and Needle weaponry.

The Phantom shifted and lurched upwards. The Sangheili were used to this, but a couple of Marines wobbled, but were still held in place.

"Don't you guys have seats in this thing?" one of them asked.

"Quiet," a Sergeant said.

"We are approaching the cruiser," 'Pyronee announced from the cockpit. "We will drop you off at the nearest hangar and return for reinforcements."

The force had only five Phantoms, and two Pelicans. The plan was to get a stealthy entry from three dropships, an unexpected attack, and while the efforts were focused on the first group, Lieutenant Forenson and another squad would enter from a different part of the ship. Then the last two Phantoms would pull in and put another squad on the ship. The three groups of dropships would rotate and send in reinforcements constantly. By the time the enemy reacted and tried to seal the cruiser, there would be enough Sangheili and Marines inside to take the control centre.

Despite the long planning, it would not be easy. They wouldn't get another chance at this, and everyone was being taken off the base and onto the cruiser.

The Phantoms drifted in through the hangar, lowering. One of the Unggoy stiffened as he heard the silent hiss of the hatches lowering.

"Warriors, open fire upon the enemy! The blood we spill today shall only be due to our noble cause!" 'Vadumee shouted. The Sangheili piled out, while the Staff Sergeant, Marcus Banks, gave his orders as well. They were a lot less complicated than the one the Commander had issued. Autel had a feeling it would be more easy to say during combat.

"Go go go!"

The sound of plasma and bullets sounded around the hangar. The Phantoms flew out of the cruiser, and turned down-spin as they flew groundside. The soldiers in the bay were surprised but reacted fairly quickly.

A Marine took two hits to the shoulder from a plasma pistol. A Jiralhanae launched a grenade towards him.

They had orders to protect the Marines. The humans were a lot more vulnerable to fire than the Sangheili. Without hesitation, Autel stepped in front of the grenade, feeling it explode against his shield. He returned fire, singeing the Brute's flesh. The Marine aimed his rifle out, firing a three-round burst into the Jiralhanae's head.

"Well done," Autel said, impressed. The human nodded, then turned to help his fellow squad mate.

'Vadumee was cutting down enemies with considerable relish. As the enemies fell one by one, the last Jiralhanae went down on all fours, and tackled a Marine. The human yelled in surprise as he was knocked down. The hairy alien brought his fists up to crush his skull, 'Vadumee lunged in and cut the Brute in two.

The Marine stood up, picking up his plasma rifle. Autel looked around. The hangar was cleared. They had not suffered a single casualty...yet.

"Onward!" 'Vadumee ordered, moving for the door. "Let us find the Control Centre and deal with those within! We shall have vict—"

"Let's move, Marines!" Sergeant Banks said, cutting across him. "Let's get to the objective and neutralize all hostiles."

The Sangheili commander scowled but did not reply. As Autel followed the squad through the door, he couldn't help but smile. He could swear the human was making fun of 'Vadumee.

"Lieutenant Forenson, the shuttle bay is clear," Sergeant Banks said into his COM. "Lock onto our signal and land in the hangar."

"Roger that," the ODST replied. "Beginning our approach."

They had found another hangar bay, and cleared the enemies inside. 'Vadumee was looking around the bodies cautiously, watching for movement. The hangar doors had been deactivated. It had been messy. Two Marines were dead, and a third suffered severe plasma burns.

Banks turned his attention to a specialist. "How's he doing, Corporal?"

The Marine looked up. "He'll live, Sergeant. I've given him some painkiller, and I've patched him up, but he won't be able to fight. Best if he stays in the Pelican until this is over."

The Sergeant nodded, and looked at the wounded Private. "How you holding up, son?"

The human soldier was huddled against the wall. "I'm fine, sir." He said groggily. He tried to grab his rifle, but Banks took it instead. "Sorry, Marine, but you'll have to take a rest. That's an order."

Autel was looking around, waiting for the dropships to come in, when he heard a gunshot behind him, followed by a snarl. He turned around, and saw the injured Marine holding his sidearm in one hand. A group of camouflaged Jiralhanae had entered the hangar and attempted to sneak up on them, and Banks and the specialist had their backs turned. One of them appeared momentarily, and the Sergeant raised the Private's rifle, and fired.

The Jiralhanae flinched but raised his arm and threw something at him. A long club-like device stabbed into the Marine.

Banks yelled in pain as it stuck into him. He looked down, and saw that it started ticking. The Sergeant pulled it out with difficulty, and jabbed it at the Brute, and leaped for cover.

An explosion consumed two of the Jiralhanae, showering spikes everywhere. The Corporal raised his SMG and emptied his clip into the surviving alien. Silence filled the hangar once more.

The two Pelicans pulled in, deploying Lieutenant Forenson and seventeen Marines. More than half of them were ODSTs.

The specialist turned his attention to his superior officer. "Looks like you'll need some R & R too, sir."

Banks was bleeding where the grenade attached to him. As the Corporal bandaged the wound, Forenson looked around at the carnage. "Looks like we arrived just in the nick of time."

