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Terminal.png This article, When There Was Faith, was written by KidVegeta. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.

When There Was Faith is a collection of short stories bound together into a single tale. While each one is separate from the rest and features a different point-of-view, all chapters deal with aspects of a common plot. Each chapter features a new point-of-view character from a myriad of perspectives, including humans, various Covenant species, and even The Flood. The story takes place during the plot of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. The last chapter concludes before the Master Chief returns to Earth on the Dreadnought in the closing cutscene of Halo 2.


Table of Contents

Chapters are listed in order of historical occurrence:

  1. A Grunt and his Plasma Pistol - A chapter about a grunt and his plasma pistol.
  2. The Life and Death of an Infection Form - A chapter detailing the life and death of an infection form, written in gritty, provocative, unapologetic detail.
  3. Pretty Great Journey - A chapter about a Jiralhanae strike team sent to investigate a growing rebel cause, written from the perspective of an ODST on Installation 05.
  4. It Burns Us - A chapter written from the perspective an Honor Guard Ultra Sangheili trying to survive the displacement of his kind during the Covenant Civil War on High Charity.
  5. Enter The Monkey - A chapter focusing on a poor Jiralhanae who is being infected by The Flood on High Charity.

When There Was Faith

1. A Grunt and his Plasma Pistol

Nipin had slept all day. These were the best times – just him and his dreams, and the warm metal floor. No Sangheili master to berate and terrify him. No fellow Unggoy to make cracks about how short he was, or about how bad a shot he’d always been. He would just dream of his homeworld, Balaho, where things had been better. He hadn’t been a soldier back then. No, Nipin had lived the good life with his family (how he missed his brothers and sister!), playing rock games and chasing mud wasps. He longed to return to them. And even as he slept, he could see a perfect image of them in his dark mind: his mother, Broon, his older sister Tatan, whose words often cut him deep as the rocks she would throw at him, and his three younger brothers, Singmin, Raraw, and Zapap. They were all he cared about, not some Great Journey or glorious conquest. Those were just empty words to Nipin.

He snorted himself awake and looked around at the others. Grib and Mubub were nestled beside him, cuddling up for warmth. He had no idea where his Sangheili master was. But he supposed that wasn’t important. Nipin shook his head to rid himself of the painfully happy thoughts he had been mulling over in his dreams. No use thinking about them now, he thought. Master will get mad if he sees me daydreaming! Nipin shivered and picked up his plasma pistol. Blinking his eyes furiously to readjust himself to the dim lighting, he found his path through the dull grey metal of the room and began his patrol. He did not notice behind him as a sage-armored being snuck out of the shadows and slammed the butt of his gun into the skulls of Nipin’s sleeping comrades.

He passed by Zawbaw and Fengfen, noticing how satisfied and sickly they looked as they dreamt. Those two were no friends of Nipin – mainly because of the time they had offered to fit his methane tank with some Infusion and he had refused. They had never been nice to him since. But he knew the stories about the Infusions. The Kig-Yar, those cursed jackals, used to poison the supplies of the sweet vapor and cause anyone who used them to become sterile. And though he was a just a soldier patrolling some tenebrous little corner of his Gods’ Great Ring, Nipin reckoned he could have a family of his own someday. Perhaps, in that distant future, he could bond with his children as he had once bonded with his own parents and siblings. Someday. But not today. No, today he was just a soldier, forced to do the bidding of his master. His brothers were soldiers much like him. His parents were probably dead. He hadn’t heard from his sister since joining the Unggoy ranks. He didn’t know if anyone still lived at his old home on Balaho, much less remembered him. But he liked to think everything was as he had left it… that’s how he remembered it, at least. It helped him sleep.

He held back a tear as he instead focused on his plasma pistol. It glowed fiercely in the otherwise dark room, guiding him along his path. And he was sure to hold it tightly against his chest. It was the only friend he had; it was the only thing he could trust.

Nipin noticed a couple of Kig-Yar conversing in a corner as he went further. Surely, they were supposed to be on patrol too, but there was no master around to force them to. And who was he, Nipin, to tell on them? He was nothing. Even amongst the other Unggoy, he had no friends, no one to talk to or play games with. He was a piece of equipment to them. And he was too small to do anything about it. So he kept to himself and his dreams.

Nipin had been born with a weak bladder and even as he began his rounds, he felt the need to relieve himself. Silently cursing his food nipple, he found a secluded corner. He was careful to look around for any Kig-Yar or Sangeheili. If they saw him, they would kill him. After all, desecrating the Holy Gods’ creation was no good. But he would not be seen. Over the past few days of patrolling and exploring, Nipin had found a few dimly-lit places that not even the stupid jackals could find him. It briefly made him feel at home; when there was no one around, he felt relevant to himself. He could shake off the ever-pressing burden of fear and become the master, himself – a master of himself.

But it was only for a moment. This time was no different, and while he relished in the few seconds of peace he got from the rest of his lance, he knew he had to return. Begrudgingly, Nipin pulled up his combat harness and waddled back to the group. It was as he was returning that Nipin saw a most curious sight. There was a light coming from a room ahead. This room was well beyond the territory his group was patrolling around. As far as Nipin knew, there weren’t other lances around either, because he had ventured out this far before and seen no one. He didn’t find it odd, though, that there was no one else around. Aside from the cold metal and stagnant air, this relic of the Gods offered little of interest. Now there was a light, and he was drawn to it.

Nipin crept up to the room so sneakily that it reminded him of the way he used to hunt shade crabs in his youth. Of course, whatever was in that room was no shade crab. So Nipin brought up his plasma pistol and cautiously craned his neck in to peek into the room. There, he spied two great figures huddled together.

They were Sangheili. He knew that the second he saw them. Their proud stature and magnificent battle armor was second to no other species. One was adorned in crimson, and the other in a careful mixture of black and blue and white and gold. And his armor was covered in the words of the Gods. Nipin had never seen a Sangheili with such an appearance, but he knew it meant he was important.

Nipin wanted to vomit. He was also petrified with fear. What if they see me, he thought. What if they tell master?! He would die. He knew that. If he ran, they would see him. If he screamed, they would hear him. So Nipin stayed very still and very quiet as he listened in to what the two had to say.

“This offer will not stand forever, Cesa. I must move quickly if this is to succeed,” the Sangheili of many colors spoke.

“This cannot go forward,” the crimson one replied. “And I will have no part in it, brother. What you said is blasphemy.”

“It is the truth.”

