0450 Hours, December 16, 2548 (UNSC Military Calendar)
The Vadam Keep was not as glorious in appearance as it was in reputation for renown. It was not a place of best comfort, or a well-defended estate by means of design or security. Its physical condition was far below the glory that the Vadam family had earned through the ages.
We are not to be judged by such simplistic things, Autel 'Vadam thought as he trudged down the staircase. A warrior earns his own glory. I do not believe in following my family's legacy and living in their collective reputation. I believe in making my own.
Indeed, the Vadam family was well known for its individuals who were distinguished for their accomplishments and lofty titles. Back in the Age of Reconciliation, Arbiter Ther 'Vadam led the armadas that hunted down the Evaniptii to near extinction after they spread lies about the Halo rings. The revered Covenant Fleet of Particular Justice was led by the legendary Thel 'Vadamee, and not even the San'Shyuum had been able to erase them back in the days when they fought wars against the Sangheili. Having recently graduated from the military academy, Autel had yet to join the ranks in the Covenant to earn his honour and glory. But this did not concern him greatly. I will leave my own stories in time to be remembered.
Grasping his belongings, Autel opened the doors and stepped out of the keep. Taking in the breathtaking view of the Kolaar mountains that concealed the Vadam Keep, he could see the first sun rising over the distant horizon. The State of Vadam was below the mountains, where the non-military Sangheili and the females lived. And on the other side of the mountain range were neighbouring states, bays, and oceans that lined the countryside. He remembered taking in the view many times in his childhood, and it was still as spectacular as it always had been. His mentors had taught him to observe his surroundings, not just to see it, but to fully appreciate it. It would be a long time before he would stand here again, gazing across the land to watch the sunrise.
"Autel!" someone called. He turned towards the voice, and saw two Sangheili standing at the top of the path that wound from the Vadam Keep into the state. One of them was Lak 'Vadamee, an elder Sangheili who was a very powerful warrior back in his day. The other, younger than his companion but still seasoned, wore a set of golden armour that glinted in the rays of the sun. Autel held back a gasp when he realized who it was. Unmistakably, the person standing before him was Supreme Commander Thel 'Vadamee! What brought him here?
"The Kaidon has agreed to escort you for your departure, Autel," Lak explained. Autel was speechless for a moment, unsure whether he should say something. Then he remembered to be respectful, and clenched his fist, set it over his own chest, and bowed his head. "Your presence is an honour, Kaidon," he said. It was odd. Thel must be extremely busy, what was he doing at the Keep? Nonetheless, it would sound impolite, even downright impudent, to question him about such a matter. Thel gave a curt nod, and said, "Come," and began walking down the path. Autel looked back at Lak, who said, "Until we meet again."
"And the Journey shall reunite us if otherwise," Autel replied, hurrying down the path after Thel.
As the estate faded out of sight and the young Sangheili descended the mountain, the only sounds were the rustling of the thickening forest and the light thuds of Thel's footfalls. Autel walked up beside him, trying to read the warrior's expressionless face. The Supreme Commander's dark eyes glinted with the shafts of sunlight that peeked through the lush leaves, but he remained silent and impassive.
Finally, after almost reaching the outskirts of the state, they stepped onto a narrow path that split off from the mountain's main ridge. Thel said, "There is someone we will see before we leave the state."
"Who is it, Excellency?" Autel enquired, careful to be respectful.
"The Seer of Sanghelios."
The Seer of Sanghelios lived in the State of Vadam. She lived alone like all females of the Sangheili, but preferring the solitude of the Kolaar mountains, she was particularly isolated. The Seer could predict the most obscure things, and determine outcomes of an event long before anyone would even know of its beginning. Disconcertingly enough, she always right, even if it wasn't in the way most expected. She preferred to be discreet, however, and her subtlety was something not many could fathom. "You cannot become dependent on my vision," the Seer had said to many who asked her for advice, "You must rely upon your own." Wisely stated, Autel thought. Strangely, the Seer was also his mother.
Autel had wondered why he was not dark-skinned like the rest of his species. It may have had something to do with the Seer, but she had never spoken of it. When he asked, she had replied, "You are what was meant to be. Do not become discontent with the way of things."
Thel stopped at an ancient, low-roofed cabin, and gently pushed open the door. As he stepped inside, Autel followed, squinting to see into the almost windowless room.
Close by, a light suddenly flickered and formed a bright ball. A short female Sangheili with dull but watchful eyes held a candle in her long fingers, standing next to Thel. The light was reflected on his armour and in the Seer's pupils.
The Seer wasn't particularly aged, but her isolation had not kept her healthy. Her eyes and skin was a lighter shade of grey than most, her clothing was old and tattered, and her voice was slightly raspy. A mark was branded above her collarbone: two opposing arcs, with three overlapping circles and a dash through them. Autel recognized it as a mark of mating. Her spouse would bear the same mark upon his skin. "You have come," she whispered.
If Thel was spooked by her behaviour, he gave no sign of it. "Yes," he said, "but our time is scarce. So do not hold us up."
Autel had rarely entered the Seer's quarters, and was slightly unnerved by its appearance. Sanghelios did not lack technology, but he could see that she had not cared for light simulators, and opted for candles instead. The only room was cramped, and he could not identify the few objects he could see.
"If you would wait outside, Supreme Commander," she said. Thel nodded, and stepped out, shutting the door with a creak.
"Autel," the Seer whispered. "You are to become one of the Covenant."
"Yes," the young Sangheili said. Most of his kind didn't know their mothers very well, but he found it especially difficult to know what to think of her. She was strange, of course, but when thinking about her, he found that he saw her not as a mother, but someone he merely knew of no more than anyone else did.
"What are your feelings upon this phase in your life?"
Autel was silent. He did not expect a Seer to ask him of his feelings.
"Are you eager to prove yourself? To become a warrior to create his legacy, unforgotten for eons?"
"I wish to serve loyally, and to find the Path," Autel replied. "It would satisfy me to bring salvation to the Covenant."
The Seer sighed. "The Path...the Great Journey...such promises. The San'Shyuum judge upon the physical creations of the Forerunners. I hold no such hope for them in my heart."
Autel knew of the Seer's scepticism of the Journey, and had a member of the Covenant repeated her words, they would have been punished for their heresy.
"Be wary, my child," she said, "the Covenant have fought the humans throughout the Age of Reclamation, and none of us have seen why." The female Sangheili's eyes flashed with a startling brightness, and she spoke as if in a trance. "There is treachery among the Hierarchs...one who seeks power over the others...he will turn his back upon them when his Path is clear to him...his secrets are dark..." The Seer blinked, gazing at the astonished Autel. She has spoken ill of the Hierarchs! What does this mean? He could not believe that the High Prophets would be treacherous, but he could not doubt the Seer either. Hesitantly, he asked, "What else do you see?"
The Seer closed her eyes. "There will be betrayal within the Covenant. Calamity will strike Sanghelios. You will meet your closest ally, who will not fight alongside you when you are needed most." Autel had not expected her to suddenly speak of him, but when she had said was no less surprising.
Sunlight filled the room as Thel entered. "We must go," he said.
Calamity will strike Sanghelios...
Autel moved to leave, then looked back at the Seer. "Will I see you again?"
He could have sworn she appeared hesitant for a moment, but she said, "Yes." Autel considered asking her if something was wrong, but decided not to. All the same, he wondered if she was hiding something. But Seers could not lie, and before he could say anything, she slipped something into his hand. He stepped outside, awkwardly saying, "Goodbye." She did not believe in the Great Journey, so it would have been an insult to speak of it to her as he left. Still, the young Sangheili wondered if she had known something he didn't.
Then again, that is what makes Seers so extraordinary, he thought, and decided not to dwell on it too much.
Chapter 1: Stoic Courier
Time 7:45:06:33 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), eighteenth sunrise shift of the first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 8th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: State of Vadam, Yermo, Sanghelios
0520 Hours, December 16, 2548 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Thel did not ask Autel what the Seer had told him. But as they approached the outskirts where the State of Vadam bordered three other states, he asked, "What has she given you?"
The younger Sangheili opened his hand. It was a thin metal ring, but with an energy stasis field where the jewel would be. Contained inside was some glowing, unshaped plasma.
"You are to keep it with you at all times," the Supreme Commander said. "The Seer has reasons to place that in your possession." Absently, Autel slipped it onto his finger. Thel continued to gaze at the ring. "What is our purpose, as Sangheili, in the Covenant?"
Autel was suprised at the sudden question, but replied, "To protect the Prophets as they find the Path. To be faithful and to serve with conviction."
"Perhaps," Thel said, "but there is more. There may be...complications. Our Covenant does not always stand together."
"Are you referring to the Age of Conflict, Excellency?" During the time the Sangheili had fought a bloody war against the San'Shyuum. Both races had believed in the Great Journey, but went through different means to find it. Differences had turned into hatred, and many had died before the two species had decided to form a Covenant.
But Thel shook his head. "Even now, we are still not as we ought to be. And I have held onto secrets that I could never forget." The Supreme Commander looked away. "There are those in the Covenant who would give their lives," he said softly. "For honour; for the Great Journey; for everything they fight for. But sometimes, we bring ourselves too eagerly to death. We do not see what many have been blinded by. Sometimes, we must cast aside our honour to live another day. For the Covenant may need us when the time comes, and if our true purpose is to serve, then we must play our part, vow to give up our honour, for the sake and future of the Covenant."
"Why are you telling me this, Excellency?" Autel couldn't help but be reminded of the Seer's words.
Thel blinked, and looked back to the young Sangheili. "We are honourable. Our many traditions have shamed us, and given us distinction. We have looked death in the eyes, and we have been unafraid of it. And it is considered dishonourable to place our own lives before the Covenant. I had always thought of this as true, but recently..." he sighed. "Come."
Autel realized that they were standing in front of a Covenant dropship. Its hatches were open, and some Sangheili were already waiting to its seats.
The pilot bowed his head when he saw Thel. The Supreme Commander strapped himself to a seat, and Autel did likewise next to him.
A pair of Sangheili joined them, occupying the last two seats, and the pilot closed the hatches, and activated the antigravity field located between the dropship's twin bows. The aircraft hummed as it lifted off into the sky.
Autel looked out through the crack where the hatch met the hull. Other dropships were flying around as well, but their destinations were obvious. The mobile military city called Stoic Courier, where Sangheili would train before becoming part of the Covenant.
The structure was attached to an even larger city, the legendary Covenant capital High Charity, where the San'Shyuum resided. Numerous warships were clustered there, and in the centre was the flagship Seeker of Truth. These vessels were no other than the Fleet of Particular Justice, led by Thel 'Vadamee. So it wasn't just the Supreme Commander who was present, his entire fleet was here!
Sanghelios (bottom left), with orbiting moons Suban and Qikost. Stoic Courier is hovering not far off (top right).
The other Sangheili aboard the dropship were just as awed, watching the massive group of ships clustered there. As the pilot flew them into a hangar of Stoic Courier and opened the hatches, Thel said, "Come." Autel felt the energy straps binding him to his seat deactivate, and he stepped down the dropship's curved hatches.
There were three other dropships inside the hangar bay, with recruits piling out. They were all grouping where a large plasma screen was displayed over the entire wall.
"Find where your dormitory is," Thel told him. "I shall have a word with the
Field Master before I depart."
Autel had heard that the Sangheili in charge of Stoic Courier was Field Master Bata 'Noromee, a powerful but reckless warrior. He had won many victories in the field, but also compromised the lives of his troops for the sake of victory. 'Noromee had been reassigned, personally by the Prophets, and placed in charge of the training of Sangheili on Stoic Courier.
"I thank you for your presence," Autel said, bowing his head, "I am honoured."
Thel nodded, and clenched a fist to his own chest. "I wish you well."
Autel watched him walking off into the main facility, and felt slightly apprehensive.
The young Sangheili shook his head and approached the crowd of recruits. Some stared at him with suspicion, interest, and fear, but he ignored them. His sharp eyes quickly spotted his name on the giant roster. Dormitory 774-C. Beside the list of -A to -F was a map showing the way to Dormitory 774. Autel quickly memorised the route and looked around at the many doors in the hangar. Each had a pair of Sangheili sentries guarding it. As the dropships departed and more entered, some recruits were heading for the various doors. One of them had "762-778" in glowing words hovering above it, and Autel entered through it.
It didn't take long to find Dormitory 774. All 16 of them were adjacent in a long hallway. As he stepped into a smaller hall, he saw that none of the other recruits assigned to Dormitory 774 were here yet. As he looked for the sixth room, the door to the main hall opened, and another Sangheili entered. He did not give Autel a strange look, but rather said, "Greetings."
"Greetings," he replied.
The doors opened again before they could continue to speak, and the Sangheili nodded and entered his dormitory, 774-F. Autel opened his own door and looked around.
It was a single room, with a few objects. A bed was at the far end, and a table with a single chair. Autel opened his belongings and found his uniform. He was adjusting his boots when there was a knocking on the door.
"Enter," he said. The doors slid open, and the Sangheili he had spoken to walked in. His uniform was already on.
Autel activated the energy generators on the chair and offered it to him.
"Thank you," the Sangheili said, sitting down. "I am Fira, of the State of Demal."
"I am Autel, of the State of Vadam."
Fira looked amazed. "Vadam? You are in the same family tree as Thel 'Vadamee?"
"Yes," Autel said. "Although how I am related to him is unknown."
"My family is not currently very active in the Covenant. My only known relative who is part of the military is Sona 'Demalee. But during the Age of Doubt, there were many of our line whom had fought against the humans."
"What had happened to them?"
"They had died out," Fira said, "They were killed during the many ground battles upon the alien worlds."
"Surely not by humans?" Autel had always thought the humans were inferior in strength to the Sangheili.
"It must have been. I had heard they had created very powerful soldiers that could best ours. They were called..." Fira thought for a moment. "...'Spartans'. There are very few of them, but they have been known to be dangerous foes."
A voice was heard on the broadcast channel. "All recruits, report to the training facility."
"That is Bata 'Noromee," Fira said, stand up. "Come."
Autel followerd him down the hallways, and into the streets of Stoic Courier. Many other Sangheili were coming out of their dormitories and going in one direction: the training facility.
Chapter 2: The Veteran
Time 7:47:49:85 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), eighteenth sunrise shift of the first month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 8th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant mobile military city Stoic Courier, in orbit around Sanghelios
0700 hours, December 16, 2548 (UNSC Military Calendar)
The training facility wasn't too far from the dormitories. There was a lot of flat ground, a few pools of water, and a short building in the middle of it.