"Oh, a few minutes ago wouldn't have been so bad either," the Sergeant remarked.

Autel walked to him. "Are you alright?"

Banks grimaced, but managed to turn it into a smile. "Don't worry about me. As what's-his-name said, 'The blood we spill shows our nobility' or whatever the hell it was."

The young Sangheili couldn't help but smile back. He watched the Pelicans leave with the wounded soldiers, and he awaited 'Vadumee's orders. The Commander looked at the reinforcements, and said, "Let us allow entry to our other soldiers, and we shall soon have the Control Centre!"

Autel was starting to see what Sergeant Banks found so funny about him. Even most Sangheili were not so pompous during combat.

Chapter 9: The Message

"We are approaching the Control Centre," 'Vadumee said."Ready yourselves."

Their forces now numbered ninteen Sangheili and eleven Marines, but the Jiralhanae were taking exception to the assault, and were starting to take action. There were two frigates inbound on their position. If they didn't take the ship, and soon, there would be trouble.

Sergeant Banks had insisted on coming along, despite his wounds. He was holding up alright, but didn't give any funny remarks. They had to hurry.

'Vadumee opened the door.

As if expecting them, two score of Jiralhanae were waiting inside the massive room. Everyone opened fire, drowning out the silence that had been around them a few moments ago.

Forenson tossed a frag grenade into a mass of Jiralhanae, wiping out three. A Captain retaliated by firing his Brute shot at him.

The Lieutenant ducked the explosive, and it melted against a Sangheili's shield instead. He raised his shotgun and fired into his chest.

Another Jiralhanae leapt through the air, brandishing what appeared to be a long, bladed hammer. He swung, hitting a Sangheili hard across the chest. The alien gave a faint gurgle, and instead of collapsing, flew across the room and hit the wall hard. Purple blood misted the air.

"Fall back!" Forenson shouted. The Marines backed off, taking cover and reloading. "Fire in salvos! Concentrate on the big one, let's put him down!"

Banks reached for another clip when a Jiralhanae smashed into him, knocking him to the floor. He drew his sidearm, and tried to roll away. The Brute aimed his gun at the Sergeant, when Forenson emptied two Shotgun shells into him, the multiple rounds compensating from the diminished damage due to the scatter.

Sergeant Banks started to stand up, when the Jiralhanae Chieftain reached him. The Marine loosed a single shot before the hammer flew down swiftly.

Autel winced as the human's face was pulverized. He heard bones breaking.

"Man down!" one of the Marines shouted. He unslung the Sniper Rifle from across his back, and pumped two rounds into the Chieftain's chest and one into his head, knocking his massive helmet off. The Jiralhanae roared with rage, charging the human. The sharpshooter panicked, and his shot went wide.

Autel snapped up his carbine, firing a single round into the Chieftain's head. The Brute fell, and was still.

The Sangheili squad roared in triumph. "Brothers!" 'Vadumee exclaimed. "The ship is ours!"

Autel however, looked over at the humans. Forenson knelt by Banks' body, shaking his head. The young Sangheili turned away, and prepared for the journey to their home planet, Earth.

The Tenacious Predator lifted into space, heading towards the ships. The Flood were spreading across the ring, and the cruiser would hold the quarantine until every last one of the parasite were destroyed.

It had taken longer than they thought to finally join the fleet. 'Vadumee had to send for many Sangheili to eliminate the Jiralhanae aboard the ship, and to run a check on all systems. Now, the Tenacious Predator still had stragglers running amok through the ship, but the traitors had lost the battle in space. The fleet was concentrating on holding down the Flood. Unfortunately, the Jiralhanae ships were boarded and now belonged to the infectious organisms, and they kept finding ways to cause them trouble.

Worse, the Gravemind had inhabited High Charity, and calamity was spreading through the city. 'Vadumee had picked up a signal Lieutenant Forenson recognized, and was heading there and sending a squad in to find out what it was.

Autel stood in the Phantom directly behind the Ultra. They were waiting on the makeshift Fleet Master's word.

The cruiser stopped moving, and 'Vadumee's voice came over the COM. "Warriors, you may deploy. Report your findings upon your return."

'Pyronee flew the Phantom out of the shuttle bay, followed by the other dropship. The vessels flew towards High Charity.

Autel looked out the hatch, and saw how different the city was. Signs of the Flood were everywhere. The magenta was covered in a sickly yellow-green substance, and many parts had broken off altogether. It was in ruins.

There was nothing that tried to stop the Phantoms. High Charity's energy shield was shut down, and its defensive turrets did not fire. It was as if the Flood wanted them in the city.

The dropships touched down on what was once a hangar. 'Pyronee opened the hatches, and said, "Inform me when you require extraction." The Sangheili moved out, and into the city. No one said a word. A thick mist hung in the air, and the silence was ominous. The Ultra led the way out of the hangar, and the team moved cautiously, weapons ready.

Autel lowered his weapons and let them cool. They had run into the Flood yet again, and suppressed them...barely.

They had moved through High Charity, getting closer to the signal. They encountered Jiralhanae a few times, but they were easily dealt with.