“Would you risk your life thinking that? Would you risk the honor of our family by spreading these lies?!” the other spat, his tone rising in anger. Something about it made the voice familiar to Nipin, though he didn’t know why.

The glyphed Sangheili paused for a second, staring down at the ground in front of him. After a few seconds, he looked back up, flexing his mandibles. “I already have. It is only because you are my brother that I dared come. And now you too know the truth of this place,” he boomed. Standing erect, proud and grim, he continued, “It is by my honor that I do this. I will not have our history paint us as blind and stupid. Our family will be remembered for our unwavering courage in this act!”

Those words would have moved even Nipin had he not pledged to stay put.

Cesa, the crimson-clad Sangheili moved more into the light, countering the imposing presence of his brother. In the light, he looked like master, Nipin thought. His eyes were poor, but he was sure of it. Now when Cesa spoke, Nipin recognized the voice as the one who so often barked and yelled at him for his numerous shortcomings. It sent a chill down his spine.

“You are deluded, brother. The gravity of this place has poisoned your mind. You don’t know what you are saying.”

“But you do, brother?” the other replied haughtily. “I do not need your permission for this. As you know, I am the commanding officer on this Ring. It is my decision what will happen. What with the parasite free–”

“We cannot leave. The Supreme Commander has forbidden it. The contamination could spread.”

“The contamination already has, in the minds of the entire Covenant. This place is not a monument to the glory of the gods. It is a grave. The gods are dead; and this Holy Ring killed them. I have read the glyphs. They do not lie. It will be our end as well, if we do nothing to stop it. And I plan to.”

Cesa looked stunned, bewildered, small. In fact, he was a good foot shorter than his brother. Nipin marveled at how weak his once-fearsome master looked. His voice quavered when he spoke again, “Y-you cannot think that! It is not true! Vharo, my brother, do not say this!”

Ignoring him, the other raised his hands, as if he was speaking to an entire crowd, not just a single Sangheili. “I will ask you one final time, Cesa. Will you help me tell our kin? Will you help me silence the lies of these Forerunners our prophets would have us worship? Will you help me restore honor to our species?”

Cesa produced a plasma rifle from behind his back. Pointing it at Vharo, his arm slightly shaking, he uttered one final phrase, “I will stop your madness.”

Vharo sighed, “Then this journey must begin with a sacrifice. Brother, you will not be forgotten, even in your ignorance.”

Vharo strode towards Cesa, even as his brother pulled back the trigger on his rifle. White-blue energy shot forth and lashed out against Vharo’s body. His shields flared but for a moment. Then, a long, sleek energy sword activated and thrust itself through Cesa’s neck. His shields didn’t even have the chance to protect him. He was dead before he hit the floor. Purple blood sprayed throughout the room.

For a moment, all Nipin could think of was how unfair it was that a Sangheili could desecrate the place with blood, when he would be killed for doing the same. Then, he snapped back to reality and realized his master was dead. Nipin was still too scared to feel any joy over that. He had never liked his master, that was true, but he didn’t know what to do without him. The Kig-Yar might decide to eat him. Who would stop them? The other Unggoy could group up on him and make his life even more miserable. Who would stop them? The horror, the fear that came from such thoughts kept Nipin squarely where he was. So when the other Sangheili, Vharo, started to walk towards the door, he just watched. When Vharo raised his hands and made a whistling sound, causing two great beasts to suddenly spring from the wall, Nipin could hardly breathe, the terror was suffocating him so.

They were known as Hunters to the humans. That much he knew. Their real names were too long and difficult to pronounce, so Nipin always thought of them simply as Hunters. But they were no allies, even if they fought on the same side as him. He had seen a pair of them trample two dozen Unggoy before for no reason at all. It was as if they couldn’t see where they were putting their feet. For a smaller being like Nipin, the prospect of being caught up in the sharp metal boots of the Hunters was enough to make him faint.

Nevertheless, he let the three pass him without squeaking out his fright. He clutched his plasma pistol close to him. Its low hum, its inherent warmness comforted him some. He just wanted to go home. He just wanted to sleep. He just wanted to forget what he had just seen.

Once he could no longer see them, Nipin let out his breath and realized he had wet himself. Scowling, he looked down at his soaked harness. There was no hiding it. Especially with master dead, he couldn’t sneak back and find a new harness. Everyone would know if he returned. They would beat him, ridicule him, hurt him. So he wouldn’t return.

It was time for Nipin, son of Nipnip, to live the life he had always wanted to. Master was dead. He was free. All he had to do was run. So it should come as no surprise that when a large explosion then went off, rattling the entire installation, Nipin was gone. His hands above his head, his plasma pistol dangling precariously between two clawed fingers, he screamed his lungs dry with his high-pitched wailing as he ran blindly into the darkness.


He ran for longer than he could remember. It hurt his legs. It hurt his arms. His lungs were in pain with every breath he took. The combat harness was biting into his shoulders and neck. He had to pull it off. He was delirious. He couldn’t think straight. If he paused for a moment, he couldn’t tell how much time had gone by. Everything blurred together. He was free. It made his mind numb and his thoughts swirl. He thought he heard some movement ahead of him, but he couldn’t tell if it was just in his mind.

It was pitch black. He was many rooms separated from his lance. They were nothing now. His mind was racing as he felt over the floor and walls and continued moving. He hatched a million escape plans a second, though by the next second, he remembered none of them. As his methane reserves grew dangerously low, Nipin became bolder. He proudly displayed his plasma pistol to the darkness, proclaiming to no one and no one in particular that he was the best shot in the entire Covenant. He was a wonderful soldier, one who would make even master proud, and noble Sangheili shake in their boots. He held down the trigger, creating a charge on his weapon. Using the light, he continued on, talking faster and faster about how tall he was and how brave he had always been. No Kig-Yar would stand up to him at that moment, no sir.

Nipin settled on the opinion that the only way out of the terrible maze of rooms he was in was to ride a Hunter. He started whistling, waving his arms and crying out “Here Hunty-Hunty! Come to Daddy!”. But no Hunters showed themselves. Nipin started swearing as he heard sounds all around him. Were those just the Hunters messing around with him? They had steadily grown louder since he’d called for the Hunter. It was sort of like raw flesh on metal, sliding about in thrumming, synchronized waves. It was enough to make him sick. Nipin shot off his plasma pistol’s charge into a wall, burning a deep black spot into it. Still, the sounds continued. So he threw his pistol down the hall.