A pair of Sangheili guards were posted at the doors, and as the recruits walked into the facility, Autel looked around. The grounds were bigger than five dormitories put together.
As more recruits entered and the grounds began to crowd, the plasma doors shut. A platform began to rise from the centre of the facility, and all eyes were drawn to it. Standing upon it was a gold-armoured Sangheili. Field Master Bata 'Noromee.
The warrior was a legend. He had many battle scars upon his body, and was missing fingers, mandibles, and was blind in one eye. He regarded them sternly.
"Recruits," 'Noromee said, "You have proven yourselves when you graduated from the Academy, and are ready to become a part of the Covenant. You will learn combat at one of Stoic Courier's many training facilities, and you will do your absolute best to join the search for the Path. Find honour for yourselves and the Covenant, and when the Great Journey calls to you, you will ascend to holiness."
Autel couldn't help but think of what the Seer had said about the Great Journey as 'Noromee made his speech. But he kept listening.
The platform began to lower. "Your training begins now." The Field Master said. "Form lines and await your instructions."
As Autel stepped into line behind Fira, a group of Sangheili walked amongst them, handing out helmets and what looked like Plasma Rifles. Autel briefly thought back to what he learned from the Academy, but did not have any idea how to use the helmet. He put it on, but all it did was place a weight on his head.
"Here," Fira said, walking over. He had already figured out how to operate his own headpiece. He adjusted something on Autel's helmet. Something flashed on, and four diagonal lines appeared in the middle of his vision. It was a targeting reticle for his rifle.
Autel nodded. "Thank you."
'Noromee looked around to see that everyone was ready. He pressed something in his hand, and suddenly Autel saw hundreds of teal arrows displayed.
"Each of you have been marked with a red arrow," 'Noromee said, "That is your target. Everyone else has a blue arrow. Find your target, and tag him with your rifle. These are simulated rounds, but beware. Your target may not necessarily be your hunter. You can use only your rifles for this exercise. You are not to tag anyone else. Once you have been eliminated, your helmet will deactivate. Wait for the exercise to end on the field's far side. Begin."
The whine of plasma fire drowned out all sound as some found their targets immediately. Autel looked around for a red arrow, but it was difficult to see. He moved around, looking in all directions, but still all he could see was teal.
There! A red mark appeared momentarily before being covered by three blue points. Autel moved towards it, but realized it was merely a distant beacon light. Looking around, he still couldn't see it. Blue marks were beginning to disappear from the display as more recruits were eliminated.
Autel saw it this time. A red arrow. It was pointing at a Sangheili who was facing away, unawares. He raised his rifle, and was about to pull the trigger when a running Sangheili bumped into him, knocking him to the ground. As a second recruit ran after it, Autel stood up. His target was gone again.
Looking around again, he realized a recruit was pointing a rifle at him. Realizing he was being targeted, Autel ducked and ran through the crowd. He heard the sound of his hunter desperately firing at him, unintentionally tagging other recruits while doing so. He burst out of a crowd and spotted his target, and raised his rifle.
The recruit saw him. He raised his rifle at the same time and they both fired.
Autel's helmet registered the "shots" but did not deactivate. However, the other Sangheili removed his helmet and walked off.
Autel heard plasma firing behind him. His helmet's display flashed twice and deactivated. He removed the headpiece.
'Noromee walked over to the other recruit, with Autel's target following him. "Come," he said to them.
The Field Master gave the two Sangheili a long glare. "You were to tag your target only. You," he indicated Autel's target, "had attempted to fire upon your hunter, and you," he looked over to the other recruit, "had tagged seven Sangheili before you found your target. You have disobeyed me. Both of you are to leave Stoic Courier immediately."
Autel noticed that there were other recruits whom were being escorted out of the training facility by the guards. As the two Sangheili joined them in shame, he approached 'Noromee.
"Well done, young one," the Field Master said.
"Forgive me, Excellency," Autel said, "But was that not overly severe? They were only recruits."
"A soldier," 'Noromee said sternly, "must know obedience from the start. That is no less for Sangheili. They had become desperate and reckless without commitment, and would tarnish our name. Our Covenant has remained powerful because of our strict laws, and so it shall remain."
Autel watched as the veteran walked off, and thought about his words. If commitment had mattered so much to him, he thought, Then why had he wasted so many lives of his troops during his campaigns?
Chapter 3: An Undeserved Death
Time 4:92:24:06 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), sixth sunrise shift of the fourteenth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, Based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant mobile military city Stoic Courier, in orbit around Sanghelios moon Suban
0230 Hours, July 22, 2551 (UNSC Military Calendar)
"You may be wondering why I have brought you here today," Bata 'Noromee said. "It is for a demonstration."
Stoic Courier's had a single stadium. But if the training facilities were big, then the stadium was colossal. A Covenant frigate would probably fit in the arena itself and have room to move around.
Autel was seated in the front rows, watching the Mgalekgolo inside the arena moving restlessly. Fira, seated beside him, was looking at 'Noromee, who had not explained why they were not training today.
After the recruits' first day at the facility, it was not often that the Field Master would be training them. There were many other facilities he would oversee, and on other times, dealing with something in the main facility. 'Noromee had ended training early and announced that all recruits were to meet at the stadium today.
"Our fight against the humans have lasted for an entire Age," 'Noromee continued, "and we have killed their soldiers, destroyed their ships, and burned their planets without failure. We have done this out of our superiority in strength, numbers, and technology.
"But, the humans are not all weak. We have fought with powerful, armoured ones during the ground battles. They have seemed impossible to kill, and have caused us many problems. I myself have witnessed this..." The Field Master's right hand twitched, the three fingers clenching.
"Spartans," Fira said.
"Early in the Age of Reclamation, hundreds of them have been called to protect the place the humans call 'Pegasi Delta'. We believe we have killed them all. We were mistaken. We have captured one of the humans that very same Age period. He has been kept prisoner and interrogated. As the human is of no more use to us, I have request that he be brought to Stoic Courier for execution. And we shall all see just how powerful he is."
As the energy barrier in one of the arena's doorways deactivated, all recruits watched it. But nothing moved in the darkness.
"Why is he not escaping?" Autel asked. Fira was gazing at it with intent.
A Mgalekgolo pair slowly advanced on the doorway.
Something leaped out of the darkness, so quick it was a blur. It sidestepped the two Hunters and moved into the open.
One of the Mgalekgolo raised its plasma cannon and fired, but was too slow. The Spartan evaded it easily. As a second pair of Mgalekgolo tried to trap it, and the human moved quickly. One of the other Hunters had fired and accidentally wounded its bond brothers.
The Spartan closed in on the wounded Hunter, who raised its gigantic shield to crush his skull. The human's hands ripped into its exposed "belly", tearing out the worms in the Mgalekgolo. The alien groaned and died.
A Sangheili guard stood up with a Plasma Rifle, but 'Noromee held up a hand. "Sit." The guard hesitantly obeyed.
Autel could tell that the Spartan was becoming tired. It was obvious that he had only a fraction of his once-powerful strength, and signs of his decades of suffering was apparent upon his body. His face was gaunt, his pale skin was covered in scabs and plasma burns, and his clothing was stained with his strange crimson blood. On its front were the faded human characters RANDALL-037.
The Spartan moved to one of the stadium's secondary support columns, keeping his eyes on the Mgalekgolo. The relatively smaller tube's diameter was about as long as Autel's second thumb. Five Hunters advanced on the human, their weapons raised. As their plasma cannons charged up, the Spartan moved a split second before their weapons fired. The powerful criss-crossing beams half-melted the column. The human gripped it and pulled hard, ripping the column free.
The stadium stands did not even lurch as the larger primary support columns held it in place. But Autel could see that the Spartan had achieved its purpose: to gain a weapon.
The human soldier did not hesitate before charging the Mgalekgolo with the pole. He lashed out with it, the tip of the weapon white-hot. The blow caught the first Hunter in the "neck", bending the weakened metal. Autel could hear the eels screaming as they burned and shrivelled up.
A second Mgalekgolo attempted to ram the Spartan, who slid between its "legs" and thrusted upward, jamming the pole into its back. The massive alien collapsed, and the human pulled the weapon out.
He scanned the arena briefly, raised the pole, and thrust it hard into the third Mgalekgolo's neck area, decapitating it, and ran straight for Autel. The Spartan leaped, and managed to grab onto a low stand.
The young Sangehili froze, unsure of what to do. He was unarmed, and certain the alien was more than a match for him. 'Noromee had also ordered not to attack him. As the human strained and tried to raise himself up out of the arena, he made eye contact with Autel for a brief moment. He considered trying to push the alien back down, when the Spartan suddenly winced. One of the large scabs on his back had opened, staining his ragged clothing with fresh crimson blood. The human's grip weakened, and he fell to the arena floor.
Half a dozen Mgalekgolo were below him. They had not fired in case they would have harmed a Sangheili. As the alien attempted to stand up, one of the Hunters hit him hard in the side. The Spartan cried out in pain, and Autel winced as he heard bones breaking. The human was still trying to fight, raising a fist. A Hunter stepped on his wrist. The rest of the Mgalekgolo crowded around it, beating at the alien. Soon, the Spartan's agonized yells and movements stopped, and they shuffled off, leaving a limp and bloodied form on the ground.
'Noromee stood up. "As you can see," he said, "this human was extremely capable of killing. Even unarmed, weakened, and outnumbered, he managed to kill four Mgalekgolo. These particular aliens are extremely ruthless and efficient. The humans do not have long before their extinction, but it was because of these supersoldiers that they have managed to survive throughout the entire Age of Reclamation."
Fira was watching the Spartan's body without expression. However, Autel felt sickened. He had never seen a real human before, and although he knew the Prophets' claim of them as "heretics", he felt that the Spartan's death was wrong.
"You are dismissed," 'Noromee said, and the Sangehili began to stand up to leave.
Fira took one last look at the Spartan, and walked towards the exit. As Autel returned to the dormitory with him, he said, "So that is what had killed so many of my bloodline." What was it in his voice? Shock? Anger? Fear?
"Before his death," Autel said, "he had looked at me. I do not know why. I did not know what to do."
Fira paused. Finally, he said, "It matters not. He is dead."
They were at the very top level of Stoic Courier. From there, Autel could see Sanghelios in the distance, as well as High Charity still in orbit around it. 'Noromee had brought the military city away from it and to its moon Suban instead. Autel had done many training sessions and operations on its surface with basic objectives and intelligence.
The Fleet of Particular Justice had departed on the very first day. Autel didn't think of Thel 'Vadamee for a while, or the Seer of Sanghelios. He looked down at the ring on his finger. Keep it with you at all times, Thel had advised. Why had the Seer given this to him? It was beautiful, but Autel had no use for it.
He absentmindedly followed Fira down a gravlift and towards the dormitories. Autel bid Fira goodnight and entered his room. He took off his dented, scratched, and blackened training armour. The recruits all had a set for practice. It had no energy shields, but could disperse light to medium plasma shots. They trained with genuine military weapons and by the twenty-seventh month of the 9th Age of Reclamation, they would graduate and become part of the Covenant.
Autel wondered what he would do then. Fight against the humans, obviously, but could he? After what he saw today, he felt apprehensive. The Seer had once asked him if he could find a reason the Prophets decided to wage war on them. The young Sangheili had not found an answer, and now wondered why they had not been at least attempted to be converted into the Covenant.
There is treachery among the Hierarchs...one who seeks power over the others...he will turn his back upon them...
Which Prophet had the Seer spoken of? Once again Autel looked at his ring, but found no answers from it. Did they hide something about the humans no one else knew?
Autel sighed and lay down upon his bed. As he closed his eyes he remembered the look in Fira's eyes, and wondered if his friend would have the same doubts about killing a human.
Chapter 4: Assassinations
Time 17:02:56 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), ninth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9the Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant mobile military city Stoic Courier, in orbit around Sanghelios moon Suban
1400 Hours, September 17, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
As Autel walked towards the training facility, he saw Sangheili guards walking around, looking tense and flustered. He had never seen so many moving about so much.
"What do you think they are worried about?" he asked.
"I do not know," Fira said, watching as one of the guards distractedly walked into a dormitory instead of standing outside of it. A few of the other recruits were talking amongst themselves.
"...we have never trusted their kind, neither should we..."
"Who do they speak of?" Autel said. Fira clicked his mandibles as they entered the training grounds.
'Noromee was present this time, and although his expression was unfathomable, Autel could see that he had something on his mind. The Field Master's eyes were glassy, his movements a bit too stiff. And he was not watching the recruits as he usually did.
When the remaining Sangheili entered, Autel noticed how the recruits' numbers had decreased. Nearly half of them had been dismissed over the period of training, and the grounds were less occupied. As 'Noromee was about to say something, the energy barriers deactivated and the two guards entered.
"Field Master," one of them said. 'Noromee looked up, and inhaled slowly.
Autel looked too, and gasped. Three large, muscular aliens had stepped in after the guards. Two of them had brown fur, with light steel-gold armour. They had crimson Plasma Rifles and bladed hand carbines strapped to their sides. The third was silver-furred with a mohawk of the same colour. He was wearing little armour, but he was much larger than the other two, and had a gigantic hammer slung across his back.
Autel had heard of these aliens. They were powerful and barbaric, and had always been rival to the Sangheili in the Covenant. Over the Ages they were slowly gaining power, something that made many uneasy.
The silver-furred Jiralhanae nodded respectfully to 'Noromee. "Field Master, I thank you for allowing us entry into your..." he looked amongst the recruits maliciously, "...military city."
The veteran did not spare him any politeness. "Tartarus. I had told you we were to speak in the main facility."
Tartarus growled softly. "I am in a hurry, and I do not have time to wait around."
"Very well," 'Noromee said, "let us go. You may begin your exercises," he added to the recruits, "I hardly need to remind you what is and is not tolerable." He looked to the guards. "When your shift is over, please make the Jiralhanae feel welcome."
"He means the Jiralhanae will remain here?" Fira whispered, alarmed.
Autel was just as unnerved by the aliens. They had a vicious look to them, and their eyes seemed to hide their ominous intents. As 'Noromee left the training facility with the three Jiralhanae, the recruits looked away and retrieved their training weapons.