The Flood were more of a problem. No matter how many the Sangheili killed, more showed up. They lost two, both of whom were turned into Combat Forms. But they were close to their objective.

The Ultra slowly walked towards a door, which chimed open. The squad moved in. Autel moved towards a hologram projector. "The signal emanates from here," he said.

He clawed away the Flood mucus, and found the activation button, and pressed it. Nothing happened.

"Perhaps it was a trap," one of the Sangheili said. "We should leave."

He was about to turn away, when the panel glowed. The holographic figure of a human female appeared. "Hello," she said casually.

Autel recognized the hologram as a human artificial intelligence. She seemed friendly, but she could be something set up by the Flood. "Who are you?"

"I am UNSC AI Serial Number CTN 0452-9. You may call me Cortana," she said, crossing her arms and grinning cheekily. Her smile faded quickly, and she said, "I've picked up your activity on the radio traffic. You guys have been rescuing Marines."

"What of it?" the Ultra asked, approaching her as well.

"I know I can trust you to do me a favour. I need to deliver a message to Earth."

Some of the Sangheili looked skeptical, but Cortana pressed on, "This is important. I've discovered something, and there's someone I know who can help. It's vital that he gets this. We don't have much time, the Gravemind will find me here soon, and you'll all be in danger. He's tracking me right now."

"You may be waiting for the arrival of the parasite to kill us," a Sangheili said, but Autel cut across him. "Very well. Hurry." He took out a message recorder, and uploaded it onto the projector. At once, Cortana began to speak.

"Chief...High Charity, the Prophets' Holy City, is on its way to Earth. With an army of Flood. I can't tell you everything, it's not safe. The knows I'm in the system..."

Three doors opened, and Flood forms burst in. The Sangheili squad returned fire, cutting down the enemies one by one. Autel kept his back to the projector, making sure no Flood could destroy it.

"...but it doesn't know about the Portal," Cortana continued, "where it leads. On the other side, there's a solution; a way to stop the Flood, without firing the remaining Halo rings—"

The AI's hologram sparked. She clutched her head, gasping in pain and collapsed onto the 'floor'. Slowly, she looked upward. "Hurry Chief," she whispered, her voice filled with agony, "the Ark...there isn't much time..."

The Flood were cut down, and Autel turned to make sure Cortana was done. He removed the message, and stored it into his armour. He heard the message, and did not like what it held at all.

"Go," she urged, her hologram flickering and crackling, "Get it to Earth at any means more than you know. I have to go, the Gravemind is coming..." The AI's hologram vanished.

"We must leave," the Ultra said, "before the Gravemind is upon us." The squad headed out, and Autel contacted 'Pyronee. They made a harrowing trip back to the hangar, and managed to leave the Flood-infested city.

Autel and the others entered the Control Centre, and placed the message on the data scanner. 'Vadumee approached them.

"No sign of the parasite," he said, "it is suspicious. However, the quarantine is holding well. Now, I will examine the message before we depart, I have sufficient ships to take our place—"

"Ship Master, one of our destroyers are moving towards us!" a Sangheili called. "Collision course!"

'Vadumee moved to the command console quickly. "What in the name of the Forerunners do they think they are doing? Evade!"

"Our quarantine holds us in place, Excellency!" he said. "We are trapped!"

"Fire all turrets!" the makeshift Fleet Master ordered. "Make haste!"

The Tenacious Predator's powerful cannons fired at once, taking down the destroyer's shields and melting the hull. Thick mucus poured out of it.

"The parasite have infested the ship!" 'Vadumee exclaimed. "They mean to take ours as well!"

Autel couldn't believe it. From his limited experience with the Flood, they were numerous, brutal, and highly unstable. He never realized how cunning they were, nor that they had the patience to take over an entire warship so slowly and carefully.

The Sangheili aboard the Control Centre watched helplessly as the destroyer flew closer, leaking plasma and Flood biomass, but did not cut speed.

"Brace for impact!" 'Vadumee barked. Everyone clung to something.

There was a deafening boom as the destroyer collided with the Tenacious Predator. Several crew were thrown off their feet. Alarms rang through the Control Centre.

"Status!" the Commander shouted over the din.

"The Flood vessel has penetrated the cruiser!" a Sangheili reported. "They are spreading numerously all over the ship!"

Autel's hearts sank. Once the Flood got on board anything in such large numbers, it would be near impossible to hold them back.

"Tell everyone to evacuate," 'Vadumee said quietly, sounding not like the proud warrior he always portrayed, but a defeated commander who was forced to run dishonourably. "We are abandoning the ship. Autel, inform the Lieutenant as well. Ensure...the humans are safely evacuated first."

In this time, even the Fleet Master put his prejudice behind him. He knew what they had to do. Autel hurried out of the Control Centre, knowing what he would run into along the way.

"Prepare to make the jump to Slipstream space," 'Vadum ordered. The crew completed their system check and complied.

"Local ships, on my mark. The rest of you, I wish you well. I do not have to tell you that you must do whatever it takes to ensure the quarantine holds firm."