He instantly regretted that. Now in the complete dark, Nipin stumbled about, trying to gain a sense of where he was. He couldn’t think. He knew he was running, but he couldn’t remember from what and he couldn’t remember where to. He knew there was something deep inside him that was driving him. It was a feeling, a hope for something better. What that was, he didn’t know. It gnawed at his brain like a scrub grub would gnaw on decaying corpses.

He just knew he wanted his pistol back.

“Come back, buddy! I want you back back back!” Nipin shouted to his plasma pistol. He fell to the ground in insanity and started rolling about, neither knowing what he was doing nor where he was. He couldn’t remember his name. He couldn’t breathe. He tugged at his harness. It had to come off. He had to keep going.

It was then that something touched Nipin. It was like a hair – and it tickled him as it moved across his forearm. But it continued back and forth, and then more hairs came out of the darkness and did likewise. Nipin became very aware that every time they touched him, his arm got cut open more and more. He felt the blood with his hands. He smelled it with his nose. But he did not feel any pain. There was no terror in his heart, no fear. Within a few seconds, he could feel the hairs brushing across his entire body.

Then, Nipin stopped feeling anything. He couldn’t even feel himself breathing anymore. He wasn’t even sure if he was still breathing. The harness had finally come off, he knew. He craved for his mind to remember where he was, what he was doing, and where he was going. But it was lost to him. The lack of methane had warped his mind. As the darkness came to Nipin’s eyes, he fought against it. There was something he was living for, he was sure of it. Something he wanted to find; something he needed.

But he couldn’t remember what it was.

2. The Life and Death of an Infection Form

An explosion went off in the low artificial light, jettisoning the group of four from their carrier. Onto the grey floor they slid, wet flesh on metal, humming fervently as if they were alive. The small group of infection forms glided forward, joining into the ranks of a larger host of their kind swimming past them in an unending stream. Soon, the huge assemblage came upon the still-warm corpse of an orange-clad being, its bright blue blood leaking onto the cold floor, and three brothers peeled off to huddle around it. Only one of the infection forms did not join them; instead, it pressed on with the rest of the great host – its new family.

Consume.

A terrible appetite overcame the infection form then, causing it to thrust itself forward to the head of the pack. From that vantage, it could clearly tell there were other beings yet to be absorbed by its brothers. One was tall, covered in flickering blue lights. Two others were hunkered over, dark steel, glowing green energy warming in their massive hands.

Feast.

The infection form lunged towards the being covered in the glowing lights, but its jitteriness and rampant desire caused it to overshoot the thing. Brothers followed and landed directly on the being, popping meekly against its hard shell. A bright pulsing light covered the animal whenever brothers jumped onto it, and even more were destroyed by the thing’s weapon. The infection form went to jump again when the large animal and its two guards pushed backwards into another room. Green and blue energy covered their retreat, reducing more brothers to nothing but brown stains on the otherwise spotless metal floor.

Pursue.

The infection form sprinted after the animals, hunger lending to its speed. Once again, it was at the forefront of the pack. As it moved, the infection form watched the three beings running through the structure, shooting their weapons in all directions. There were others in this room of chaos – more animals to feast on, and more brothers coming from other directions. Loud explosions were going off in steady breaks, and a grievous fire was burning at the center of the room. Corpses and blood lay everywhere in grim measure, and the infection form had to try hard not to peel off and group around them. Some other brothers were less resolute, as they found and clung onto the dead flesh of the vanquished. But the infection form could not join them. It had more important things to do.

Hunt them down.

The animals were screaming as they were overcome. Smaller beings were running about, their hands over their heads, blood spurting from their gaping deep wounds. Soon, they disappeared into the smoke and flame and became silent. Gunfire was being exchanged between the three animals the infection form hunted and a group of brothers who had grown into their new bodies. The animal of many colors used a bright blue sword to cut through the infection form’s brothers, and the other two shot their green cannons to vaporize all who stood in the shadows. They moved quickly, not looking back anymore, always pushing forward.

Eat them alive.

The infection form kept to the edges of sight, staying soft and swift as a shadow. It was all alone now, it realized, its many brothers either destroyed or feasting on fallen foes. The infection form’s foes were still breathing, so it pressed on. It noticed more and more matured brothers fighting the three animals ahead. Orange blood dripped from the shells of the hunched pair, but the infection form did not mind. They were not its quarry. It was the animal that led them that had to be consumed, first and foremost. Everything else would be a bonus. That beast with the sword fought with unrivaled audacity, cutting through brothers with ease, its armor pulsing with light and heat whenever they got too close. The infection form crept up on them, gaining ground and staying out of sight, its anger and dismay at seeing so many of its kind being killed only fueling its pursuit.

Their meat is sweet.

Yet another explosion rocked the structure, burning and twisting metal and sending chunks of flesh in all directions. The infection form was careful to move around the fire. Fire burns, it knew, but it did not know what had told it that. The beings were yelling to one another, moving in a tight pack and shooting at anything that moved. The infection form had no opening. So it waited, patiently. The group continued on, past more bodies and more wreckage, onto a bridge outside. It was night; snow was falling in the midst of a howling blizzard. There was a bridge parallel to the one they were on, and on both sides, animals and brothers fought with all their strength as the wind silenced their screams of victory and defeat. The infection form remained close behind its prey, taking cover behind walls and bodies whenever they turned around. It was too hungry to be killed now.

Do not let them escape.

They had to die, the infection form knew. It was a thought deeply ingrained in its being. Ahead, the tallest of the beings was yelling at something in its left hand and holding its blue sword loosely in the other. It was distracted. The other two had taken up a defensive position on the bridge just ahead of it. It was now or never, the infection form knew. It raced forward.

The secret dies with him.

Out of the swirling darkness came a large flying craft, its purple prongs cutting through the night like two sharpened blades. The huge craft stopped just over the bridge, and then one of the prongs opened, revealing a small holding area inside. The animal with the glowing armor shouted for its guards, and swiftly, they retreated to its position. First, they jumped into the ship, their fat lumbering bodies causing the flying thing to sag on one side. Then, the other went to follow.

Now!

Over the constant roar of the tempest gale, the infection form heard its mature brothers shriek in unison. Over from the other bridge, they jumped; from the door behind the infection form, they sprinted out; and from the opposite side of the bridge, they came in greater numbers still. The animal paused, noting all of the brothers closing in on it, perhaps briefly considering fighting them. That was the chance the infection form needed. It jumped forward to the body of its prey, every tendril extended, desperate to taste that creature’s blood.

Kill!