Autel took a rifle and a sidearm, but couldn't concentrate as he began the exercise. What were the Jiralhanae up to? Why were they here?
It could be that the Prophets had ordered them to, but for what purpose? He thought of the Seer's prediction of the Hierarchs again, and felt a chill. Treachery...
Three plasma bolts flew past Autel's head, and he jerked in surprise, and realized that Fira had begun the exercise. He could tell that his friend looked just as worried, but was putting it aside momentarily. Autel raised his rifle and returned fire. He felt a bit better as Fira took cover behind a deployed shield, and prepared to fire again. A challenging training session always took his mind off things, and he figured that for whatever reason the Jiralhanae were here, 'Noromee could deal with it.
When the day's exercises were over, the recruits looked a little less tense, and were breathing deeply to shake off the feeling of adrenaline. Autel walked out the training facility with the others, looking for Fira in the crowd. Finally, when the Sangheili went off to their dormitories, he saw his friend slowly walking out the doors, trying to look casual.
Autel could tell that he was anything but casual. There was a mixture between a suspicious and shifty look in his eyes. He looked more flustered than during the morning, and seemed to be thinking about something. Finally, as they entered the dormitories, Fira reached between his armour panels into his uniform pocket and drew out two Plasma Pistols.
"What are you doing?" Autel hissed.
Fira raised a hand to silence him. He pressed one of the pistols into the albino Sangheili's hand. "Keep this in your dormitory. Just do it."
"You cannot be serious..."
"I have a bad feeling about the Jiralhanae. Keep it in your room...just in case."
As Fira entered his room, Autel walked into his own, slipping the Plasma Pistol into his desk drawer. He felt more unease than ever as he changed out of his armour and felt that he couldn't fall asleep at all as he lay upon his bed, eyes open.
Autel opened his eyes. A quick check at his time unit told him that he had been for half the "night". Shifting in his bed, he wondered what had awakened him.
Autel heard the faint padding of footsteps, then the sound of low, gruff whispers. A door slid shut almost silently. Cautiously, he sat up. The footsteps were approaching his room.
The door slid open. A pair of Jiralhanae minors were standing in the hall. They were armed. Autel could tell they were squinting to see him in the darkness as they slowly walked in. His pulse quickened, and he leaped at them. Caught by surprise, the first Jiralhanae fell to the ground.
The second Brute snarled and aimed his spike carbine at Autel. The young Sangheili's hands were gripping the first Jiralhanae's wrists, pinning him down. Keeping his hold firm, he lashed out with his leg and kicked the second Brute in the face.
The pinned Jiralhanae was attempting to aim his weapon at Autel. He twisted hard, forcing the Brute to relinquish his grip on his Spiker but his thick wrists did not break. Autel grasped the spike carbine and brought it down on the Jiralhanae's neck. Warm blood washed over him, and the alien gurgled. The Brute jerked, kicking him in the chest, and died.
Autel flew back, straight into the arms of the second Jiralhanae. The Brute grabbed him by his long throat and began to choke him to death. The young Sangheili gasped for breath, and his vision began to fade.
The doors flew open again, and another figure stood there. He levelled a pistol, and aimed it at them. Autel could see a large green glow building from the pistol. He grasped at the Jiralhanae's belt and his fingers found a Spike Grenade. Autel jabbed it into the Brute's thigh, who released him with a howl of pain. He stumbled away as he heard the pistol discharge. When his vision was clear again, he saw that half the Jiralhanae's face was melted.
Someone helped him to his feet. "What has happened here?" It was Fira.
"The Jiralhanae have attempted to assassinate me," Autel said. The ruckus had awoken the other recruits, and they were coming to see what caused it. He found his Plasma Pistol and activated it.
"But how could they have passed the guards?" Fira asked as two Sangheili entered, shocked. Autel froze, and slowly walked out of his room, opening the doors of dorms 774 -A and -B. Both Sangheili laid dead in their beds, slashed across the throat by spike carbines. He walked outside, and realized that the guards had been killed as well. His hands curled into fists, and he felt a rage build up inside him.
Autel walked into his dormitory again, and Fira looked at him inquisitively.
"The guards," the pale-skinned Sangheili said softly, "were killed along with two recruits."
There was only silence.
"We must inform 'Noromee immediately," Autel continued. "But be wary. There will be more Jiralhanae in the hallways. Take their weapons," he indicated the dead Brutes, "and awaken the other recruits. Hurry." They nodded, picked up the spike carbines, and returned to their rooms to retrieve their training armour. As he and Fira did the same and entered the hallway, Autel gave one of the guards' Plasma Rifles to him, and took the other one. "Let us go."
They silently walked down the curved hallway, careful to watch for any movement. Autel thought of the Jiralhanae. How many of them had come? And how many recruits had they slaughtered? He felt anger at the deeds. Tartarus, the Chieftain, must haved ordered this.
The guards in dormitory 775 were dead as well. Autel and Fira silently entered, and found another pair of Brutes in 775-F, examining their victims. Autel raised his weapons, and fired.
The Jiralhanae faced them, and attempted to return fire. But the two Sangheili's weapons were faster, and soon they were under a ruthless hail of green and blue plasma bolts. Autel ceased fire, and confirmed that no recruits were alive before leaving, the scent of singed Jiralhanae fur still in the dormitory.
Autel was relieved to see that the guards of dormitory 776 were on their feet. As they approached, one of them raised his rifle. "What are you doing out of your dormitories? And why are you armed?"
"We have been attacked by the Jiralhanae, whom had killed many recruits in their sleep. We need to warn Field Master 'Noromee immediately."
The guard lowered his rifle, looking slightly skeptical. "I—"
"I swear upon the blood of my fathers that this is not a lie!" Autel said urgently. "Please, there is no time!"
Two Jiralhanae approached them from around the hallway. When they saw the Sangheili, one of them snarled, "They have killed our pack mates!" And opened fire.
The guards raised their rifles and returned fire. A spike hit Fira in the shoulder, the ballistic round penetrated the training armour. The Sangheili cried out in pain and fell to his knees. Autel moved in front of his friend, firing as quickly as he could. Soon the Jiralhanae were cut down.
Quickly, the young Sangheili moved to Fira, who was clutching at the long projectile in his shoulder. Purple blood flowed onto the ground. "Hold still," he said, and strained to pull it out. He could feel Fira's muscles tense with pain, but the bloody spike came out, and he dropped it. Autel tore a strip off his uniform and used it to bandage his friend's shoulder. Fira stood, picking up his weapons. "Thank you," he said.
The guards looked a bit surprised by the attack. The recruits in dormitory 776 had come out and stared at the Jiralhanae's bodies.
"What has happened?" one of them asked.
"Heresy," spat the guard.
"Please, warn the others," Autel said, "we must find Field Master 'Noromee."
The other guard nodded. "Very well. Go."
As Autel stepped out into the streets with Fira, he found that he could calm down and think this over since the attack. He realized that he was surprised that he had killed so many and lived. After all, they were still recruits.
No, he thought, We are to be graduates. We had but a month to complete our training. We are ready to join the Covenant...
What Covenant? he thought bitterly, our own allies have betrayed us. Was this the treachery the Seer had spoken of? You will meet your closest ally, who will not fight alongside you when you are needed the most... Autel looked over at Fira, who was cautiously scanning the streets for more Jiralhanae, wincing as he walked. He could not have asked for a closer ally than he. What twist of fate would separate them? Did the Seer speak of death? He shuddered. No, surely not...
"We are here," Fira said. Autel realized with a start that they were standing before the main facility. He had come here several times throughout his training. As they approached the guards, one of them asked for their identification.
We are in a hurry! Autel thought with a flash of annoyance. It was always the same guards, and they would recognize him. The looks they gave him, as if he was diseased...
"Autel 'Vadam," he said, "and I have an urgent message for Field Master 'Noromee."
The guard bore his gaze into him for a moment, and finally turned on his mic. "Excellency, it is the albino. He states that he has a message for you." The albino... The guard sounded as if he expected 'Noromee to deny his request.
"Let him in." The guards reluctantly stepped aside, and Autel entered with Fira.
'Noromee was standing in the centre of the atrium with his back turned to them, examinging a large panel. When they entered, he turned around. "Good evening," he said. His eyes drifted from the weapons clutched in Autel's hands, to the bloody bandage over Fira's shoulder.
"Excellency," the young Sangheili said, bowing with Fira, "we have an important message for you. It concerns the Jiral—"
Fira gasped. Three Brutes stepped out from behind the panel. Tartarus and his captains.
Chapter 5: Escape
Time 17:18:32 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), tenth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant mobile city Stoic Courier, in orbit around Sanghelios moon Suban
2300 Hours, September 17, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Autel watched the three Jiralhanae in front of them. Tartarus' eyes gleamed. One of his captains growled, and began to step forward, but the Chieftain held out a hand.
"Calm yourself, Othreus. Allow these Sangheili to speak."
Autel faltered slightly. "I...I would like a moment of privacy with his Excellency."
"No matter," Tartarus said, "There is nothing more to discuss, Field Master. I will depart now. My captains will report to me regarding the progress here. I am aware that some of your students find our presence uncomfortable, but we shall not obstruct you. And the Prophets would prefer an unbiased report from...a reliable source rather than another Sangheili."
'Noromee scowled, and said, "Very well."
As Tartarus and his captains began to march out, two more Jiralhanae minors burst in, holding spike carbines and looking wild-eyed.
"Chieftain, we have found several of our unit dead," one of them blurted, "I fear some of the Sangheili have awakened—"
"Silence, you imbecile!" snarled Tartarus, his expression of calm disappearing immediately. He glanced involuntarily at 'Noromee, who narrowed his eyes.
"What is happening?" the veteran demanded. A tension built in the air. The Brute captains began fingering their weapons.
"The Jiralhanae murder us in our sleep!" Fira shouted, unable to contain himself. The captain named Othreus growled. 'Noromee's fists clenched.
"Is this true?" he asked, turning on Tartarus. The Chieftain began to smile, his hands grasping at the hammer on his back.
"Do not take it personally," he said. "It is the will of the Hierarchs. And you are willing to serve them, are you not?"
"You lie!" 'Noromee shouted, "How dare you blame this treachery upon the Prophets!" His Energy Sword flared, and he charged Tartarus.
"No, Excellency!" Autel warned, but as the Field Master leapt forward, reckless and blinded by rage, the Chieftain laughed, and dealt a powerful blow with the hammer. 'Noromee flew across the atrium, hit a wall, and crumpled. The four other Jiralhanae raised their spike carbines and opened fire.
Autel and Fira moved quickly and returned fire. Dozens of Sangheili burst into the atrium, spotted the aliens, and engaged as well. The minors were quickly killed, and Tartarus ordered, "Retreat!" They ran through the doors, and escaped the main facility.
Autel wanted to give chase, but instead he ran to 'Noromee. To his relief and amazement, the Field Master was still alive. "Excellency..."
The veteran's armour was cracked in several places and covered in blood. He winced as he sat upright. One of his arms were broken.
"Excellency, we have to find the Chieftain," Autel said. 'Noromee nodded, and tried to pick up his Energy Sword, but the young Sangheili shook his head. "You are injured, Excellency. You cannot fight." The Field Master paused, and reluctantly nodded. He said, "Give me the broadcast mic." Fira of them handed it to him, and 'Noromee spoke into it. "Awaken, Sangheili! The Jiralhanae are treacherous, you must fight back! Remember what you have learned over your training..." he stopped for a moment and coughed as his blood began to pool at his feet. "...do whatever you can to stop this heresy. Kill these Brutes like the dishonourable vermin they are! Do not fear them..." 'Noromee's voice trailed off, and the mic slipped from his hands. Two guards rushed forward and grabbed his forearms as he passed out.
"Get him to the infirmary immediately," Autel said, "Protect him from the Jiralhanae." The guards were too concerned to realize that he had given them an order.
"We shall hold the main facility," one of the Sangheili said, "You must find Tartarus. Good luck." Autel nodded, and was about to leave with Fira, when the guard said, "Wait. Take this." He handed Autel 'Noromee's Energy Sword. The young Sangheili stared at the weapon in his palm, and nodded. He had never used one, having only trained with plasma weapons that would not tear through his opponents' armour. Nonetheless, he had trained with metal blades before on Sanghelios with his uncle, Stel 'Vadam.
As Autel stepped into the streets with Fira, he saw that there was fighting in the streets between the Sangheili and the Jiralhanae. Some of the more resourceful recruits had found weapons, and others had picked them up from dead enemies. There were three times as many Sangheili as Jiralhanae, but most of them were recruits, and a lot of them did not even have training armour on. The younger recruits were falling more quickly also.
Fira attracted the attention of a Jiralhanae major by firing at him. The Brute charged, and Autel cut him in half.
"Do we fight until they are all dead?" he asked, decapitating another Jiralhanae.
"That, or until we fall," Fira said, sidestepping a Brute and breaking his spine.
The area was cleared, and they moved to others. After an extensive fight outside the stadium, both Sangheili obtained injuries, but did not stop until the last Jiralhanae was cut down.
"Have you seen Tartarus or his captains?" Autel said.
"No," Fira replied, then he looked up. "Look!"
The Jiralhanae's cruiser was leaving. It was headed for Sanghelios.
"To the hangar!" Autel cried, running for a doorway, "We must warn them!" They ran past several groups of Sangheili and Jiralhanae. A spike stabbed into Autel's side, and two plasma bolts connected with Fira's back, but neither stopped to retaliate. As they entered the hangar, and ran for a dropship, group of Jiralhanae entered, grabbing at the two recruits. Fira leaped safely onto the dropship, but Autel felt a hand on his leg, and he fell. As his friend began to leap off to help him, another Sangheili on board held him back. "Remain on the dropship!"
"I cannot!" Fira snapped, trying to move around him.
The dropship pilot fired the single plasma turret, and Autel ducked. He felt the hand loosen, and wriggled free.
"Climb aboard!" Fira cried, but another door opened. A pair of Sangheili were retreating from the opposite end, firing rapidly. A swarm of Jiralhanae were attacking them.
One Sangheili was shot several times in the chest. The second took a spike to the head. Both fell.
The additional Jiralhanae turned their attention to the dropship, firing their grenade launchers. A second dropship pilot fired back, but their forces were too great.
"We must take off!" the first pilot said, "They are concentrating their fire upon us, and their grenades will destroy this ship!"
"No!" Fira shouted, but the hatches closed, and the damaged dropship flew out of the hangar and turned down-spin.