The Tenacious Predator was lost to the Flood. 'Vadum had called ships to destroy it, but it jumped to Slipspace, no doubt en route to Earth. The makeshift Fleet Master was given a carrier, the Shadow of Intent, and prepared to give chase, accompanied by a group of cruisers. After a quick meeting, where the Sangheili agreed to drop the "ee" suffix in their names to indicate their separatism, they were ready.

They had extracted ninety percent of crew on board, but the rest they couldn't get to or was consumed by the Flood. Autel knew that what was waiting at Earth wouldn't be pleasant, nor would the human forces be enough to repel them. So they had to hurry.

The fleet made the jump to Slipspace, en route for Earth at last.

The fleet returned to normal space in orbit around the human planet, Earth. They came over the continent Africa, and found the location of the crash site.

"Remain here," 'Vadum ordered the cruisers. "I shall deploy troops onto the surface."

The Shadow of Intent flew closer to the remains of the Tenacious Predator, and made a low approach. There were figures running around, human and Flood alike. It was obvious who was losing.

In the deployment bay, Autel activated his pod, and dropped to the surface with four other Sangheili. On their way down, he heard the Fleet Master speaking on all frequencies.

"Hail humans, and take heed. This is the carrier Shadow of Intent. Clear this sector, while we deal with the Flood."

Autel felt his drop pod lurch to a stop as it landed. He kicked opened his hatch, grabbed his Plasma Rifle, and leaped out. Immediately a Combat form was on him. He pedaled back, firing until the Flood was shot to bits. As they began to cut them down one by one, four other figures joined them.

Two of the Sangheili were N'tho 'Sraom and Usze 'Taham. The third was his father, Thel 'Vadam. The fourth was an armoured human.

Autel realized that he was a Spartan. It was the first time he saw one, and he realized how frightening the human looked. Although not as tall as a Sangheili, his body was entirely covered, giving the appearance of a machine.

The Spartan fired a three-round burst, hitting a Combat form dead centre in the chest. The infection form inside died, and the Flood died.

He was no doubt sharpshooter-deadly as well as powerful.

Autel heard his fellow Sangheili speaking with Thel.

"My brothers, I fear you bring bad news." The Arbiter said.

"High Charity has fallen, become a dreaded hive!" the Major replied grimly.

"And the Fleet? Has quarantine been broken?"

"A single ship broke through our line, and we gave chase."

"We had a fleet of hundreds!" Thel said disbelievingly.

"Alas brother, the Flood. It has evolved!"

As the group got closer to the Tenacious Predator, more voices were heard. Human ones.

"Master Chief, the Elites are looking for something. We didn't believe them when they told us." A female voice said.

"Elites"? Was that what the humans had always called them? It was a rather crude name, but at the same time flattering.

"It's Cortana, Chief!" A gruff male voice added. "She's on that ship! Find her — get her out!"

'Vadum had been very interested in what the AI had to say, from what Autel told him. But he didn't yet hear it.

The Flood became more numerous than ever, and the evolved Pure forms were proving very difficult to kill. A Sangheili was cut down as a Ranged form shot spikes all over him. Autel took cover, the sharp projectiles shooting off the wall. He needed a longer range weapon.

A Tank form came around the corner, and swung at him. Autel ducked, and the Spartan, the Master Chief, fired a Shotgun round between its tentacles, dropping it where it stood. Just in time, 'Pyron's Phantom flew in, deploying another group of Sangheili. The dropship's plasma turret cut down a few of the Flood, including the Ranged form, before flying away.

"Hurry, Demon!" the Major called. "We seek the same prize. But our Ship Master will sacrifice all to stop the Flood."

The squad found the hole in the Tenacious Predator where the destroyer had rammed it.

"I shall remain here," Thel said. "We will let nothing pass."

The Chief nodded, and dropped through the hole.

The squad spent a few minutes dealing with all the Flood in the area, before they confirmed it was clear. 'Pyronee flew in again.

"We must go," he said. "the Demon may destroy this ship soon. The Fleet Master also wants to hold a Council in the ship. The human leaders are there as well."

The Sangheili climbed aboard, not sorry to leave the Flood-infested hive.

"So the Prophet of Truth has escaped through the Portal?" 'Vadum asked.

"Yes, along with the entire fleet," an older male replied. He was obviously the commanding officer.

"We will follow, soon enough," the Fleet Master said. "In the meantime, we must discuss what is to become of your planet."

"The Flood will be contained," the human Admiral said stiffly.

"Do not be so sure. Even we have difficulty with holding them back. I suggest we glass the planet, before—"

"That will not be ideal," said not the human, but the Arbiter. Thel shook his head.

"The Flood has spread only through the city. We will not give them the chance to go any further. These humans will not be willing to give up this planet...and neither will I."

"They are risking infestation," 'Vadum said. "If this planet were to be complete Flood-controlled, that would be disastrous."

"Would you be so willing to glass your home planet, if the Flood were dormant there?" the Admiral asked. The Fleet Master did not answer.