The infection form overshot the animal, landing just half a foot behind it. It must have been the wind, pushing the poor infection form off its mark. Panicking, the infection form turned around and went to jump again when the tall animal backed up. The being was preparing to jump onto the hovering ship and escape all of the infection form’s brothers when it accidentally stepped on the infection form. With a pop and a splat and a brown-green smear, the infection form was no more. The warrior animal did not even notice what it had done; instead, the beast turned around and jumped into the craft, and, with its guards, flew out of that nightmare.

A desperate, voracious voice boomed again: Kill! But under the clamor of wind and war, it went unanswered.

3. Pretty Great Journey

Corporal Melanie Wilde had been lost all day. A plasma bolt to the helmet had fried her comms, and ever since then, she had been wandering aimlessly through the hills and canyons of the ringworld. Her pod had landed far away from the drop zone – so far that when she had sprung from it, battle rifle in hand, Wilde had found herself alone in a rocky plainsland, neither enemies nor allies around. She had stayed in communication at first, and learned that the Master Chief was moving forward with the rest of the ODSTs and Marines to find and capture the Prophet of Regret. She had been able to find out where the others were – a few miles east, moving towards that giant lake that she was looking down upon now. The temple building in the center of that lake was where everyone was going, and that was where Corporal Wilde intended to regroup with them.

Things hadn’t gone so well thereafter. She had stumbled upon a troupe of Jackal snipers in a canyon pass, only barely getting out of that one with a well-timed frag grenade. Not far beyond the Jackals, she had come upon some patrolling Grunts and Buggers. The first few had fallen to her battle rifle with swift efficiency, but when the Drones took the sky, she had been forced to take cover. And while exchanging shots with the flying alien pests, one plasma pistol bolt had managed to hit her helmet. Most of her helmet’s functions stopped working immediately, including the comms. She’d killed all the Drones and Grunts, but now she was running blind, without any idea of how the mission was going. That, and her battle rifle was out of ammo. She only had her pistol and sniper rifle now.

Her Automag in her hand, Mel moved cautiously through the brush until she came to another overlook peering down upon the great lake basin. To the right, bathed in sunlight, a yellow crumbling stone ruin stood on the cliff’s edge, overlooking everything. One glance was all it took for her to see that there were Covenant here – Elites. One was patrolling on the second floor of the ruins, a long purple rifle in its hands, its armor a dull, non-reflective grey.

Jumping behind a rock, the ODST felt a Phantom roar up to the edge of the cliff, causing the very air to vibrate with tension. Swallowing, she checked her ammo, counted her grenades (she had two left), and prayed that whoever was piloting that beetle-shaped ship couldn’t see her. Evidently, it didn’t, for a moment later, it buzzed off. From its grav lift came an Elite – a squid-jaw unlike any she’d ever seen before.

He strode up to the temple, a burning energy sword in one hand, his armor shimmering black and blue and white and gold, almost opalescent in the way the colors blended and shimmered. Burning aqua glyphs – of some kind that she had never seen before – were displayed all over the warrior’s armor. This was an Elite of a rank she had never seen before. That gave her pause. She didn’t know if he was someone really important or not. Mel thought of her brother, and what he would tell her in this kind of situation. “A squid jaw’s a squid jaw. Put a bullet in his brain and get on with it.” Lucas had always lacked subtlety. She smiled, in spite of her situation.

When the Elite reached the entrance of the ruins, another Elite, this one clad in jet black armor, walked out to greet him.

“It is begun,” the glittering alien spoke. “They have found the location of the Sacred Icon,” he grunted, pointing to the far-distant metal wall that loomed over the lake and all of the surrounding area, impossibly tall. So distant was the wall that most of what Corporal Wilde could see of it was poking out between puffy white clouds. “They will be moving for it soon.”

“We’ll take it,” the other said confidently. “On my honor, Vharo, I will not let the ignorant ones come into possession of the Key!”

“I will go with you,” the other spoke solemnly. “This is too dangerous a mission. How many were you able to recruit?”

“Not enough,” the other replied gruffly.

Vharo raised his blade to his face, staring at its burning white-blue energy. “We’ll go with what we have. Whatever we have, it must do.”

“It will. Our convictions are strong, Vharo.”

“We do what we must… for our species, for the Covenant, for all life in the universe. If we fail…”

“I know. That’s why I joined you.”

Vharo laughed strangely and patted the other Elite’s shoulder. “Come, let’s gather the others.”

The two vanished into the ruins, the thick stone door slamming behind them. Corporal Wilde unshouldered her sniper rifle and aimed at the patrolling Elite on the second floor of the building.

“Gotta take him out… he’ll see me if I try to get past him.” Still, she knew this was a gamble. She didn’t have a silencer for her sniper, and she didn’t have the ammo to fight so many Elites inside – whom she knew would come flooding out at the first sound of gunfire. “I have to time this perfectly…”

This was not her fight. Her comrades, the Master Chief… they were all down in that lake, moving towards the Prophet of Regret. He was the big fish, and Mel wasn’t about to miss the fight. She sprung up from behind the grey rock that had been her cover and aimed at the patrolling Elite. Holding her breath, she moved the sights to align with its head.

Just as her finger went to squeeze the trigger, the ODST felt a familiar rumbling in the air. The Phantom was back. Immediately, the woman flung herself to the dirt, so as to not be spotted. Looking cautiously around the side of the rock, she saw a strange sight: other beings – not Elites, but broader, furrier, without much armor – descend from the grav lift. These were Brutes, she knew, foul, savage aliens, even more dangerous than Elites, though they lacked the squid-jaws’ cunning. In their hands, they held crude-looking hand cannons with sharp, curved bayonets on the underbellies; others wielded purple carbines or red plasma rifles. The one at the head of the pack, a grey-furred, tall beast, had what looked like a gold-and-peach hammer grasped between its furry fists. There must have been two dozen of them, if not more.

The force moved up to the door; the patrolling Elite had vanished from the second floor above. She was just about to get up and make a run for it, to get around this bump in the path and continue on down towards the lake, when the chief Brute shouted:

“Come out, Heretics!” When no response came, he turned to a Brute beside him and said, “Cowards. No matter, bring the explosives.”

Other Brutes stepped forward, with indigo box-like objects in their hands that they stuck on the door. Then, the Brutes moved back, and a moment later, the yellow rock exploded in a burst of black smoke, shaking the ground violently. And out from the smoke, two green beams of energy, thick and streaming as only Hunters’ attacks would, fired. The Brutes dove aside, save for the two who had planted the explosives. They were too slow, too near the energy, and when the burning plasma hit them, the beams incinerated them from the torsos up, letting their lower halves fall to the ground, burnt and blackened.