As the Jiralhanae turned to fire on the second dropship, someone aboard it tossed three Plasma Grenades out the hatch, wiping out half the Brutes. The dropship pilot killed three more before Autel cut down the rest.
"Come aboard!" called the pilot. But Autel noticed something, and ran to the guards' bodies.
"One of them lives!" he said, and began to drag the twitching Sangheili into the dropship. As it too closed its hatches and took off, Autel said, "See if you can find the other dropship." He turned his attention to the injured guard. One of the other recruits on board the dropship said, "The spike has punctured his eye." Blood was flowing out from the hole. Autel pulled the projectile out with a sickening sound, and the other recruit bandaged the wound.
"Thank you," the guard said, "I owe my life to you."
Autel recognized the name. "You are a prestiged soldier! Why are you guarding Stoic Courier?"
"I had decided to remain with my Field Master after he was reassigned," he said, "I wanted to help him return to combat."
"The other dropship has disappeared from my radar," the pilot said, "I believe they have set down upon Suban for repairs."
"We have no time to search for them," Autel said, "Set course for High Charity. We must warn the Hierarchs of this heresy."
He wanted to find Fira, but knew that his friend could take care of himself. And there were more important things to do. Autel remembered that Tartarus claimed the Prophets had ordered the killings, but couldn't bring himself to believe it. There is treachery among the Hierarchs... Was it the right thing to do? The young Sangheili also remembered the Seer's other prediction. Your closest ally will not fight alongside you when you are needed most... Would he see Fira again? Autel shook his head, and watched the dropship's long journey to Sanghelios.
Chapter 6: Depths of Treachery
Time 17:21:64 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), tenth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
0400 Hours, September 18, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
"Have you received any transmissions from other dropships departing Stoic Courier?" Autel asked, although he had been staring out the hatch the entire trip, watching the distant city.
The pilot, 'Pyronee, shook his head. "I am afraid not. Perhaps the Jiralhanae have won..."
"Then we must hurry," 'Sraomee said. He blinked his left eye and looked out the hatch. "It seems Sanghelios is in no peril as of yet." His right eye was now blind, but he had it disinfected and decided to ignore it due to the urgency of their situation.
"Tartarus has little power over the rest of the Covenant," Autel said, "if he glasses Sanghelios, there will be great repercussions. He is more concerned with silencing us..."
"He most certainly was effective," 'Pyronee said bitterly. "The Sangheili at Stoic Courier have been either dead or imprisoned by the Jiralhanae." The pilot turned the dropship towards High Charity, and received a transmission.
"DX-class dropship, identify yourselves."
"This is Flight Pilot 'Pyronee, requesting landing at High Charity," he said calmly, and turned to look at his passengers, mouthing the word, "Jiralhanae."
Why were the Jiralhanae in charge of docking and departures? The shifting of roles at the capital city over the years was disconcerting to Autel.
Finally, the dockmaster growled, "You may land upon hangar bay 92. You will be checked for clearance upon arrival."
"I understand," 'Pyronee replied, and cut the transmission. Adjusting his course, he said, "Try not to look like we have come from a raging battle." Autel looked around. His weapons were strapped to his side, the blood was cleaned off of 'Sraomee's face, and the four other recruits on board the dropship had dealt with their injuries on their trip. They could not remove the plasma burns and projectile holes from their training armour, however, so Autel had suggested they leave them aboard the dropship and wear their uniforms instead.
The dropship eased into the hangar, and 'Pyronee opened the hatches. The group of Sangheili stepped out onto the platform, where a group of Jiralhanae were waiting. Where were the Sangheili? As the aliens looked around the dropship, one of them growled, "State your business."
"We must see the Hierarchs," 'Sraomee said. The Jiralhanae's fur bristled.
"The Hierarchs do not allow just anyone to see them," he snapped, "Where do you come from?"
The soldier faltered, so Autel decided to answer honestly. "Stoic Courier."
The Jiralhanae raised an eyebrow. "Who has sent you?"
"Field Master 'Noromee."
Another Brute walked out from the dropship. "They are not hiding anything, but we have found five sets of Sangheili training armour."
"They are ours," a recruit said.
"Why would your Field Master send recruits to High Charity?" the first Jiralhanae asked, staring at the charred armour.
"That is for the Hierarchs to know," Autel said boldly. The alien looked him in the eye, and he held it. Finally, the Brute gave an amused huff, and said, "This way."
As they walked, 'Sraomee whispered, "Why did you feel the need to tell him so much?"
"There is no other explanation for our arrival," Autel replied quietly. "And once the Prophets know of what has happened, it would not make a difference." He cautiously looked around the hallways they passed, as if expecting to see Tartarus or his captains.
Finally, they reached a doorway. The Jiralhanae spoke into a mike. "A group of Sangheili wish to see the Hierarchs."
There was no reply. The Jiralhanae said, "Hand over your weapons." When they did, the doors opened, and Autel stepped in with the others. The Jiralhanae remained outside.
Although he had never been to High Charity, Autel could see that this was not the Sanctum of the Hierarchs. It was a steep hallway with various pillars and plants near the walls. A figure in a floating throne waited at the end alone.
As they got closer to the figure, Autel saw that it was the Prophet of Regret. He had seen the Prophet's broadcasts when he was on Sanghelios. Regret constantly spent time with Sangheili watching battles rather than planning at High Charity. But why were there no Honour Guards present?
Autel and the others bowed before Regret. The Prophet said, "Speak."
"Noble Prophet of Regret, we have witnessed a heresy within our Covenant," 'Sraomee said. "The Brute Tartarus unveiled his treachery upon us at Stoic Courier."
"How is this so?" There was no sign of alarm in his voice, but then again, he was a Hierarch.
"Your Excellency, I have seen them enter our dormitories and kill Sangheili in their sleep," Autel said. "Many of our numbers have been killed by the Jiralhanae."
Regret did not speak. Finally, he said, "They have spilled your blood in your own city? The Jiralhanae we trust and swear loyalty to us and reside in High Charity at this moment?"
"You are correct, Excellency," 'Sraomee said.
The Prophet was silent once more. Autel glanced up slightly, and saw that Regret was wearing a thin smile. "Do not be alarmed. The Great Journey will come to those who are worthy..."
"But the Brutes, noble Prophet?"
"...but those who are not will lie eternally in death's inescapable grip," Regret continued. "Unfortunately, there are those who are not meant to walk the Path." The door behind them opened again, and the Jiralhanae returned, flanked by half a dozen others.
"What do you mean, Excellency?" Autel asked with a sinking feeling.
"The Sangheili have been sent away from High Charity," Regret said. "I was unable to convince only the Special Operations unit to leave. No one will know of what has happened here. And when they do, it will be too late..." Autel felt thick hands grab his arms but did not resist. 'Sraomee and the others were held by the Jiralhanae as well.
"You have betrayed us," Autel growled, baring his teeth at the Prophet.
"Perhaps," Regret said casually, "but it is for the good of the Covenant."
The young Sangheili broke free from his captor's grip, and lunged at him. He felt a sharp pain on the back of his head, and blacked out.
The surface of Suban was uninhabited, and its atmosphere was devoid of oxygen or nitrogen. The only ones whom lived on it were the acidic reptiles that burrowed deep underground. It was rare to see one at all, even if one spent most of his time on it. Nonetheless, the dropship had to put down or else it would remain dead in space.
Fira 'Demal stared at the unwelcoming moon, and turned back. "We cannot leave the ship without a source of breathable air."
"I have kept extra environment suits in a hiding place during our last training session here," said a recruit named Warra 'Mantakr. "It will not be difficult for me to find them again."
Fira smiled. He had trained with Warra before, and took a liking to him. The recruit was always two steps ahead, and although Fira doubted he foresaw the Jiralhanae's plot, he was glad the recruit had supplies on backup.
"Very well," he said. "Tell the pilot where it is, and we shall land there."
"Hurry," the pilot, 'Tullum said. "This dropship will not remain airborne much longer."
Warra examined the land patters displayed on the cockpit viewscreen thoughtfully. "Turn the ship that way," he said, pointing at the screen. "and fly slowly."
Fira looked at the screen as well, and recognized the patterns. They were currently over a series of gorges, but would soon approach a series of hollow caves.
Something was flashing on the dropship's panel. "The anti-gravity propulsors are failing," 'Tullum said with a hint of worry in his voice. "I will divert energy from the plasma turret's power cells to keep it activated."
After several long minutes of flying, Warra said, "There, put us down in that crescent-shaped cave."
Fira just noticed how many more alarms and warnings were flashing on the panels. 'Tullum turned the dropship down towards the ground. He cut the speed as they got closer, although Fira could tell it wasn't enough. The pilot pulled the bow upward at the last moment, making a jarring but not too hard landing.
Warra approached the hatch. "I will find the suits."
"Good luck," Fira said. Sangheili could breathe maybe little more than a subunit in the atmosphere. He noticed that the dropship's other hatch was broken, letting the foul air in slowly. "And hurry."
Autel regained consciousness, and was staring at a metal grey wall. He sat up, and realized that it was the ceiling to a brig cell.
"You are awake," said 'Sraomee, who was next to him. Autel looked up at him and noticed that they were both in the same cell. "You are lucky to be alive. The Jiralhanae wanted to execute you for attempting to kill the Prophet of Regret." 'Sraomee tried to smile, but it was strained.
Autel walked over to the end of the cell, and examined it. They were metal bars, not the plasma cell walls found in the brigs of Covenant ships. High Charity was a very old city, and replacing the brig designs had never been the Prophets' highest concern.
The young Sangheili looked out through the bars. There were five other cells, each with a Sangheili inside them. There was also a narrow hallway, and a slanted ramp that extended out of the brig. Three Kig-Yar, a single Jiralhanae, and four Unggoy patrolled the brig, two of which were on sleeping shifts.
Autel turned back to 'Sraomee, and said quietly, "There is something I have wanted to ask you."
The soldier sat down upon the cold floor. "I am listening."
"I remember you were part of a Special Operations caste. The Prophets would not have agreed to have you taken off combat to guard Stoic Courier merely out of loyalty to your superior officer, especially due to his reason of reassignment."
'Sraomee was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, "I shall confide something to you that very few know about. Field Master 'Noromee is the only other person to know." He hesitated, and said, "I feel that I cannot fight the humans."
Autel was surprised. "But you have been a great asset to the Covenant. Your campaigns have been glorious and successful."
'Sraomee shook his head. "But that is why I cannot do it. I have fought them, and I know so much about them. While they may lack our physical abilities and martial prowess, but their audacity and resolve is strong. Perhaps stronger than our own."
Autel remembered the Spartan, Randall. "I know what you mean."
Autel's fists tightened. "Not a new one. One who were pretending to stand beside us when they were hiding behind us, looking for an opportunity. And an old one who we had fought long ago but decided to form a Covenant." He sat down as well, and said in an undertone, "We need to escape."
"Any ideas?" 'Sraomee asked quietly. The young Sangheili thought for a moment, and remembered something. "When that human was brought to the arena he let the Hunters' weapons melt a support column."
"But the Jiralhanae confiscated our weapons when we were brought here," the soldier said. Autel looked around the small cell, looking for something, anything that could break the bars. There was none.
Autel gripped the bars, feeling the metal between his long fingers. They were too hard to break. As he let go, he felt something scrape the bar. Looking down at his hands, he realized he was still wearing the ring the Seer had given him. Keep it with you at all times, Thel 'Vadamee had advised, The Seer has reasons for placing that in your possession. Autel looked into the energy stasis field on the ring, as if trying to find a solution in its unshaped...plasma?
Autel looked up sharply, and felt the bars again. Turning back to 'Sraomee, he said, "I have a plan."
Chapter 7: Retaliation
Time 19:03:11 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), tenth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
1200 Hours, September 18, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Fira looked over the supplies Warra had retrieved. Ten environment suits, an oxygen recharge tank, two days' worth of preserved food and water, first aid and repair kits, a dozen weapons, and extra ammunition and plasma batteries.
"Would the trainers not have noticed the missing supplies?" he asked. Warra clicked his mandibles.
The two Sangheili picked up some tools and exited the dropship. The recruits were all in environment suits and were helping 'Tullum with repairs.
The pilot pulled out the turret's drained battery, sending sparks flying to the ground. He looked inside at the melted plasma coils and winced at the sight of it.
"How are the repairs?" Fira asked, passing him a pressurized torch.
"Not so well," 'Tullum said, holding the torch to the coils to separate them from the turret. "When we are done we can make a short flight. But we cannot fire the turret, or operate the transmitter."
"'Tullum!" one of the recruits called, "I have enough plasma batteries to bring the starboard hatch controls back online."
"Leave it," 'Tullum said, "save the batteries for the navigation console." The pilot sighed. "I do not know what we are to do even if we repair the dropship. There is nowhere to go."
Fira nodded, going back into the dropship for more repairs. He was thinking of a plan for a while, but did not tell his fellow recruits yet. He still had a few things to think over.
Autel hit the bars hard with his forearm. The Jiralhanae growled in surprise, and the two sleeping Unggoy awoke with startled yelps. The young Sangheili hit it again, roaring in frustration.
"What do you think you are doing?" snarled the Brute, running over to his cell.
"Dishonourable Heretic!" Autel roared at him, smashing the bar with his fist. "Let me out!"
"Sangheili going insane," giggled one of the Unggoy nervously. "He losing his mind."
"You shall lose your head when I am through with you!" He hit the bars repetitively, emphasizing his words.
"Calm yourself, Autel," 'Pyronee, who was in the opposite cell, stood up in alarm. "It will do no good to become blinded by rage."
"Shut your jaws!" Autel snapped at the pilot, banging his fist again at the bars. He turned, buried his face in his hands, and faked a sob. He looked at the ring. The stasis field was weakening. Walking to the end of the cell, he casually slipped the ring into his palm, careful not to touch the small dome of energy.
The Jiralhanae was still standing in front of the bars. He laughed. "You are going insane, Sangheili. But you cannot hope to escape. The Prophets—"
Autel spun around and flung the ring at the base of the bars. The stasis field broke, splashing a surprisingly large amount of compressed plasma all over the metal. The Jiralhanae screamed as the fluid burned the fur on his legs.
The young Sangheili leaped forward, grabbing one of the weakened bars and pulled. It ripped free, allowing him space to jump out of the cell. Wielding the bar, he swung it hard at the Jiralhanae and cracked his skull.