"The parasite is becoming unstable," Thel said. "Destroying the cruiser will not be enough to bring that back. We need another solution."

There was silence. Finally, 'Vadum said, "We could bring our ships to burn the city. It is abandoned anyway, and it is the quickest and simplest."

"Very well," Thel said. "Do it."

The Admiral was about to object, but the young female shook her head. "It's the only way, sir."

The human sighed, and nodded.

Autel could see how difficult it was was them to watch the city being burned. They had no doubt seen this on their other colonies, and it was something that brought back many bitter memories.

The Control Centre doors opened, and the Chief entered...followed by the Monitor, 343 Guilty Spark.

"We have the construct," the AI said. As he set the device down on the central projector, he began probing it with a blue beam. Minutes ticked by as every eye was on him.

"Will it live, Oracle?" 'Vadum asked. "Can it be saved?"

"Uncertain," Spark replied. "This storage device has suffered considerable trauma. Its matrices are highly unstable."

The Admiral stepped forward. "Perhaps one of our technicians—"

"That will not be necessary." 'Vadum said firmly.

Cortana's hologram activated. "Chief!"

"Success!" Spark exclaimed triumphantly.

Autel listened as the AI relayed her recording again. The Control Centre was completely silent.

Cortana's hologram flickered, and was still.

"It's just a message." the Chief told 'Vadum.

"Let it play." The Fleet Master said.

Spark tapped the message device with another beam, and she began to speak again. Autel winced as she fell to her knees, gasping in pain. It was pitiful to watch.

Cortana's recording ended, her image staring with desperation at the Chief.

"I'm sorry..." Spark said softly.

"No matter, Oracle. We've heard enough." 'Vadum said, leaning back. "Our fight is through the Portal, with the Jiralhanae and the bastard Truth!"

The Sangheili around the room raise their forearms and roar in agreement. Autel felt no urge to join them.

"Fine," the Admiral said, "We'll remain here...hold out as long as we can."

"Did you not hear? Your world is doomed." 'Vadum stood up. "A Flood army, a Gravemind, has you in its sights! You barely survived a small contamination."

The human lost his temper. His eyes reflected the anger he had experienced upon the recent glassing. "And you, Ship Master, just glassed half a continent! Maybe the Flood isn't all I should be worried about..."

"One single Flood spore can destroy a species," 'Vadum said in a dangerously soft voice. "Were it not for the Arbiter's counsel, I would have glassed your entire planet!"

The Admiral was about to retort, when the female placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Sir, with respect, Cortana has a solution..." she said calmly.

"Cortana? Did you see her condition? How damaged she is? She could be corrupted for all we know. Her "solution" could be a Flood trap!"

"We should go through the Portal, find out for sure." The female insisted.

"What we should do Commander, is understand — clearly — that this is humanity's final stand — here — at Earth. We go, we risk everything; every last man, woman, and child. If we stand our ground, we might just have a chance."

"No," Thel said, speaking up at last. "If your construct is wrong, then the Flood has already won." He looked to the Chief.

"I'll find Cortana's solution. And I'll bring it back." The Spartan said.

The Admiral sighed. " all we have left. You trust Cortana that much?"

"Sir. Yes sir." It was clear that the Chief had a close relationship with the AI.

"Then this is either the best decision you've ever made or the worst. Hell if it is, Chief? I doubt I'll live long enough to find out which."

And without another word, the Admiral walked out of the Control Centre, followed by the humans and the Oracle.

"Leave us," 'Vadum said. "We must preparing for the coming battle. Find all weapons you can get and gather them in the hangar bay."

The Sangheili dispersed as well, and Autel walked with Thel out of the room.

Chapter 10: The Ark

The trip through the Portal did not take a long time as it was different from a Slipstream space jump. The effect was instantaneous, and there was no feeling of movement. When the energy faded around them, the fleet was hovering over an eight-pronged construct. Almost immediately, enemy ships began pressing towards them.

"Brute ships! Staggered line." A crew member reported. "Ship Master! They outnumber us three to one!"

'Vadum wasn't too worried. "Then it is an even fight. All cruisers, fire at will! Burn their mongrel hides!"

As Autel awaited deployment aboard the Phantom, he could see the human frigates, Forward Unto Dawn and Aegis Fate, prepping Pelicans and getting for battle. Thel had remained aboard the UNSC vessel when they went through the Portal. He was with the Chief.

The Phantom in front of them flew out of the hangar, and 'Pyron followed. The gravity around them disappeared.

"Seraph fighters, coming up fast!" 'Tullum called, bringing his dropship into a tight loop, which was not easy with antigravity boosters.

"I see them," 'Pyron said, swerving the Phantom around the incoming ships. He increased the speed and pedalled after the first Phantom.

Something exploded next to them. Autel didn't get a chance to see what it was though.

"More enemy fighters below us," 'Tullum said, "They're trying to stop our descent."

"As if they can," 'Pyron retorted, turning the Phantom. "Follow my ship."

The two dropships moved through a cluster of Longswords and Seraphs. Both pilots pulled through, but two of their pursuers collided with their own fighters and exploded. The third was turned into molten slag by the UNSC attack craft.