A reek of burning fur rose in the air. The Brutes were shouting, as were those inside. Gunfire was exchanged. Beam rifles shot through the torn-open door. Brutes staggered back and fell, bleeding. Someone yelled. “Come and take us to your Hierarchs, if you can!”, an Elite shouted from inside the ruins. In the next moment, the remaining Brutes roared, beating their chests, and charged in.

“They’re not cowards, at least,” Melanie breathed, sitting up a little more now that everyone was gone. But it was perplexing that they were fighting. She’d never seen Covenant fight one another before. Maybe this was a first. The Brutes had called the Elites Heretics… and there had been mentions of Hierarchs. None of that made sense to the corporal. She stood up, going to run away, when the fighting spilled out of the door. Brutes, Elites, and Hunters there were, all exchanging plasma fire, bleeding and dying and swearing at one another like the universe had gone mad.

She saw two Brutes knock an Elite to the ground and bash his head against the ruined stones until it became an purple pile of gore. Ahead, the Hunters swiped Brutes aside, cleaving them to pieces while incinerating others with their fiery plasma cannons. That was until the Brutes regrouped and focused their weapons in the hulking, walking tanks. The primitive-looking weapons seemed to be grenade launchers to the corporal, and to her surprise, they made short work of the two beasts. Orange blood splattered across the stones and grass, and the Hunters collapsed, dead.

Vharo the Elite, the one with the strange shining armor, howled when the Hunters died. He cut his way through three Brutes before coming face-to-face with the Brute leader. Swinging his blade at the Brute, Vharo cursed him and spat. The Brute merely laughed, his dark eyes studying the smaller alien coolly.

“So, Heretic, you have finally shown yourself. I must admit, this wild chase has gone on longer than I had hoped. The Hierarchs sent me to capture you, so that is what I will do. You probably didn’t even know I was hunting you, that anyone had ratted your little group out. The Hierarchs will reward me greatly for this, ha!”

“Many have stood against me before.” Vharo paced in front of the Brute cautiously. “You are no different from the rest.”

The Brute scowled and spat. “I am Chieftain Bactimus! I have never been felled by such a weak creature! That will not change today!” the Brute goaded the Elite. “If the Hierarchs didn’t want you alive, I’d already be polishing your skull for my trophy case.”

“Witless fool!” Vharo swung his blade at Bactimus. “You know nothing!”

“I know you can’t kill me!” Bactimus lunged forward, swinging his golden hammer. When it cracked against the air, it exploded in violent electric streams, sending heavy ripples through the air. Vharo stumbled back, almost dropping his blade.

“You are as blind as your Prophets! You will die like all the rest, should you succeed. You don’t get it!” His blade was a white-hot blur, moving like lightning in the heat of day. The Brute dodged the swings deftly, though not with total calmness. The ODST could see the Brute was tiring of this game and perhaps was fearing for his own life too now, for he grabbed his hammer and held it close, preparing to parry the energy away in a last-ditch effort if need be. “This ring will destroy all life in the universe! It was built to starve the flood, not send us on a Great Journey.”

“Save your breath. The Hierarchs will want to interrogate you themselves, Sangheili. And trust me, they’ll make you scream much more than I will.”

“There is no Great Journey. The Forerunners are dead; they killed themselves and nearly every form of life in the universe hoping to destroy The Flood! They failed, and so will you! But this time, all life will perish because of your blind ignorance!”

“The only blind man is you,” Bactimus grunted, suddenly dodging to the left and raising his hammer over his head. “Your fate has already been sealed, Heretic, just like all the rest.”

He swung down hard, causing another explosion to go off. This time, Vharo was too close. He tried to dodge the blow, tried to jump back, but he was too slow. The force of the electrical blast sent the Elite flying back against the far wall. When he hit it, he slumped forward, unconscious, falling to the ground and dropping his energy sword. Around him, dead Elites, Brutes, and Hunters lay just as still. Those who remained on their feet were all Brutes. They had a few prisoners – other Elites, including the one in jet black armor, and the grey-clad sniper who had once patrolled the second floor of the ruins.

“Bactimus… we have subdued the rest of the Heretics.”

“Good,” the grey-furred Brute mused, holding his hammer in one hand. He eyed the prisoners as he walked past them, but said nothing to them. Finding Vharo, he grabbed the unconscious Elite, slumped him over his shoulder and turned back towards the cliff. He pressed something in his ear, and a few moments later, their Phantom could be seen screaming towards the mountain from the distance, like a buzzing fly in the air.

“Are we bringing along the rest of the prisoners?” one of Bactimus’ soldiers asked. “And what of our dead?”

“Leave them, Ephidalus,” the chieftain said coldly. “And kill the prisoners. The Hierarchs only wanted this one.”

“Wait! Please…!” the black-armored Elite pleaded for a moment before the blade of one of the grenade launchers sliced open his neck.

The prisoners were executed with brutal efficiency, all falling in unison to soak their blood in the yellow grass. Soon, the Phantom arrived, and the Brute left with his prisoner in tow, his surviving soldiers behind him. They were not so large a pack any more – perhaps closer to a dozen strong now – but still, they had come out of the fight much better than the Elites had.

As the Phantom shot off towards the sky, Corporal Wilde wondered why the two groups of Covenant had been fighting. She did not wonder long, however, for in the sky she saw a most horrifying flight: a Covenant fleet so large it covered the entire sky, and a large moon-like object in the midst of all those ships.

“Where did that fleet come from?!” She felt fear course through her veins. “W-we… we don’t have enough men to fight that many Covenant!” Suddenly, the butchery that had unfolded before her eyes seemed small, irrelevant. She knew she had to get to the others.

When Mel stood up, preparing to run down the path, she saw a wounded Brute struggling to his feet amongst the sea of blood-drenched corpses. He was brown-furred, though much of it was now tinted indigo in the light, and in his hand was one of those red plasma rifles. Shooting his weapon after the fast-disappearing Phantom in the distance, the Brute said, “Don’t leave me, bastards! I’m not dead! Get back here, Bactimus!” Before the ODST could dive for cover again, he noticed her. Growling, the beast raised his weapon. “Human? What are you doing here?”

She said nothing, but raised her rifle.

“I’ll pick my teeth with your bones!” the left-behind Brute muttered, feeling a wound on his shoulder. “You’ll make a tasty snack!”