The Kig-Yar and Unggoy stared in surprise for a moment, but then they recovered and levelled their weapons. Autel had pried the crimson plasma rifle from the Jiralhanae's fingers and cut down the Unggoy.
'Sraomee had grabbed one of the bars and flung it through a Kig-Yar's chest. He picked up a Needle pistol and shot the other two.
There was silence. Finally, 'Pyronee laughed and said, "Well done! That was a brilliant plan. I was worried you really were going insane, Autel." 'Sraomee unlocked the cell walls, and said, "We must hurry before the sentries are switched, and we were not very silent." As everyone took weapons off the guards, he asked, "Do you have another plan?"
Autel was surprised that the soldier had asked him. But he knew that 'Sraomee was not much older than him, and replied, "We now know that we cannot trust the San'Shyuum to what the Jiralhanae have done."
"Perhaps it is only the Prophet of Regret who knows of this plan," 'Sraomee said. "We could inform the Prophets of Truth and Mercy of what has happened."
"I do not wish to take that chance right now," Autel said. "We should find Sangheili who are willing to aid us. The Councillors, for example."
The soldier nodded. "Very well. But Regret said that the Councillors are not present."
"He could have lied," Autel said.
"There would have been no need. He would not have expected us to escape," 'Sraomee pointed out. "At any rate, we should not remain at High Charity any longer than necessary. We should take a dropship to Sanghelios and find help."
"That will take too long. Some will not believe us. In fact, we could be accused of heresy. We cannot find a stranger for aid."
"So what do you suggest?"
"Supreme Commander Thel 'Vadamee," Autel said. He understood why Thel and the Seer had told him those things now. Perhaps the Supreme Commander had been betrayed at some point in his life by someone in the Covenant.
The others stared at him. He said, "I know the Supreme Commander, he will believe us. If we take a corvette and find him, this treachery could be won over."
They were still silent. Finally, 'Pyronee said, "I agree. But how do we find him?"
"I know someone who could tell us," 'Sraomee said. "Commander Rtas 'Vadumee. Regret said that the Special Operations unit was still here, so we can ask him."
"Then we must be careful," Autel said. "We do not wish for the Jiralhanae to find us."
'Sraomee nodded, and led the way out of the brig, Needle pistol ready. Autel checked his plasma rifle and followed.
Warra placed a fresh plasma battery into the oxygen recharge tank to keep it working. As the repairs were finally done, the recruits gathered inside the dropship, and 'Tullum closed the single working hatch. He sat down in the pilot's seat and said, "The dropship is now operational in all critical parts and can fly for five subunits. Does anyone have a plan?"
Fira had thought it out already, and said, "We can return to Stoic Courier."
The recruits looked rather alarmed. However, Warra said, "Continue."
"It is our only option. There is nowhere else to go close enough for the dropship to get to. If we remain discreet, we can find transport, free the prisoners, and inform High Charity of what the Jiralhanae have done."
"It is very risky," Warra said. "But I see no other option."
"I concur," 'Tullum said. "Very well. Seat yourselves. It is time to exact revenge upon the Jiralhanae."
As the recruits strapped themselves in, and the pilot activated the dropship's anti-gravity propellers and took off, Fira hoped his plan would work. If Autel was still in the city, he would find him. Then, the Jiralhanae would pay. All of them.
Despite Autel's attempts to remain undetected as they moved throughout High Charity, the makeshift Sangheili squad still ran into Jiralhanae several times, many of which ended in noisy and bloody ways. Finally, as they stepped out from a gravity lift and into a hallway, 'Sraomee said, "Special Operations. We have made it." He stepped towards the door, and the Sangheili stepped inside. Instantly a dozen weapons were trained on them.
"Stand down!" barked a voice. "They are allies!" The weapons were lowered, and a Sangheili wearing the black armour of a Special Operations Officer approached them. He looked them over, and gave a look of recognition when he saw the soldier. "N'tho 'Sraomee," he chuckled softly, "have you decided to rejoin us on the battlefield at last?"
"Sesa 'Refumee. It is good to see you again," 'Sraomee said, although he did not smile. "We must speak. Time is short."
The officer's expression grew serious. "Of course. Forgive the cold greeting, we have heard of some commotion elsewhere in High Charity. Do not tell me you were involved?"
"Unfortunately," 'Sraomee said. "And it gets worse." He told 'Refumee what had happened since the attack on Stoic Courier, with Autel and the others filling in the parts he did not see.
"And the Prophet of Regret himself locked us up, announcing that we were not meant to walk the Path," the young soldier concluded. "It is heresy."
'Refumee frowned, thinking deeply. "It is indeed. And from the Prophet himself. I never would have thought..." he turned to Autel. "You say there are Sangheili still imprisoned at the city?"
"If they are still alive, Excellency," he replied. The officer laughed.
"This is not a time for formality, young one," he said, "this is a time for action. We must free them, of course, but I must also inform the Commander."
"Where is the Commander?" 'Sraomee asked.
"He is investigating the disappearance of an agricultural support ship. I had remained behind with a unit. Now, a plan." 'Refumee invited the Sangheili to sit down at a large table.
"The Stoic Courier is currently orbiting Suban on its far side, forty-thousand feet above the ground. One team must get aboard, free the surviving Sangheili, and eliminate the Jiralhanae forces."
"And the other?" 'Sraomee asked.
"We will need to find additional reinforcements," 'Refumee said. "Most Sangheili are at the human planet called Reach, completing its decimation. We will find help there."
The officer reached for a large device and turned it on. "We will see if any transmissions were sent here recently."
The device was a long-range transmitter. There were very few in the Covenant due to their difficulty to create, even for a Huragok engineer. Some were found on capital ships, used for emergencies, and High Charity had several given only to those whom needed it. The Prophets had one, as did the Council, and of course, Special Operations. 'Refumee adjusted it, listening intently.
"...our plan is sure to work, it will be over quickly. Sacrifice for the destruction of the heretics, and for the Journey!...we will burn their demons from the sky, and they will fall!...the human cruiser has destroyed one of our flagships, deal with it!...their orbital guns will not stand much longer, we are closing in on them...Rejoice, brothers! The battle is won! The human planet lies in ruins, and we will soon find the artifact. The Supreme Commander gives chase to the only surviving human ship..." 'Refumee turned back to them. "We are to find the Supreme Commander, and he can help us destroy these Brutes."
The device was transmitting another message. "This is Commander Rtas 'Vadumee, to High Charity Special Operations unit. This message has been encrypted to high priority. I have met with Supreme Commander Thel 'Vadamee in the Threshold system. A human force has arrived and will be eliminated immediately. We have discovered a holy Forerunner world — one of the seven Halo rings! Report this message to the Hierarchs immediately, we require all forces to defend the Halo! This is our Path to the Great Journey, Sangheili! Do not squander it!"
All the Sangheili in the room began to become excited. A Halo ring! The Promise of the Journey was upon them! They began to speak to each other of the possibilities of the ascension. 'Refumee stood up and gestured for silence.
"This is a secret we must keep to ourselves," he announced. Silence was immediate.
"We cannot tell the Prophets of this, as we are not sure of their intentions yet," the officer continued. "Once we have solved this problem, we can seek out the Journey."
Some of the Sangheili balked. Put the Great Journey aside? It was heresy to think about it.
"I know this is a difficult decision to make," 'Refumee said, "but I ask you for a little more of your patience. This could make a great difference in our part to Walk the Path!" The Sangheili finally settled down.
"Thank you. Now, the graduates will need proper armour for combat. Then we will begin."
The Sangheili exited the room and returned a few moments later with half a dozen sets of dark blue armour. As Autel accepted one with a word of thanks, and put it over his tattered and bloodied uniform. When the others were finished changing, 'Refumee said, "You are now officially considered warriors of the Covenant. Normally there would be a ceremony, but under the circumstances, we will have to accept you into Special Operations immediately. You have certainly proved yourselves." A second Sangheili approached them with a cart full of weapons. Autel slung a Carbine across his back and strapped a Plasma Rifle to his side, discarding the nearly depleted crimson one. As 'Refumee prepared the others to leave the operations centre, a group of Jiralhanae entered. Autel almost reacted, but realized that they did not recognize him or the others due to their new armour.
"Can we help you?" 'Refumee asked, stepping forward.
"You have received a transmission from the Sangheili Commander of Special Operations," the pack leader said, stating it as if it was a fact and not a question.
"If I had received said transmission, which I am not confirming or denying," the officer replied, "I do not have to disclose such information to those who do not have the proper authorization."
"The Prophets demand to see it," the Jiralhanae growled.
"If the Hierarchs require something from Special Operations, they would inform me," 'Refumee continued in the same smooth voice, "and if not, and I feel that it is of their concern, I would ensure that they receive it."
The Jiralhanae was running out of patience. "Search the room," he ordered one of his minors. Two Sangheili stepped in front of them.
"I cannot allow you to do that," 'Refumee said, "and if you insist on doing so, I may resort to other means to stop you." He and the Jiralhanae glared at each other for several moments. Finally, the major looked away, and left with his minors. The doors closed behind them.
"Whether he was ordered by the Prophets or not, we must hurry," 'Refumee said, taking two Plasma Rifles in his hands. "We can find ships in the main hangar, and we should leave before they realize it." As the group exited the operations centre, and the officer locked the door, he said, "Engage active camouflage." 'Sraomee, 'Pyronee, 'Refumee and his subordinates immediately faded to near invisibility, but it took Autel and the others a moment to do likewise. Finally, the last Sangheili disappeared into a blur, the group began to move.
"Stay scattered," 'Refumee ordered, "If we remain clustered, someone will see us." The Sangheili obliged, and they moved silently through the city. Once or twice, an Unggoy would pause as if he heard the sound of hooves or see a slight blur in the air. But before they could look again, the blur would be gone.
They reached the main hangar bay, a massive room where the smaller Covenant ships could fit inside. 'Refumee indicated a nearby pair of corvettes on their HUDs, and split the Sangheili into two teams.
"I will free the Sangheili at Stoic Courier," he said, "the other team will head for Threshold."
Autel noticed that he was on the second team, and felt slightly torn. He wanted to find Fira and the Sangheili whom he had trained with for so long, but trusted 'Refumee and knew that there had to be someone of appropriate rank at the renegade city. As he entered the corvette's open hatch with the others, checked to make sure it was unoccupied, and deactivated his camouflage. "We should ready ourselves," he said, "as soon as we activate the engines, they will be onto us," he indicated the Jiralhanae patrols in the hangar.
'Pyronee took the pilot's seat, and 'Sraomee took operated at the weapons console. Autel sat in the copilot seat, checking on the systems. The recruits—no, graduates, took various positions in the cockpit.
"Autel, close the hatches," 'Pyronee said. He obliged, watching the startled Jiralhanae run towards the ship. The pilot activated the engines, and the corvette beside them did the same.
The interior of the Honourable Intentions.
"May fortune be with you," 'Refumee said over the speakers, "If all goes well, we shall meet in the Threshold system when this is over."
Alarms rang throughout the hangar. The doors began to close slowly, but the two ships managed to escape. 'Refumee's corvette headed for Suban, and a Jiralhanae frigate managed to give chase. Autel knew that the smaller ship would be no match for it. As 'Pyronee charged the Slipstream space engines, the young Sangheili said, "We must divert them away from 'Refumee. I have an idea. Alter your course to intercept the frigate's bow, and prepare to fire the Slipstream engines."
'Pyronee nodded, turning the corvette towards it. The corvette flew towards the frigate's nose from the side, Autel shouted, "Now!" 'Pyronee fired the engines.
Covenant ships entered the slipstream by manipulating the space around them, just enough to squeeze their ships in to use minimal power. The corvette's lights dimmed as Sangheili pilot opened a slipstream rift large enough to fit more than two corvettes; certainly enough to fit a frigate. As both ships were pulled into the hole, the space around them dissolved. Autel sighed and leaned back in his seat.
"A good plan," 'Sraomee said. "I would bet 'Refumee is impressed."
"Yes, but now there is a frigate ready to destroy our ship as soon as we enter normal space," 'Pyronee said.
"Do not worry," Autel said. "I know someone who can deal with them."
Chapter 8: Father and Son
Time 3:45:62 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), twelfth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant mobile military city Stoic Courier, in orbit around Sanghelios moon Suban
0700 Hours, September 19, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Fira ordered the others to move quickly through Stoic Courier. They had managed to land in an empty hangar bay, but it was unlikely their arrival was undetected. As the group of Sangehili moved carefully but swiftly through one of the streets, Warra asked quietly, "What is your plan?"
"First we must find the imprisoned Sangheili," Fira said. "Once we do that, we can kill these Brutes if we can find—"
"Jiralhanae!" hissed 'Tullum, seeing a pair of figures approaching them. The Sangheili quickly ducked into an alley. Fortunately, the two Jiralhanae appeared to be talking, and did not see them.
"This is pointless," one of them said in a bored voice.
"They are orders," the second one reminded his partner.
"In case of what? No one will come looking for them. And where would the prisoners go if they escaped? High Charity?" Both Jiralhanae laughed at the question for a moment. The second one stopped and said, "Tartarus was not pleased after he learned some had escaped in dropships. I do not envy his telling the Prophet of Regret of that."
"Othreus will find them," the first one said ominously, "he always does."
The rest of the Jiralhanae's words were indistinct as they walked into the distance. Fira exhaled, thinking of what he had heard. After a while, he said, "It seems the Prophet of Regret had planned this. And at least another group of Sangheili have escaped." It was likely Autel was among them, as there was another Spirit in the hangar when they were leaving.
"Tartarus and one of his captains have left," he continued, "so we must now find out where the prisoners are."
"Perhaps we should follow them," Warra said, indicating the two distant Jiralhanae. "Even if they don't take us to the captured, it would give us a lead." Fira nodded, and said, "Remain quiet."
The Sangheili followed the sentries, remaining behind the alleyways as much as they could. The two Jiralhanae merely paced the streets back and forth for a long time, but finally another group approached them, and the Sangheili followed them through the city and finally towards a building.
The Jiralhanae entered through the doors, and Fira realized that it was a dormitory. "We must enter," he said. "Are you ready?" The others checked their weapons, and nodded. He walked through the doors, spotted the Jiralhane, raised his Needle pistol, and opened fire.