'Tullum laughed. "Barbarians. They are not meant to handle ships."

The Phantoms swooped downward again as gravity began to return. "We are entering the atmosphere," 'Pyron said. "Watch for a good landing zone."

They approached the surface of the Installation, which was covered in miles of sand. As 'Pyron and 'Tullum opened the hatches, Autel leaped out, followed by Kei 'Oltem and the squad's sharpshooter, 'Antinr. On the second dropship, the non-Special Operations team also moved out of the Phantom. Autel exchanged a look with Fira, and they moved across the sand. As the dropships flew off, Sona 'Demal led them up a cliffside.

The first group of enemies was waiting there. The squad opened fire at once, with the Ultra cutting through their numbers with his Energy Sword. 'Antinr didn't seem uncomfortable using a Particle Beam Rifle in close range, as his shots were deadly accurate. As the Sangheili slowly fought their way up, Autel reloaded his Carbine, and Sona led them towards a cluster of rocks at the top of the cliff.

As they reached the stony ridge, a clear view of the flat desert was seen. In the distance, Anti-air Wraiths fired glowing green plasma at the Banshees and Hornets swooping around the air.

"Excellency," 'Antinr pointed at the vague outline of a massive structure. Its size was impressive, and its conspicuous importance was emphasized by the dense blockade of Jiralhanae ships above it.

"We should get closer," Sona said. He called in 'Pyron and 'Tullum, and as they climbed aboard, the former told them what was going on over the frequency. "The humans have spotted that structure as well. They think it is the map room, but were unable to fix its location."

'Tullum snorted. "What was it that Sergeant said? 'They nearly got their wings shot off'."

"We cannot drop you too close to the structure," 'Pyron said. "Those Wraiths will have to be dealt with soon. But if you approach the Cartographer, if that's what it is, and transmit a signal, we will receive the coordinates and the Spartan will be there shortly."

The Phantoms dropped them off again at a lowlying trench, and took off quickly.

"What do you see?" Sona asked.

"It is very heavily guarded," 'Antinr said, looked away from the scope of his Beam Rifle. "And they will have snipers, no doubt. We will be in the open far too long, and the Kig-Yar will pick off half our numbers before we reach the structure."

Autel had an idea. Turning to Sona, he said, "If the Special Operations squad moves towards the structure camouflaged, we can find the map room."

The Ultra thought about it. "A good plan. Go, we will watch for any trouble. I trust you will be successful, Autel."

Eight Sangheili faded into invisibility, their movements impossible to discern from the wavering heat in the desert.

Autel made no noise as he walked up the structure's ramp. It was so much bigger up close.

Their mission wasn't to enter the Cartographer, they were to confirm its location. That meant they had to get around the structure and find a sign of the map room.

Killing the team wouldn't do any lasting damage. The blockade would send down more when the last shift didn't return.

The structure was built so that the ground surrounding it was attached to it, and beyond that, a gigantic waterfall roared. The way in was locked, and the unit would be easily overwhelmed if they were spotted.

There was a narrow edge on the wall of the Cartographer, where the team could shimmy across, but it would be easy to fall, especially because Sangheili legs could not be held straight. There were no grips. It would require balance.

Autel did not like the idea, but knew there was no other choice but to go across that way. They had already sent the coordinates in case the squad was killed, but had yet to find the map room. As they slowly moved across the wall for several subunits, two of the Sangheili fell off, but they finally made it where the wall curved. The edge became one of many supporting struts of a structure above.

On the other side, another column of identical struts also jutted out and bent inward, towards—

"That must be the map room," 'Oltem said, pointing upward. Autel saw a holographic projector, which seemed to be waiting for activation. The space between the struts were enough to contain a large hologram.

Autel activated his COM. "'Pyron, the structure is the map room. We are returning to the landing zone now. It may...take a while."

"I understand," the pilot said. "I will relay it to Sergeant Johnson."

The Sangheili slowly made their way back to the relative safety of the sand. They lost another Sangheili, and 'Oltem slipped, but Autel managed to press him against the wall, gripping the edge with his hooves and barely stopping himself from falling. Finally, the survivors headed back to Sona, telling him what they had found, and a little while later 'Pyron and 'Tullum dropped in and picked up the team.

Autel was still tense from their harrowing trip. He leaned against the Phantom's wall and forced himself to relax. Gravity was an enemy that you couldn't fight, and it had made the recon mission more terrifying than the Flood threat.

The Phantoms flew in formation between the five UNSC Pelicans. The ocean glittered beneath them, and the tree formations in the distance meant that the crossing was nearly over.

"We hit these three generators, and the barrier will fall?" the human Commander, Keyes, asked.

"A small section, yes." Spark replied.

"Good enough. Johnson, drop the Chief at the first generator, then head to the third. The Elites will punch right down the middle."

"Roger that," Sergeant Johnson replied.

The seven dropships broke formation. Three Pelicans flew one way, two the other. 'Pyron's Phantom led 'Tullum's towards the middle tower.