She fired, taking him in the shoulder. Howling, the Brute staggered back, blood spraying everywhere. But in the next moment, he was sprinting at her. The beast moved fast as lightning, a brown blur weaving this way and that. He was too close. She threw her sniper rifle away and drew her Automag. Remaining calm in the face of pressure, Corporal Wilde began to back up slowly as she squeezed the trigger. The M6S was silenced, so the shots were barely heard under the sound of her panicked heartbeats. Many of the shots went sailing wildly past the alien. He was firing at her too. One hot bolt took her in the knee, causing the ODST to scream and fall over, waves of pain washing up her leg with burning acuteness. She bit her lip, tasted blood, and kept her pistol trained on the Brute. It was her, or him. She would not give up so easily.

The next two shots took the Brute in the forearm and the hand, causing him to drop his weapon. He screamed out in pain. Blood was now flowing out of half a dozen open wounds. He was broken, ready to die. Just one more shot…

The next shot she fired hit the Brute on the metal cap protecting his head, bouncing off harmlessly. That was her last shot. Looking down for her next mag, Mel didn’t realize how fast the Brute was coming at her. He was charging at her like he had gone berserk. The furry alien crashed into her and threw her into the rock behind. She felt ripples of pain cascade up and down her spine, felt her bones pulsing with blinding pain.

Wilde was starting to lose focus and consciousness. Try as she might, her discipline was not enough to keep her in the moment. Her thoughts turned to her brother, and in her mind’s eye, all she saw was that same disappointed look on his face, the one that told her that she was not fit to be an ODST like him.

The Brute was on top of her, grinning. Slobber fell from his open mouth; his teeth were sharp and browning. Ripping off her helmet, he spoke, “Look at me, human! I want to see the life fade from your eyes as I take it from you!”

His blood was dripping on her armor, across her face, and all Wilde could think of was her brother. Lucas wouldn’t be so weak. He wouldn’t give in. She looked down to her boot even as the Brute lurched back, grabbing her by the neck and standing up. Holding her out, away from his face, he guffawed.

“So weak. Pathetic creature.”

The ODST kicked her leg up against her back, reaching for the combat knife she kept in her boot. In one motion, she unsheathed it with her left hand and sliced it diagonally at the Brute. The blade tore into his flesh just at the base of his neck, shooting upwards to his face and eyes. It felt satisfying to her to feel the blade glide across the alien’s skin, sinking into his eyes and puncturing them in bloody, wet slices.

The Brute dropped her, clutching at his wounds. She spit out his blood, wiped it from her eyes, and reloaded her mag. There wasn’t time to feel pain. Not now. Raising her pistol at the dying Brute, Corporal Wilde said nothing. She watched him collapse to his knees, the blood flowing from the gaping hole in his neck and the amethyst ruins that his eyes had become. He reached out for her wildly, stumbling forward before collapsing in the dirt. She squeezed the trigger as the fallen Brute convulsed at her feet, and after three shots, he stopped moving.

Sighing heavily, Corporal Wilde stumbled forward to look out over the lake. She wondered where her squadmates were, if any of them were still alive. She wondered if the Master Chief had found the Prophet of Regret yet. And then, blazing white-pink light fell from the sky as Covenant ships descended upon the temple in the center of the lake.

“They’re… glassing their own Prophet?!” She was confused. But then she remembered the words of Vharo, who had spat at his Prophets, who had called them liars and thieves. She didn’t know what was going on. The various species of the Covenant were fighting one another. But her squadmates… the Master Chief… everyone else was supposed to be down there.

The pale fire reduced the temple to ash until it collapsed into the waters, buried forevermore. Mel stood up, feeling her sore shoulder, stretching her sore back. She was alone now. No one knew she was out here. Hell, it was more than likely that everyone else was dead. The In Amber Clad had no chance against such a fleet, and the ground forces all those ships could field…

She returned to the rock and the Brute’s corpse, which had now been surrounded by a massive puddle of dark blood, to pick up her helmet. Into it, she spoke, calling out for help, for anyone to respond, but all she got in response was silence, the soft crackling of static, and another wave of pain radiating through her body. She was alone out here, with nowhere to go. Locking the helmet back on her head though, she shouldered her sniper rifle and began running down the path again. If anyone was left, she would find them. The pain she was feeling didn’t matter; that’s what her brother had always told her. Pain is just weakness leaving your body.

“Maybe you’re right,” she whispered to herself as she ran, “but what does it matter when I’m the only one left?”

4. It Burns Us

Jiran ‘Ahinoee knelt at the base of the monstrous pink marble statue of the Prophet of Candor, his head bowed. The sound of trickling water soothed his mind as it poured from waterfalls foaming out of slits in each of the statue’s outstretched hands. Below, bright-colored fish swam amongst the lilies, and in the distance, incenses burned, fragrancing the air with the keen smell of sky spice.

The Light of Sanghelios rose with a sigh, his armor rustling as he got to his feet. Staring up at the High Councilor wrought in pink marble, he fingered his Vorpal Talon. The blade found its way to life, humming with orange-and-cyan fire. I have failed, he thought angrily. This should not have happened. He half wanted to turn the blade on himself; it would be quick – he would be dead before he hit the ground. Others had already taken their lives upon learning the news of what had happened to the Prophet of Regret. I did not have the courage. Nor did Nyhar.

He clicked his mandibles, wondering what Nyhar would do. Nyhar was the younger of the two Helios; both of them had been assigned to guard the Prophet of Candor together, all those annual cycles ago. Back then, Nyhar had been a young, hot-headed warrior, and Jiran had been in his prime. They had been some of the deadliest Sangheili in the universe at one time.

Pale emerald-and-violet vines snaked up the wall on all sides of the garden, wrapped solemnly around the dark purple walls. Jiran thought about his own garrison, the twenty-four Honor Guard Sangheili he and Nyhar commanded. We have trained them well. They an elite force, unrivaled by any soldiers outside of the city. The thought was more hubris than reality, it seemed. But he had believed it, until the news of Regret’s assassination had spread through High Charity. How could the demon fight his way through the Hierarch’s guards?

Candor was no Hierarch, but he was an elder Councilor, one of the most respected members of his species. Jiran liked to think that he and Nyhar were the deadliest of the Helios in all of High Charity, but he knew that the best of the best guarded the Hierarchs. And if they couldn’t stand against the demon…

He watched fish chase foam in circles around the statue that stood on an island in the center of the pond. He was getting older, Jiran knew. I won’t be able to do this for all that much longer. Do I want to go home and live out my life on Sanghelios? Or should I go out with honor… as a warrior should? His grip on the blade tightened.