Crystalline projectiles stabbed at the aliens, and they both screamed before being torn apart. Warra and the others entered, and Fira looked down sheepishly at the Jiralhanae. "Perhaps we should have formed a plan..."
"They would not have told us anything," Warra said. "We should search the dormitories." Fira opened the door to the first room, and a Sangheili recruit was bound to a wall. Hearing the doors open, he thrashed and said, "Torture me all you wish, scum, but you will not have the satisfaction of hearing me beg!" When he saw whom entered, he stopped his shouting, and let Fira and Warra free him.
"Thank you," he said. The Sangheili recognized him as Cepa 'Drell, a recruit who had began his training around the same time as Warra.
"Can you tell us where the other prisoners are?" Fira asked, handing him his sidearm.
"Most of them are locked up at the weapons facilities," Cepa said, "There are more at the stadium."
The stadium. Where Fira had seen the human Spartan's death over several months ago. "Let us go. We need to fight back."
"Finally," Cepa said, heading for the door. "But be careful of Cerberus though. Tartarus left him here to make sure we do not escape. have seen many unfortunate things happen to the other recruits at his hands. He is very vicious."
Fira reloaded his Needle pistol and clicked his mandibles casually. "Which Jiralhanae is not?"
Dormitory 774. Fira remembered meeting Autel here for the first time, and talking about the day's events after training. It was so long ago. They had learned so much at Stoic Courier, and seeing it as a prison for those whom had lived here for the entire 9th Age was almost unbearable.
Fira looked behind him. They had freed over a score of Sangheili recruits, and they were hiding in the alleyways. He cautiously opened the door, listening for sound. There was none. Fira walked in silently, Warra and 'Tullum behind him. He pushed open the door to dormitory 774-A. No one was inside. 774-B was empty also. He proceeded to 774-C. Autel's room. Opening the door, he couldn't believe what he saw.
Sprawled on the bed was the still form of Bata 'Noromee. He wasn't moving, not even the slightest motion to indicate he was breathing. Fira grabbed the Field Master's cold wrist and checked his pulse. There was none.
He folded the Field Master's arms over his chest, and felt an undeniable rage build up inside him. In his weakened state, the Jiralhanae had killed 'Noromee and kept his body to entertain themselves. As amusement. As mockery.
Fira felt that he could not move. He hated the Jiralhanae more with each heartbeat. Warra and 'Tullum were still also, gazing in disbelief at 'Noromee's body.
The door opened behind him. Fira turned around and raised his Needle pistol, preparing to fire. But it wasn't Jiralhanae.
A group of Sangheili faded out of camouflage, and he could see that they wore the armour of Special Operations. Someone had come for them.
The leader had the jet-black armour of an officer. He said, "I am Sesa 'Refumee."
"I am Fira 'Demal," Fira replied, lowering his weapon.
"Are there more of you?" 'Refumee asked.
"Yes. They are waiting in the alleyways."
"Clever. We have not spotted them."
"Officer, who told you what was happening here?" Fira asked.
"Another group of Sangheili graduates made it to High Charity, and we worked out a plan to defeat these Jiralhanae," 'Refumee explained. "There is a pale-skinned one, heading for the Threshold system right now to inform Supreme Commander Thel 'Vadamee."
"Autel?" Fira said, relieved. So his friend did make it out.
"I believe that is what they called him," the officer said. Spotting 'Noromee's body, his expression hardened. "We will need to free the other recruits, and we should leave."
Fira paused. "With all due respect, Excellency, I think your unit should remain on your ship." 'Refumee gave him a quizzical look, and he continued. "It is very unlikely our attempts to free the Sangheili will remain unnoticed. And if the Jiralhanae knew you were here, they would search and destroy your ship, and we will be stuck here against overwhelming odds. However, if it was only a small group of Sangheili whom resided at Stoic Courier, the Jiralhanae would simply assume that we had escaped, and would not raise an alarm to High Charity."
'Refumee thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. "You are correct, young one. Very well, we shall wait for you in our corvette. We will send a dropship to pick up the Sangheili you have rescued and bring them to our ship." As he turned to leave, he reached into his armour slots for something. "You may need these. It will aid you sufficiently." They were three adaptable cloaking devices. Fira, Warra, and 'Tullum took one each, and Fira said, "Thank you, officer." As they synchronized the devices to their armour, he headed back outside, and called into the alleyway. "Go with Officer 'Refumee. We will meet up with you later." As the Sangheili cautiously stepped into the streets, 'Refumee said, "You have established an air of command over these Sangheili. I have seen the same with your friend." As he led the freed recruits down the street, he said. "You will make an excellent soldier of the Covenant. I wish you the best of luck."
Fira readied his weapon, and activated his cloaking device. He waited until Warra and 'Tullum were merely blurs, and they proceeded down the street.
"We are approaching the Threshold system," 'Pyronee said. "Entering normal space now."
It felt like forever as they travelled through Slipstream space to Threshold. Autel was once again in the copilot seat, preparing a hail to the Fleet of Particular Justice.
The space around them formed into definite shape, and on the viewscreeens was a gas giant. Threshold. And off to the right—
Autel gasped. It was a Halo ring. There were many ships in space around it, safeguarding it. Were the humans already on the ring? Had they been killed? Could it be remotely activated?
Behind them, the Jiralhanae frigate was still. No doubt those on board were just as astounded.
'Sraomee was the first to recover. "Preparing weapons." His voice snapped the other crew into action. 'Pyronee flew the corvette as far away from the frigate as possible, hoping in the Jiralhanae's amazement they would not notice.
Autel sent out the message. "This is the corvette Honourable Intentions," his recorded voice said. "We have a hostile Jiralhanae frigate upon us. We require immediate assistance." The message repeated itself until there was a reply.
"This is the cruiser Outcast's Revenge," said a Sangheili voice. "We are intercepting the frigate now." He did not seem hesitant to engage another species of the Covenant. Perhaps because of the age-old rivalry between them and the Jiralhanae.
The frigate was now moving to give chase. Four destroyers and a cruiser prepared their weapons, but it fired. Not at the ships.
"All weapons targeting our corvette!" 'Pyronee shouted, moving the Honourable Intentions behind a destroyer. The plasma would be absorbed by the larger ship's shields but could tear through their relatively small ship in less than half a subunit. The Sangheili ships returned fire, breaking through the frigate's shields and melting its hull.
"Take us to the Seeker of Truth," Autel said. They needed to talk to Thel.
"The frigate has launched boarding craft and escape pods," 'Pyronee said as he complied. "Hundreds of them, and they are all following us."
Thel 'Vadamee watched the scene aboard the Seeker of Truth. A corvette had appeared out of Slipstream space, declaring that a frigate full of Jiralhanae were trying to kill them. Rmembering how the barbaric aliens had betrayed him almost twenty years ago, he ordered retaliation immediately.
Many of the escaping Jiralhanae craft were escaping. Thel noticed the fleet's firing solution, and said, "Hold your fire! You will hit the corvette!"
"The Honourable Intentions is attempting to insert into our flagship, Supreme Commander," reported a Sangheili. "There are lots of boarding craft and escape pods following it."
"Lower our shields, and allow them in...all of them."
"Do not question my order," Thel snapped impatiently. "Do it!"
He would do whatever it took to ensure the corvette got on board safely. He had heard the Honourable Intentions' transmission, and knew who had sent it.
The corvette landed hard in the Seeker of Truth's hangar bay, with boarding craft and escape pods falling around them. As the Sangheili opened the hatches, Autel took point, Carbine ready. He stepped into the hangar, and turned away as an escape pod missed the hangar door and crashed into the flagship's hull. There was a bright flash, and the craft was no more.
Several boarding craft had attempted to enter, but the Seeker of Truth's shields were active once again, and they shimmered as the vehicles were vaporized.
Jiralhanae were exiting their escape pods and opened fire. The others had come out as well, and more Sangheili from the flagship arrived and cut them down. Soon, there was only the dripping sounds of molten metal, and the Jiralhanae in the hangar were eliminated.
"Crew of the Honourable Intentions, report to the Control Centre immediately," Autel recognized the voice as Thel 'Vadamee's. He looked around to make sure the others were alright, and let a group of Sangheili led them out of the hangar and down several halls.
A double set of doors opened, showing a massive room. Numerous Sangheili were operating various consoles, and reports were streaming in.
"...damages are moderate, this ship can fly but cannot land upon the ring..."
"...Jiralhanae running loose throughout the flagship, killing Huragok and tampering with our systems..."
"...they are looking for the ones on the corvette..."
Autel felt a slight twinge of guilt at the trouble they were causing the flagship crew, but had no further time to think about it as they approached a tall Sangheili clad in golden armour. Thel 'Vadamee looked more stressed and exhausted than the last time Autel had seen him. Then again, he did not chase a group of humans after a long space battle and contend with getting them off the ring and deal with an unexpected group of Jiralhanae at the same time on Sanghelios, he thought.
"Excellency? It is I, Autel 'Vadam," he said. Thel looked away from the panel he was gazing at and turned to them. For a moment, surprise registered in his eyes as he looked over the armour they were wearing, but said, "I am glad you have made it. What are these Jiralhanae doing?"
Autel hesitated for a moment, and Thel knew why. "Come," he said, and he took them into the hallway. After making sure there was no one else around, he began to tell the Supreme Commander everything they had been through. It was the third time he relayed the events to someone, and as 'Sraomee finished off by explaining where 'Refumee had gone, Thel's mandibles tightened. "Treachery? From the Jiralhanae, and the Prophet of Regret himself..." It was too familiar.
"I cannot come with you," he said at last. "I must protect the holy Ring."
Autel nodded. "I understand." The Great Journey was the Covenant's first priority, and the lives of its soldiers the second.
Thel's eyes darkened. "It has become increasingly difficult. We have found something on the ring, something terribly powerful. They consume—"
The opposite door opened, and an entire score of Jiralhanae burst in. Seeing Thel, one of them roared, "The Control Centre is close! Onward, brothers!" The aliens opened fire, and Autel and the others did likewise. But there were too many of them. "Into the Control Centre!" Thel ordered, and they retreated through the door, still firing.
The other doors opened, revealing two additional scores of Jiralhanae pressing in from all sides. The Sangheili were forced to abandon their tasks and engage combat with them. Gunfire lashed out and destroyed several panels.
Autel couldn't see 'Sraomee or the others, but he stuck close to Thel. He kept his back to the Supreme Commander and could kill the Jiralhanae more easily.
Autel's Plasma Rifle fired rapid bursts, taking down a Brute with severe plasma burns. The gun overheated, and he dropped it, grabbing his Carbine. He forced himself to make controlled, accurate headshots, which was difficult in all the pandemonium.
A Jiralhanae was smashed through a panel, spraying glass everywhere and his blood dripping onto the console. Thel decapitated another one with his Energy Sword, but had to lunge towards another group as he did so. The Supreme Commander's shields flickered and failed as he came under heavy fire. A Sangheili activated a plasma grenade and charged two Brutes. The explosion wiped all three of them out, the bright flash playing hell with Autel's vision.
Three Jiralhanae charged him. Autel fired the last two rounds in the Carbine's magazine, but neither shot dropped the aliens. One of them held a Spike carbine, its curved bayonets raised to stab into Thel's back. With his weakened shields, he knew it could kill the Supreme Commander. Autel leaped in front of him, and hit him hard with the Carbine. The Jiralhanae roared and lashed out with the Spike carbine.
The young Sangheili felt a sharp pain on the side of his face. The Carbine slipped from his hands, and he collapsed.
Thel saw Autel fall, and turned around with a roar. He slashed his Energy Sword through the Jiralhanae's chest, and cut the second one down the middle. The third raised a Mauler shotgun pistol, and Thel moved to cover the fallen young Sangheili, stabbing upward. The Jiralhanae was slain, but loosed off a single shot. The Supreme Commander felt the round tear into his shoulder, but refused to leave Autel.
Finally, the Jiralhanae force was suppressed, and the Control Centre was silent again. The remaining Sangheili summoned a team of Huragok to treat the wounded, and quickly locked the doors in case of another assault.
A Sangheili walked over to him holding a medical kit, accompanied by a Huragok. "Excellency, your shoulder..."
Thel shook his head. "His wounds are more serious." He gestured at Autel.
The Huragok carefully removed the young Sangheili's damaged helmet with its tentacles, and the Supreme Commander winced when he saw the injury.
The Spike carbine's blades had left two deep slashes on his right cheek. Purple blood streamed from the twin wounds, and as the Sangheili handed the Huragok some supplies from the medical kit, he turned to Thel. "Excellency, he will be fine. The Huragok will see to it." He nodded, and allowed him to remove his shoulder pad.
The Sangheili called another Huragok over. "The round has shattered your shoulder blade, Supreme Commander," he explained. "You should avoid agitating yourself until it heals." The second engineer began pulling the bullet shards out of Thel's skin, and he said. "Thank you. Now please see to the others."
Autel woke up with a pain on the side of his head that made him squint through one eye. He looked around the Control Centre. He saw many bodies of the Special Operations unit, but 'Pyronee was sitting down, occasionally wincing and clutching his side. 'Sraomee's leg was held in a splint, and he shifted slightly into a more comfortable position. A Huragok was applying an ointment onto his face.
Thel was sitting to his left, with a Huragok attending to him as well. Seeing that Autel was awake, he asked, "How do you feel?"
"Fine, Excellency, I..." he trailed off, staring at something on Thel's shoulder.
There was a marking on his skin. Two opposing arcs, with three overlapping circles and a dash through them. Why did it look so familiar? He had seen it on someone else's skin before...
Then it hit him. The Seer of Sanghelios bore the same mark on her shoulder. It was the mark of mating.
Thel looked down at his own shoulder, and back into Autel's pale eyes. Those eyes with a tinge of red in them.
"Yes, Autel," he said. "I am your father."
Chapter 9: Assault on the Control Centre
Time 3:67:43 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), fifteenth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant mobile military city Stoic Courier, in orbit around Sanghelios moon Suban
1400 Hours, September 20, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
The Jiralhanae paused, and sniffed the air suspiciously. Fira watched them, ready to draw his Needle pistol if they were discovered.
The aliens turned around, and walked out of sight. He exhaled, and turned on his communication link. "They have not found us, officer. We are going to the weapon facility now."
"Be careful," 'Refumee said. "The last group was nearly discovered."
Warra had found a good hideout where the three of them could stay when security was too tight. They had freed over a hundred recruits, with close calls a few times, but the Jiralhanae couldn't find them or 'Refumee's corvette.