This time, Thel was coming with them, as were 'Sraom and 'Taham. As the Phantoms swooped away from the trees and to the tower, the dropship immediately began taking heavy fire. The Sangheili jumped out, engaging immediately.

Autel fired his Plasma Rifle, taking down the softest targets first, the Unggoy. He sidestepped a Kig-Yar firing blue bolts into its body. A second one spun to face him, holding its shield in front of him, and Fira crushed its skull with his Needle pistol.

The Jiralhanae forces outside was easily eliminated, and the squad pressed into the structure, fighting their way through to the second level and up an elevator.

Through the glass, a group of Jiralhanae was waiting for them, including a War Chieftain holding a Fuel Rod. He fired three shots, the deadly bolts flying towards them.

"Scatter!" Thel ordered, and the squad took cover behind walls and on the low side of the ramps. They cut down the Brutes, and the Arbiter dashed for the Chieftain.

The alien fired two more bolts, which Thel dodged, and before the Brute could reload, he stepped in, slashing furiously. The Chieftain fell, two deep cuts in his chest.

Autel shot down the last Jiralhanae, and Thel moved to the panel and deactivated the shield.

The squad headed back outside, where the Phantoms were waiting for them.

"Bad news," 'Pyron said. "Sergeant Johnson couldn't deactivate the third tower. The enemies overwhelmed his squad, and he is missing. We have lost the element of surprise, Truth may know what we are planning."

"That incompetent human," one of the Sangheili growled. Thel shot him a look that Autel hoped he would never have to see directed at him.

"The Spartan is on his way to the third tower," 'Tullum added, as they flew a short distance across the water, which was now filled with aircraft. "We should help him."

The Phantoms touched down next to a destroyed Wraith, and the squad pulled out. As Autel joined the Marines, and followed the Chief into the structure, a pair of Mgalekgolo ran at them.

Autel's blood ran cold, but the Spartan seemed to have been prepared. Pulling out a large cannon gun, he charged it and fired a lance of red laser at the alien, burning through the worms and melting most of its armour. The second one gave an angry roar but was pasted by the Fuel Rod 'Sraom had picked up from the Chieftain. A swarm of Yanme'e flew in but seemed easy to deal with by the humans' Battle Rifles.

The squad moved to the second floor, and after taking down several squads of Jiralhanae the Yanme'e returned. "Darken this tower, and the barrier will fall!" Thel called. "Go, Spartan! We have no time to lose." The Chief hurried onto the elevator, leaving the Sangheili to shoot down the drones.

The squad moved back down to the first level, and waited for the Spartan to return.

A loud crash was heard, and moments later, a horde of Flood burst through the door. Caught unawares, the Sangheili retaliated, and managed to press them down.

"The humans!" Autel shouted, dashing outside. He saw the Marines engaging the Flood, and a cluster of Infection forms dove at a Sergeant.

The young Sangheili fired full automatic, destroying as many as he could. Two survivors latched onto the human.

Autel dashed forward, dropping his weapons, and pulled them off. He squeezed hard, popping them. He dropped the tentacles and shook the drops of slime off his hands.

The Chief had come back outside, along with the rest of the squad. Commander Keyes' voice was heard.

"Ship Master's carrier is out of commission, Chief. I need you to take down Truth. The Flood's just going to put pressure on him; accelerate his plans. Punch through the cliffs! Get inside that Citadel!"

What had happened? he thought, but there was no time to ask questions. A pair of Pelicans had come in and dropped a Scorpion tank, a Warthog reconnaissance vehicle, and a Mongoose ATV. Autel leaped aboard the Warthog turret, gripping the firing mechanisms and crouching slightly so he could look through the scope. Thel took the driver seat, and 'Sraom sat beside him holding the Fuel Rod.

Behind them, the Chief and a squad of Marines boarded the tank, and the vehicles moved through the cave.

They had left the grassy hills behind them, and entered a snowy passage between two high mountains. There were lots of Jiralhanae clustered there, but the vehicles had lots of heavy firepower.

"Citadel in sight!" a human pilot announced. "Brutes are mobilizing everything they've got."

Autel looked through the scope, aimed at an incoming Prowler, and fired.

A glowing slug flew out of the barrel with surprising force and pounded the front of the vehicle, nearly flipping it over. He fired again, and four Jiralhanae were consumed in an explosion.

Thel drove the Warthog around the edge, and saw a Wraith coming up. 'Sraom fired his Fuel Rod, killing the tank's gunner and blowing off the hatch. Autel fired three times, destroying the Wraith.

A pair of Banshees swooped in, flying in the turret's blindspot and firing. Autel took one hand off the trigger and reached for his rifle, when a deafening boom was heard behind them.

The Scorpion had caught up, and the Chief shot one of the Banshees out of the sky. The second one swerved to avoid the cannon tracking it, and Autel vaporized it with a single shot.