A bird chirped from a cream-barked tree to the left, whose dual trunks twisted up and up and up like intertwined energy coils. Jiran peered down into the water, catching his reflection for a moment. I’ll die with my armor, he decided. The Jiralhanae will have to take it from my corpse if they want it. Ever since news of the Changing of the Guard had spread through the towers, Jiran had known he could not comply. That is why he had come here, to Candor’s garden sanctum. He didn’t want to have to give up his armor, his rank. Being a Helios was Jiran’s greatest achievement in life, his greatest source of pride. Without that honor, he was nothing.

The serene garden was smaller than a Hierarch’s, if the rumors were to be believed, but the room was still large enough to accommodate dozens. But he thought, I am glad I am alone. The door behind creaked open. Jiran raised his head, turning it slightly to see who had come in. Lerandus. Already? “It is time, commander.”

He calls me by the rank he wishes to strip me of. That brute thinks this is a game. “Where is Nyhar?”

“Retired to his new quarters,” the furry beast grunted. “Where you should be too.”

“Is that so?” Jiran spun around, revealing his Vorpal Talon to the grey-furred Jiralhanae. “Do you know, the Sangheili have protected the San’Shyuum for more than a thousand years? Our pact–”

“Enough!” Lerandus’ eyes were dark and watery. Impatient fool. “You’ve been replaced. The Hierarchs have willed it. Give me your armor and leave.”

“If you want my armor, come and take it.” Jiran raised his sword and fell into his fighting stance, the blade pulled back over his head. His body felt calm, free-flowing as water. “I may be old, but I was given this rank for a reason. You will soon learn why, Lerandus.”

“Bastard…!” Lerandus muttered, reaching for his plasma rifle. There was uncertainty in his voice. He didn’t expect me to resist. Fool. He knows nothing of Sangheili honor. “This is treason!”

I know. Jiran would die before he stepped aside for the Jiralhanae to replace him. He knew many others would feel the same. A few hours ago, the Sangheili High Councilors had all threatened to resign over the Jiralhanae replacing the Sangheili Honor Guards. There will be war, he knew. Perhaps it’s already begun.

Red plasma sailed through the air. Jiran rolled to the side, dodging the furious blasts of Lerandus. He had met the Jiralhanae for the first time only the day before. He had been smirking, standing there with his friend. They had wanted to replace Nyhar and me right then and there. It had all happened so quickly. Jiran had not allowed the Jiralhanae to take his armor and had marched off in a daze, not understand what was going on.

He didn’t expect me to fight him. He probably didn’t expect to find me here in the first place, elsewise he would have brought Nyhar’s replacement to help him. Bactimus… that was his name, was it not? Jiran rolled behind a tree, which Lerandus decorated with charring plasma, before jumping forward boldly. The Jiralhanae had not expected so quick a move and only had the chance to squeeze off two plasma blasts before the Helios reached him.

“W-wait…!” the Jiralhanae growled suddenly, his eyes widening. Jiran planted his Vorpal Talon in the beast’s belly. A forceful breath of air escaped Lerandus’ mouth, and he began falling back, his finger falling on his trigger and causing him to shoot a few more errant blasts.

Rubbing his scorched forearm, Jiran waited for his shields to recharge before leaving. He was breathing hard – too hard. That should not have tired me so. Behind him, the face of the Prophet of Candor smoked and burned black – the result of an errant Jiralhanae plasma shot.

The Sangheili liked the serenity of this place, the stillness in the air. When he exited from the garden, Jiran immediately felt the tension in the air. For several hallways, he walked in silence, neither seeing nor hearing any other living creature. It was a short walk, through half a dozen corridors and twice as many doors, until the Helios stumbled upon the first signs of war.

In the halls beyond him, bright blue blood was smeared across the walls. The crumpled bodies of Unggoy, Kig-Yar, and Yanme’e covered the ground, so thickly that the path was almost completely concealed. The door directly ahead was half-shattered, its white lights blinking erratically. A dead blue-armored Sangheili was thrust through it, his body bloody and broken. All of them are dead.

Suddenly, a voice rang across the loudspeakers: “The Elites have failed to protect the Prophets, and in doing so, have put all our lives at risk. Let no warrior forget his oath, ‘Thou, in faith, shall keep us safe, whilst we find the Path.’” The Hierarchs. Truth. He gripped his blade tighter. If he stood before me now and spoke those words, I would be on him before he could even scream, and no Jiralhanae Honor Guard could stop me. It felt weird, having such thoughts, after so many loyal annual cycles spent on this artificial world.

Passing through the next circular room, which was covered in alien plant life that was now almost all burned or burning, and around the debris of a half-collapsed roof, Jiran ‘Ahinoee saw the first signs of fresh combat. A Jiralhanae was sitting up against the far wall, which had melted from absorbing plasma, its metal frayed and the wires beyond sparking and shaking with blue electricity. The Jiralhanae was holding his eye; several streams of blood were running down from the wound he clutched at uselessly. Some of the blood on his face was dried, dark as pitch. When the brown-furred warrior saw Jiran, his eyes widened, and he looked for his weapon. The Helios kicked his carbine away and put his boot to the thing’s chest. The Jiralhanae didn’t resist. He saw the open wounds in the alien’s shoulder and belly now. Fatal wounds.

The beast breathed hard and stared at Jiran with his teeth bared. He wants a warrior’s death. More than that, he wants to live. Jiran kicked the Jiralhanae across the face, sending him slumping over, groaning in pain. He’ll get neither. The Light of Sanghelios marched out of the room cautiously, coming to a hanging garden outside of the tower, stretching out on a long, thin platform. The air was cold up here. In the distance, the Dreadnaught radiated with light. I wonder if the whole city’s broken out in fighting. If it has… he knew how many would die. And the fleet above High Charity – the potential for destruction nearly took the old Sangheili’s breath away.

From the pond below the hanging gardens, a plasma grenade exploded, sending a spire of superheated water screaming into the air. The Kig-Yar sniper was the first he spotted, for the devious little alien had his back to Jiran. Aiming, the Kig-Yar fired at a fleeing Unggoy ultra.

It was so easy for Jiran to grasp the Kig-Yar’s neck and snap it.