'Drell had warned them about the Jiralhanae captain, Cerberus. Fira hadn't run into him yet, but the rescues were getting riskier and more difficult with the increased guards at the remaining locations.
As Fira checked that Warra, 'Tullum, and himself were cloaked, they moved swiftly through the city, avoiding patrol vehicles and the more occupied areas. Moving down several floors, and at the bottom level of Stoic Courier, was the weapon facility. It was an enormous building. No doubt with a lot of Jiralhanae inside.
Fira and the others quickly slipped inside through one of the five doors, hoping no one would notice the door opening for a moment. He kept his back to his wall, and nearly gasped.
The weapon facility wasn't a plain room stacked with arms. There were many cubicles with cabinets, filled with various weapons that were locked behind plasma walls. Just in case someone broke through the first door, it would obstruct them from obtaining the weapons.
In this case, the cubicles made perfect cells. The weapons and cabinets were removed, and dozens of Sangheili were imprisoned inside. Fira grimaced. He could see more than one recruit lying dead in their cell, possibly from suicide. But what had surprised him was the amount of Jiralhanae guarding it. There were so many that there was no need to lock the doors. Any force attempting to enter would be overpowered immediately.
"We need to leave," Warra said quietly. Fira nodded, then realized he probably couldn't tell. They backed out slowly. The door chimed.
A nearby Jiralhanae heard, and growled as he turned his head. Fira saw his expression of suspicion before the doors shut, and they quickly put distance between themselves and the facility. When he was sure they weren't being followed, he said, "We will need to find a way to free the Sangheili inside. Any ideas?"
"We could use explosives," 'Tullum seemed to have thought it over already. "Very powerful explosives."
"Where would we find those?" Fira asked.
'Tullum's mandibles parted in a smile. "The contraband storage facility."
Autel was in the co-pilot seat again. His pilot was a young Minordomo named Kei 'Oltemee. He hoped he was as good a pilot as 'Pyronee.
Autel's viewscreen flickered on. "We are ready to leave, Excellency," he said.
Thel nodded. "I wish you success on your mission, Autel 'Vadamee. I have faith in you."
Autel 'Vadamee. that meant he was in military service to the Covenant. A Covenant that the Jiralhanae had broken. But perhaps not beyond repair.
Autel saw his own reflection on his screen. The Jiralhanae's spike carbine's bayonets had left two long, deep gashes on his right cheek. The purple scars easily contrasted with his pale skin, but he put it out of his mind as he slipped his helmet back on. He would bear those marks, as a symbol of the conflicts he had seen, and the secrets he had to keep.
"Prepare to enter Slipstream space on my mark," Autel ordered.
"Yes, Excellency," 'Oltemee said, adjusting some controls on his console.
Thel had provided him with a hundred and twenty Sangheili. But 'Sraomee and 'Pyronee were both too injured during the Jiralhanae's unexpected assault on the Control Centre, and they were remaining behind. Thel needed the survivors of 'Refumee's Special Operations squad to deal with a nefarious all-consuming species found on the ring called "the Flood". So that put him in command. Even the majors respected Special Operations.
"And the best of luck to you, father," Autel replied in an undertone. He exchanged Sangheili salutes with Thel, and as the screen turned off, he prepared for the oncoming battle. It would not be easy, he thought, but I will fight to my last breath to end this conflict.
He gave the go-ahead to 'Oltemee, and the Honouralbe Intentions disappeared into Slipspace.
Stoic Courier kept a lot more contraband than most would have guessed, which was why the Jiralhanae had neglected to check there.
Fira wondered why the city needed all the contraband as he riffled through it. Most of it was human war products, and he could not find a sufficient use for any of it.
'Tullum, however, had showed them what he found a few minutes later.
"I believe these will be sufficient," he said brightly, setting four large, rounded objects onto a table. Fira recognized them.
"Nuclear space mines," he said, "Expensive, inefficient, and difficult to create. It also emits a lot of radiation. Primitive to our standards. But they make a powerful explosion, which is handy during a space battle."
"These may kill our fellow Sangheili," Warra pointed out, "and I think these are coded to prevent unauthorized detonation."
"We can find a way around that," Fira said. "The cell walls will protect those inside, and we do not have a lot of time. Bring them with us."
They hefted the mines back to the weapon facility, and saw that there were now Jiralhanae guarding the doors.
"A single mine should be sufficient," Fira said. "Set them outside the facility."
Warra brought three of the mines to a safe distance, while 'Tullum was breaking into the fourth one's receiver.
After nearly a subunit, he finally said, "It is ready."
"Set it for two mimutes, by human time," Fira said. "That should be enough for us to get out of range."
'Tullum complied, and they got as far away from the weapon facility as they could. Fira turned around and watched.
There was a bright flash and an explosion. Fira said, "Go! We must hurry before word reaches Cerberus."
The explosion had a wide radius, and the smoke was thinning, leaving a green tinge on the buildings just outside of the blast.
The explosion tore through two levels above the mine, and one below, exposing the city's giant reactor. The weapon facility was entirely collapsed, and Sangheili were coughing and standing up, looking around in surprise. Some did not rise. Fira felt a twinge of guilt at the ones they had killed, but noticed that there wasn't so much as a finger left of any Jiralhanae.
"We need to leave," he said urgently. He thought he heard Banshees coming from above. As the recruits wearily followed, Fira linked up with 'Refumee again. "Officer, we have the recruits from the weapon facility. They will require treatment from radiation poisoning..."
"I am sending in dropships to pick them up," 'Refumee said, "by the gods, those Jiralhanae air patrols are all going towards the lower levels." He obviously guessed what they had done.
"Head that way," Fira told a Sangheili the route to the unused hangar bay. "Be careful. You do not want to be captured again—"
"Move all Sangheili prisoners to the main facility immediately," said a voice over the broadcast. Cerberus. "Place heavy guard upon them."
As the freed Sangheili disappeared down an alley, Warra said, "We should get to the main facility."
"No," Fira said. "Not yet. If we are going to the main facility, there is a high chance we will be killed by the Jiralhanae. There is something else we must do to ensure we can defeat them, just in case we fail to free the Sangheili and Cerberus overpowers us."
"And what is that?" Warra asked.
Fira picked up the three nuclear mines. "We destroy Stoic Courier."
The Honourable Intentions reentered normal space, and Autel could see Sanghelios once again. High Charity was still in its orbit. Not far off was the Jiralhanae cruiser.
'Oltemee directed the corvette towards the cruiser. Their presence was, as of yet, unknown. Autel hoped they could board the cruiser quickly enough to avoid death from the ship's powerful plasma turrets.
"Aim the plasma torpedo towards the cruiser's midsection," he ordered the Sangheili on weapons. Thel had a group of Huragok modify the corvette's front heavy plasma cannon with a torpedo launcher, for one use only. They would only need one use.
The Honourable Intentions was closing fast with the cruiser. "The Jiralhanae ship is turning," 'Oltemee reported.
"Keep us below it," Autel said. "Give our torpedo a clear shot at its underside."
The cruiser opened fire. Thick, red beams of plasma flew through space. 'Oltemee easily avoided them due to their wide spread and his own ability.
"Fire!" Autel barked. The torpedo launched towards the cruiser. "Activate all plasma cannons and aim at the torpedo's spot of impact. 'Oltemee, follow the its trajectory."
The cruiser moved, but it was too large to miss. The torpedo blossomed as it exploded on its hull. Its shields flickered and vanished, and the damage spread across its underside. Plasma bolts ripped out and caused even further damage, opening a hole large enough to vertically fit a corvette in.
But the cruiser had fired again, scoring several hits on the Honourable Intentions before it entered the larger ship. Alarms rang on Autel's consoles.
"We have two light plasma cannons working," 'Oltemee said, "there is severe leaks in the hull, and our Slipstream drive is disabled."
"It matters not," Autel said as he grabbed his weapons and opened the door. "We will not need this ship again if everything goes according to plan."
"Hurry," Fira said urgently.
"I cannot," 'Tullum snapped, "These mines have different codes, so I must use another method to break into them."
"Never mind," he said. "Activate one to detonate, and place all of them next to the reactor. Perhaps the explosion will trigger all of them."
"By your word it is," 'Tullum said, putting them onto the floor. He set one to detonate in Ten human minutes, and said, "We should get to the main facility now. Theoretically, the reactor will overload five subunits after the explosions. We should have enough time to rescue the last Sangheili and escape."
"Then we should make it quick," Fira said. He already told 'Refumee about their plan. The officer didn't like it, but he agreed to bring in reinforcements to help them.
"I have just deployed the dropships," 'Refumee said they headed towards the main facility. "They will remain outisde of the city to...what in the name of— The transmission abruptly ended.
Fira tried to reestablish the connection, but he received no reply. Something below his hooves hummed as it powered up.
Warra noticed too. "We are entering Slipstream space."
It is no coincidence, he thought. Something is going on. Then he remembered.
"The reactor!" he said, "We must disarm the mines before they detonate!"
Fira quickly engaged his camouflage, not checking whether Warra and 'Tullum did so as well, and ran back to the reactor, hoping it wasn't too late.
Chapter 10: Tragedy and Victory
Time 18:41:05 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), ninteenth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
Location: Covenant cruiser designation CCS-U572, in orbit around Sanghelios
0000 Hours, September 22, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar), 40 minutes ago
The plasma torpedo detonated surprising close to the cruiser's Control Room, located in the centre. Nonetheless, Autel and the others had to fight through several levels before reaching it.
As they finally made it to the third floor, and left the hangar bay behind; the fifth one they had passed through, Autel lowered his Plasma Rifles for a moment, and checked on the others. Out of the dozen Sangheili, they had suffered few casualties, and only minor injuries. The other Sangheili were causing mayhem in other parts of the ship, killing the Jiralhanae and taking over the cruiser. The unexpected attack had cost the Jiralhanae a lot.
"We are close," Autel said. "Be wary of the Ship Master. And possibly Tartarus' captains." The others nodded, reloaded their weapons, and checked their shield generators. He opened the door, where six Jiralhanae were waiting. The major growled. "It is the albino! He has come for the prisoner!"
Prisoner? Autel thought, as he opened fire. The aliens' rounds simply melted against his shields, but he targeted the leader first. Under a severe hail of plasma bolts, the major collapsed, missing half his face.
'Oltemee tossed a plasma grenade. It attached to a Jiralhanae, and wiped out three others. It was easy to take down the rest.
"Well done," Autel said. "We should hurry. It seems the Jiralhanae have a prisoner."
"It must be someone important if they do not wish for us to find said prisoner," 'Oltemee replied, checking the hallway for more enemies. There were none, for now.
The squad moved down the hallway, and a slight ramp indicated they were next to the Control Centre. Autel stepped inside.
A quick scan showed that the Ship Master was not present. But there was a gold-armoured Jiralhanae at the command console. It was one of Tartarus' Captain majors, Othreus. He was speaking to someone he held tightly with his thick fingers, and was obviously very impatient.
"Why are they here?" Othreus growled, forcefully wrenching the prisoner forward. "They have come for you, haven't they?"
"You will find no answers from me, Othreus," a female voice replied evenly. Autel gasped. It was the Seer of Sanghelios. The Jiralhanae had captured his mother.
Before he could warn the others, 'Oltemee and the squad burst in, firing at any Jiralhanae they could see. Othreus snarled and moved down the platform. As the Jiralhanae returned fire, the Captain moved for an opposite door. Autel didn't even bother with the enemies. He ran after Othreus. As the doors slid shut behind him, he heard the Seer's voice echoing through the hallways.
"You efforts are in vain, Othreus. There is no place for your kind in the Covenant. The San'Shyuum conceal secrets they do not disclose to you, and when your eyes are opened to the truth, your death will be miserable."
"Be quiet!" snapped Othreus. "I do not need to hear your rants again." As he stopped in a hallway, Autel caught up to him. The Jiralhanae Captain looked at him, bared his teeth in a smile, and drew a Spike carbine.
"If you will not tell me what I need to know," he said to the Seer, "then you are of no further use to us. And I will kill you now."
Autel stepped forward, raising his rifles.
"You will find no victory in this conflict," she said. "You will see that."
As Othreus raised his weapon to take her life, Autel fired at his fingers. The Captain howled in pain, dropping his Spike carbine and loosening his grip. The young Sangheili ran forward, clubbing him hard in the head. Quickly, he grabbed the Seer's arm, and ran down the hall.
She did not seem alarmed at all. "Autel," she said, "my child. You have become quite a warrior."
"No time for that, Seer...mother. We must leave quickly."
"And you have discovered a secret when you went to the Supreme Commander."
Autel kept running, holding her wrist firmly.
"You have the natural ability of leadership, my child," she said. Suddenly, her eyes flashed. "You must leave the ship immediately!" Her voice lost their calmness.
"Yes, mother, I know. We are returning to the corvette."
"No," the Seer said, and she stopped running. Autel tried to move her, but she remained still. "You must leave. With your friends. There is not much time."
Autel felt thick arms grab him with a strength he could not break free from. He knew what was happening, and tried to warn her, but Othreus caught up to them. With a malicious swipe, he buried the weapon's bayonets into her back.
"No!" he shouted, trying to get to her. But the arms were wrapped too tightly against him.
"Your days are numbered, Othreus," the Seer said, her teeth gritted in pain. Dark blood seeped onto the floor, and she fell, still speaking. "Your delusions will lead to false loyalties, and they will seal your fate. You will meet your end at the hands of the Arbiter..."
The sound of plasma bolts was heard. Autel felt the grip on him weaken, and he rolled away. He reached for the Energy Sword strapped to his side, and as his long fingers closed around it and it ignited. He instantly killed the Jiralhanae who was holding him, and spun back to face Othreus. The Captain had run from the attack when 'Oltemee and the others arrived.
Autel wanted to give chase, but he knelt by the Seer's side instead. her eyes were misty, and losing their focus.
"Autel..." she gasped, fighting the pain. "There are great things ahead for you. Do not let your anger get the best of you. Maintain your judgement. Fight only for honour. That is what it means to be Sangheili..." she slumped back, and was still.
The Energy Sword rolled to the floor as Autel released it. He clenched his fists, blinded by tears of rage and grief. Finally, he gently lifted her, and faced the others.
"We should go after that coward," 'Oltemee said.