"Hornets inbound!" announced the Sergeant he saved earlier. Two of the UNSC aircraft dropped in, and Thel stopped the Warthog. The Chief moved the Scorpion next to them and climbed out. To Autel's surprise, the Spartan took his laser cannon off his back and handed it to him. 'Taham moved off the tank's jumpseat and climbed aboard Thel's Hornet, joined by 'Sraom. He then took off.

Autel saw that the Chief took the other aircraft, and he jumped on. A Marine holding a Rocket Launcher boarded the other side.

There was a deep roar, and something big dropped onto the ground, shaking rocks off the cliff and spraying snow everywhere. It was followed by a second one.

"I count two Scarabs!" a pilot said. "Repeat, two Scarabs!"

Thel flew for the nearest one, and the Chief moved the Hornet to the one on the far side. Banshees flew around them.

The Spartan shot one of them down with the ship's missiles, and Autel charged up the laser, and blasted the second one apart. He also managed to destroy two Ghosts and a Chopper before they made an attack run on the Scarab.

The Chief fired the missiles again, and chipped away at the power core's protective shell. The Scarab turned to face them. Its massive cannon charged up.

The Spartan swerved the Hornet, but its plasma beam lashed against the vehicle's massive engines, and it lurched forward. Autel was thrown off the seat and fell onto the walker.

A Kig-Yar spotted him and raised a carbine, but he flattened it with the laser gun. He grabbed a plasma cannon, ripped it off its hinges, and decided to help destroy the Scarab. He found the reactor, shot the shield until it deactivated, and aimed the laser gun. He fired, hitting the core dead-centre. The blue orb began to pulse red, and without further ado Autel ran for the top level.

It was a very long drop, and he wouldn't survive it. But maybe the destruction of the Scarab would ensure that Truth was defeated, and the payoff of his life would be worth it.

A Hornet dropped in beside him, and he realized that the Chief had come back for him. The young Sangheili jumped on board, and the aircraft managed to get out of range when a blue-white explosion tore the Scarab apart.

"First Scarab's down! All units, concentrate your fire on number two." Keyes said.

The Chief turned the Hornet to the second walker helping Thel destroy the power core's cover. Below them, the Warthog, Scorpion, and Mongoose was commandeered by the Marines, along with other captured Jiralhanae vehicles, and they were firing at its legs.

Two missiles streaked out, destroying the cover, and 'Sraom emptied his Fuel Rod clip at the power core. It flashed crimson, and all vehicles moved away as fast as he could.

A second explosion echoed through the cliffs. There was silence.

"Both Scarabs down, well done." Keyes said. "Marines, kill the stragglers."

'Pyron's Phantom flew in and landed at the Citadel's platform, dropping off 343 Guilty Spark. The Chief followed Thel's Hornet there.

"Spark has found a way into the Citadel. He's waiting for you on the platform, Chief. Go!"

As the aircraft was landed, The Arbiter drew his Energy Sword, joined by the Chief. "The Flood scales the Citadel's far wall. Activate this bridge, Oracle! The Prophet will die by my hands, not theirs," he said to the Spartan.

"Calamity!" Spark exclaimed, activating an energy bridge. "If only we had more time!"

As the two entered the Citadel, Autel watched as 'Sraom took over flying the Hornet. He took the pilot's seat also, flying away from the battlefield. He had no doubt they would do whatever it took to kill Truth and stop the activation. It was over at last.


Autel watched as 'Pyron's dropship returned with Thel. The Arbiter stepped out, glancing at him with a sombre expression. He followed his father out of the hangar, and towards the Control Centre.

He had heard what had happened. Truth had captured Sergeant Johnson, and Commander Keyes died trying to rescue him. Thel and the Chief made it in time to stop the activation, and the Arbiter had killed Truth. They then went to find the AI, Cortana, to destroy the Ark, and a new Installation 04. 343 Guilty Spark had taken exception to their plan, and mortally injured Johnson, and they were forced to destroy him and leave the Sergeant to die. During their return to the frigate, Forward Unto Dawn, the ship was sheared in half when it was in the Portal, and Thel was separated from the Chief. The Spartan was most likely dead.

Yes, the war was finally over, but it had cost so many lives. And although they had only been allied with the humans for a short time, Autel still felt each death as a pain in his hearts.

Was it worth it? The Covenant was gone. What had they been fighting for?

They reached the Control Centre. 'Vadum was examining a hologram of the humans' planet, Earth, and this time, there was no contempt in his eyes.

"Things look different without the Prophets' lies clouding my vision," he said. "I would like to see our own world — to know that it is safe."

Thel approached him. "Fear not. For we have made it so," he said, clenching a fist to his chest.

"By your word, Arbiter," 'Vadum said, doing so as well.

Thel sat in the chair that had been used to seat only the San'Shyuum.

"Take us home."

The Shadow of Intent flew up and away from Earth, and rejoined the cruisers waiting for them in space. 'Vadum issued orders to head, at last, for Sanghelios.

Yes, it had been worth it, Autel realized. And we — Sangheili and humans alike — were fighting for what we had held dear more than anything else — our families, awaiting our return for so long. The feeling of peace, which had eluded us for ages in this long and bitter war. And most of all, a place of well-being.

A place to call home.

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