"No," Autel said firmly. "She told us to leave the ship. That is what we will do." Looking down the hall where Othreus had gone, he silently vowed to find the Arbiter the Seer had spoke of, and do whatever it took to avenge her. He would chase Othreus to the end of existance to kill him if he had to.
The door to the reactor room opened, and Fira flinched as a bright blue-white explosion was seen. Apparently the mines had already detonated.
He turned to the others. "We cannot stop the destruction of Stoic Courier now. We must get to the main facility, bring the city back into normal space, free the prisoners, and find other means to escape."
"Changing vectors in space with a damaged reactor is risky," Warra said.
"It is riskier still to remain travelling in Slipstream space with the damaged reactor," Fira pointed out, "and we do not have a choice. If we wait, then we will all die when it explodes."
As they headed for the main facility once again, Fira relayed the plans to them.
"'Tullum, once we free the imprisoned Sangheili, take them to the hangar, find a dropship, and wait until we return to normal space.
Warra, it is likely Cerberus is at the main facility, so I will keep him occupied while you get to the Control Centre."
A voice was heard over the broadcast. "Begin the executions. I want them all dead before we reach Threshold."
Warra looked up at a nearby speaker. "Why would he broadcast that?"
'Tullum shrugged. "Perhaps he is stupid."
"No," Fira said. "We are being challenged. Cerberus knows we are still here. We must hurry, or else the prisoners will all be dead."
It seemed forever before they reached the main facility, but as Fira checked that they were all camouflaged, readied his Needle pistols, and opened the door.
The atrium had Jiralhanae standing around it, but not as much as Fira had expected. Some of them looked around as the doors opened, but could not spot the Sangheili. As Fira crept up behind one and broke his spine, Warra and 'Tullum opened fire. The three of them had the advantage of invisibility, and the Jiralhanae did not fire much for fear of killing their own allies. As the last Jiralhanae fell, Fira led the way up a gravity lift, and to the top floor.
A group of Sangheili were standing in a line. Another group of corpses were piled together. As a Jiralhanae raised a Mauler shotgun pistol to a prisoner's head, Fira opened fire on him. The alien fell, impaled by the razor-sharp needles.
The prisoner reacted surprisingly quickly. Grabbing the Jiralhanae's Mauler, he emptied the weapon's clip into the nearest guards. The other prisoners took their weapons and joined in. When all the Jiralhanae were eliminated, Fira asked, "Are there any others?" One of the prisoners shook his head, and he looked at the numerous piles of dead Sangheili. Less than twenty were alive, but he said, "'Tullum, take them to the hangar. Be careful."
When the Sangheili were gone, Fira turned to the only other door, and looked to Warra. "Cerberus is most likely behind that door. Are you ready?"
He nodded, and Fira walked through the door, ready for anything.
They were in a small antechamber. Standing alone watching the door was a gold-armoured Jiralhanae. Captain Cerberus.
The alien growled and raised a crimson Plasma Rifle. Fira fired a burst of needles into his torso. The Brute didn't even flinch, and fired red bolts at him.
Warra, who had remained invisible so that Cerberus would assume Fira was alone, hurried through the open door. The doors quickly shut. He was alone.
Fira fired again, but the Jiralhanae leapt forward, tackling him. His Needle pistols were shaken from his grip as he was pinned down.
Cerberus lashed out with a large fist and punched him in the gut. The Sangheili gasped in pain, unable to double over due to his arms being pinned to the floor.
But the Captain had forgotten one thing. Sangheili knees bent forward. Fira kicked the Jiralhanae in the thigh, causing him to let him go.
Fira whipped out a Carbine and fired. Two rounds sparked off Cerberus' helmet, but the third sank into his exposed eye socket. The Jiralhanae howled in pan, clutching his blinded eye. His arm connected with Fira, knocking the Carbine out of his hands before he could fire another round.
Cerberus took his his hands off his face, leered at the Sangheili, and lunged at him again. Fira made a grab for the Carbine, but the Jiralhanae slammed him to the floor, onto his belly this time.
Cerberus aimed his Plasma Rifle at the back of Fira's head, but using the advantages of a Sangheili's body again, he stretched his long neck, headbutting the Captain in the throat.
As Cerberus fell, Fira looked at him. Perfect, his armour had gaps and tears in several places. Drawing the Energy Sword he had concealed all the time, he stabbed it into the Jiralhanae's chest.
Cerberus roared once, and was still.
Fira took several deep breaths, staring down at the body in bitter satisfaction.
Rest in peace, 'Noromee...
He pulled the Energy Sword out of Cerberus, and entered the Control Centre.
Warra was inside, working at the central panel. Several Jiralhanae bodies were seen around his feet.
"Is he dead?" he asked without turning around.
"Yes," Fira said, approaching him.
"You may be interested in this," Warra displayed something on a screen, "we received this just before 'Refumee's ship, and this city, entered Slipstream space."
Fira read it. SLIPSPACE TRANSITION STOIC COURIER...HIGH-PRIORITY DISASTER...ALL SHIPS CALLED TO THRESHOLD....
"It was sent from High Charity," Warra said. "All ships of the Covenant are being forced to this 'Threshold' system."
Fira frowned. "I had heard Cerberus mention a place called Threshold. He knew we were going there."
"So he takes this city into Slipstream space," Warra said, "Normally, Covenant ships do not have a choice whether to go or not. But as this city was not designated with an automatic transition, I can bring us out. I am almost done."
Time passed as Warra continued to work at the panel. Finally, he said, "We have reentered normal space. We should leave as soon as possible."
As Fira stepped outside with Warra, he realized just how unstable the reactor was becoming. Explosions rang everywhere. Entire buildings were destroyed.
"'Tullum, we have done it," he said into his mike. "We need to leave immediately."
"We are at hangar bay 43," 'Tullum replied. "Hurry."
It was a perilous trip back to the hangar bay. There was the constant danger of being killed by a random explosion. Once, Warra had nearly fallen down a hole as something suddenly triggered below him, and Fira barely managed to pull him out. They ran into many Jiralhanae along the way, but they were too busy panicking to notice them. Finally, both Sangheili made it into the hangar, quickly getting aboard the dropship.
'Tullum closed the hatches and flew the Spirit into space. "There are more recruits on the other dropship," he explained as he flew them as far from Stoic Courier as they could. "They are waiting for us in space."
Fira looked out the dropship's hatch. Stoic Courier was almost the size of a speck now. Suddenly, an explosion ripped through its bottom levels, where the reactor was. It spread along the city, destroying it bit by bit. More explosions consumed it. Soon, there was not much left of the once proud military city so many recruits had called home.
Fira sighed and leaned back in his seat. The Sangheili of Stoic Courier were free.
Autel readied the Honourable Intentions' backup engines as 'Oltemee lifted it into the air. Upon landing they had suffered extreme damages.
The Honourable Intentions' scraped an edge of the hole as it flew out of the cruiser, but managed to hold out. Autel did not take the time to consider what the danger aboard the ship was. He decided to take the Seer's word for now. She had never been wrong.
Autel still felt the pain of her death deep in his hearts, but he froze his sadness for now and made sure the surviving Sangheili made it out alive. That was the least he could do.
A message flashed on his panel. SLIPSPACE TRANSITION HONOURABLE INTENTIONS...HIGH-PRIORITY DISASTER...ALL SHIPS CALLED TO THRESHOLD...
WARNING...SLIPSTREAM SPACE ENGINES DISABLED...UNABLE TO CARRY OUT COMMAND...ENSURE REPAIRS ARE MADE IMMEDIATELY...
A rift appeared around the cruiser, and it began to accelerate quickly. It entered the Slipstream and disappeared.
'Oltemee's mandibles parted in a smile. "We have done it." His grin faded when he saw the expression on Autel's face. Putting a hand on the pale-skinned Sangheili's shoulder, he said softly, "I am so sorry. She is one with the Journey now."
But she never believed in the Journey, Autel thought. His expression softened, and he looked at 'Oltemee. "Thank you." It matters not. She foresaw this and willingly accepted her fate. I must do so as well.
Autel looked out to Sanghelios. They had ended this conflict, stopped a disaster so few even knew of. But he did not fight to become well-known. He did for honour, just as the Seer had told him to. And although there had been many lives lost, they had been just as willing to give it up for others. And the Jiralhanae threat was stopped, if only for now. But for now, that was good enough for Autel.
It was a victory.
Time 22:63:91 (Accuracy 1/10 to that of Forerunner), nineteenth sunrise shift of the twenty-sixth month (Sanghelios Time Unit), 9th Age of Reclamation (Covenant Time Unit, based on Forerunner Time Unit)
1800 Hours, September 22, 2552 (UNSC Military Calendar)
Fira thought about everything that had happened over the past few days. Even though he was the one hiding out in Stoic Courier freeing the prisoners, and the one leading it, it still seemed incredible that the Jiralhanae would do such a thing to another species of the Covenant. And the Prophets' themselves planning it.
There had been over a thousand recruits whom had lived at Stoic Courier. They had managed to rescue more than five hundred of them, but there had been so many that had been killed by the Jiralhanae, committed suicide, or hidden so well they couldn't be found. All sure to be dead once the city was destroyed. Still, most of the rescued Sangheili were with 'Refumee. He would take care of them.
Fira looked towards the others in the dropship. Warra was asleep beside him. He needed the rest after all they had been through. Behind the pilot's seat, 'Tullum had an absentminded look in his eyes, thinking things over after the conflict was finally over. The other recruits were silent also.
"Have you found out where we are?" Fira asked 'Tullum softly, so as not to awaken Warra.
"No," the pilot said. "There is nothing out here. We do not have the resources to remain out here for very long."
"How are the Sangheili on the second dropship?"
"They are drifting in space, awaiting orders," 'Tullum looked at Fira. "Your orders."
He leaned back in his seat again. After freeing them from what seemed like turning their own home into hell, everyone seemed willing to obey him, follow him through anything. Even though his plan hadn't exactly gone the way he expected it to.
"If it was not for me, we would not be here right now," Fira said.
Warra opened his eyes. "You are right. We would be dead." When Fira continued to look downcast, he put a hand on his shoulder. "Do not blame this predicament on yourself. It is the fault of the Jiralhanae. I doubt that anyone else could have found a way to save so many of us, even if we paid a price for it."
Fira felt slightly better at his words, and looked out the hatch. It was silent, like most things in space.
Yes, they had paid a price, but it was worth it. Fira set his eyes to the glowing bits of debris seen in the distance, the remains of Stoic Courier.
"'Tullum?" the pilot looked to Fira, and was surprised to see a smile upon his face. "I think there is something out here after all."
Sesa 'Refumee watched through the viewscreen as the corvette reentered normal space. This must be Threshold. What was the crisis that had resulted in a forced Slipstream space transition?
"Excellency? We see the Fleet of Particular Justice gathered around the moon," a Sangheili reported.
"Bring us toward it," 'Refumee ordered. The corvette's engines activated, and began to move.
The pilot moved the ship over an asteroid. A collision alarm suddenly sounded. He barely had time to move it back under as another piece nearly destroyed it.
"What was that?" the officer asked. It was unusual to see so pieces of asteroid clustered closely together. Not even asteroid fields were this dense.
"It looks like something was destroyed here," the pilot said, "something colossal."
The corvette moved under another piece of asteroid, and 'Refumee couldn't believe what he saw.
It was the Halo ring, completely destroyed. Pieces ranging from the size of his fist to the size of twenty carriers were scattered all over the space around Threshold.
"What has happened here?" 'Refumee asked, astounded.
"I do not—Excellency!"
"What is it?" the officer asked, his eyes still on the ruins of the ring world.
"We have detected a presence, trying to enter the ship," he tapped a screen, which showed a spherical object in space with a glowing blue eye, zapping at the corvette's hull with a blue beam.
"The Oracle!" 'Refumee exclaimed, amazed. "Let it in, perhaps it can tell us what has happened here." He stood up, running out of the cockpit to meet he Oracle.
It was hovering inside the shuttle bay, examining the controls in the hangar. When it saw 'Refumee, it turned its eye to him. "Oh, hello! I am 343 Guilty Spark, the Monitor of Installation 04."
"Holy Oracle, why does your ring lie in ruins?" he said.
Spark paused, then said, "Oh, I see. You are another meddler. Another one of an entire fleet that has come here. I would have preferred a Reclaimer to assist me, but I suppose you could be helpful."
"What do you require, Oracle?" 'Refumee asked.
"Some of the Flood has escaped the ring and onto the gas giant. I estimate that their chances of survival is zero point two nine five one eight four, but a great deal of them have found locations to breed. I have seen multiple gas mines located on the planet. Once we find the Ark, and a Reclaimer, of course, we can activate the rings to wipe out the Flood threat. Of course, we will have to find other means to eradicate any sentient beings with sufficient biomass to sustain the Flood in this central radius."
'Refumee couldn't believe what he was hearing. "'eradicate sentient beings'? Do you speak of the Great Journey, Oracle?"
Spark equally confused. "'Great Journey'? I'm afraid I don't understand you, Meddler. This Installation's sole purpose is to eliminate any potential living organisms, as are the rings in the entire Array."
'Refumee was dumbstruck. So the Prophets had lied all along. The Great Journey was a hoax that would only lead the loyal creatures of the Covenant to their deaths.
The officer's mike sounded. "Excellency? Is everything alright?"
"Yes," 'Refumee replied weakly. "Yes, everything is fine. I need you to turn this ship around. Avoid the Fleet."
"Avoid the...yes, Excellency," the pilot replied.
"And take us to the gas giant. Find an abandoned mine and set us down there. I have much to tell everyone."
As the corvette moved away from the remains of the Halo, a plan began to form in 'Refumee's mind. This revelation was certainly disturbing, but he would not allow himself to just wait around while others still believed in the Great Journey and tried, blindly, to find it. He could speak out against this, and while maybe the San'Shyuum and the Jiralhane would not listen, he could persuade his fellow Sangheili to join him and stand against these concealed lies. And now that he had hundreds of recruits at his disposal, it wouldn't be too difficult. After all, they had all seen the treachery within the Covenant.
'Refumee knew that many would not believe him, and eventually the Prophets would send someone to silence him. But until then, he would repeat his message to the Covenant until they were driven from this insanity. And just as so many had sworn service to the Covenant, he too, would do what he believed was right...even to his dying breath.
Business Management • Cleaning House • Change in Management • First Kill • Job Application • The Pupil • Sparring Match • Tools of the Trade • Blinding Tears • The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing • Divergence