The Unggoy shrieked from ahead as a grenade launcher slammed into its chest, causing its entire body to explode in bright-burning flames. Two Jiralhanae. He could see them now, walking down the center of the pond, sloshing water and lilies irreverently. Jiran glanced down at the dead Kig-Yar, finding a plasma grenade clipped on its belt. He pulled that off and ran forward, his sword behind him, bent down low to the ground.

“There, another Sangheili!” one of the Jiralhanae shouted a moment later. Jiran made sure to stay out of the water, instead running under the hanging plants, to the right of the pond. “Helios!”

“Traitor!” the other Jiralhanae roared; each of them threw a plasma grenade at Jiran. He thought they would be easy to dodge, but after rolling out of the way of the first one, Jiran ‘Ahinoee found himself out of breath, and his lethargy brought him to a stop. I am ready, he thought, raising his Vorpal Talon to his face. If this is how it’s supposed to be.

He had once been a Fleet Master and one of the deadliest swords in the universe. That had been many annual cycles ago. Jiran was not the warrior he had once been. I’m not done yet. The second grenade exploded in front of him, washing his armor in light and burning energy. The sky turned to white fire, and for a moment, Jiran felt nothing. His mind raced; he knew exactly what he had to do.

By the time the light faded, he was rushing forward, a lit plasma grenade in his own hand. He threw it, angling it up and over the first Jiralhanae to stick the second one in the chest. Howling angrily, the other Jiralhanae shot his grenade launcher wildly, forcing Jiran to jump aside. The last shot hit him in the knee, causing him to skid across the indigo, metal floors.

When the plasma grenade exploded, the surviving Jiralhanae spun his head around, crying out in distress and grief. Returning his gaze back ahead, he raised his grenade launcher. The only sound he made when Jiran’s burning energy sword slid into his skull was a soft gasp, and then the Jiralhanae slumped over to spill his dark blood in the battle-worn pond. In the distance, birds cried ravenously, and a sharp wind was blowing. An explosion rocked the platform, as a chunk of the tower ahead caught fire and collapsed onto a second platform of hanging gardens.

As Jiran ran back to his quarters, he passed by numerous Covenant fighting one another – Jiralhanae against Sangheili; Kig-Yar against Unggoy; Yanme’e against Mgalekgolo. Most were dead or dying by the time he reached them. Those he saved thanked him and ran off to continue fighting. Jiran’s blade ran purple with the blood of Jiralhanae, as more and more of them stood against him, the farther he ran down the platform towards Candor’s office.

In one room, two Kig-Yar were engaging an Honor Guard Sangheili who wielded two plasma rifles. Coming up behind them, Jiran plunged his blade into the neck of the one with the orange shield. The other one spun around to cover him in green plasma fire, so Jiran ducked behind some crates. As he did, the Honor Guard sprung up from cover and laid waste to the remaining Kig-Yar.

“There are more Jiralhanae to kill!” the Honor Guard told him. He was not one of the Helios’ soldiers, though his face looked somewhat familiar to Jiran. “The fighting’s spread across the towers.”

“And the Hierarchs?”

“Fled. The demon is here. He hunts them as we speak.”

Maybe the demon is not so bad after all. “Let him. Perhaps they will destroy each other.”

“Were it so easy, my friend,” the other Honor Guard said, putting a hand on Jiran’s shoulder. “Tell me, how is the fighting back there?” He nodded to the door Jiran had come through.

“Everyone is dead,” the Helios replied somberly, deactivating his Vorpal Talon.

“Then we go on.”

“I am returning to Councilor Candor’s quarters. Join me.”

The Honor Guard went to speak when suddenly, he was thrown into a wall. A gravity hammer exploded in the air, and the Honor Guard’s shields were broken. His blood splattered across Jiran’s face. There standing across from him was a Jiralhanae wearing the armor of an Honor Guard. His fur was brown-grey, and he had a wrinkled, scarred face.

He dishonors the rank. Jiran ‘Ahinoee wiped the blood from his mouth and eyes, glanced over at the other Sangheili whom he was now sure was dead, and lit his blade. “Bactimus?”

“Wrong.” The Jiralhanae’s voice was low and gruff. It’s not him. I guess all their faces look alike to me. “You will die, traitor.”

“Today is not the day I die. You, on the other hand…”

The Helios raced to the side, dodging the Jiralhanae’s clumsy swings. Still, the gravity hammer had enough area-of-effect damage that it caused him to lose his balance and slam into the wall. Jumping behind a crate, Jiran tried to give his shields time to recharge, but the Jiralhanae would have none of that. He slammed his hammer down ferociously, kicking crates up into the sky as he walked towards Jiran. Finally, the Helios rolled away from the last crate just as the hammer came down upon it, and once again the two were standing face-to-face.

“Hiding like a coward, I see!”

The Sangheili was breathing hard, feeling sweat drip from his face to the floor. All I need is a little more. Just a little more energy. His muscles were aching, but Jiran would not give up. He rose again and charged at the Jiralhanae. This time, the furry alien jumped back and swung carelessly. The Helios ducked under the first swung and leapt over the second. His shields were flaring, screaming at him to turn back, but he couldn’t. The third swing came right at his chest, and it took all of the Sangheili’s remaining energy to sidestep it. As he did, he swung his Vorpal Talon to the right, feeling it slice through fur and muscle and bone.

The Jiralhanae roared in displeasure as his blood flowed freely down his arm and onto the floor. Grasping his wound, the beast dropped his hammer and moaned in pain. Jiran panted, turning around, preparing for another run. I don’t know if I have the strength to dodge another swing. I have to kill him now. At that moment, the door behind the Jiralhanae opened, and a single Mgalekgolo came lumbering out. The Jiralhanae did not notice the new alien before it walked up to him and slammed its shield down upon the furry beast’s head, splitting his body in two.

The Mgalekgolo paused in front of the hard-breathing Sangheili for a moment before moving on past him. He stole my kill…

On Jiran ‘Ahinoee went, through more rooms and hallways, engaging any enemies he found. There were not many, nor were there many living Sangheili either. It appeared to the Helios that both sides had mostly wiped one another out.

Coming to a stop by a building jutting out of the side of the tower, Jiran ‘Ahinoee barged his way inside to find a prison full of corpses and empty cells. I was on patrol down here not thirty cycles ago. The Kig-Yar were laid in blood-crusted piles, their bodies splayed in radical contortions. Those behind the cells – mostly other Kig-Yar, or Sangheili, were all dead. The newest member, a Heretic who had spoken out against the Prophets and the Halos… his legless corpse swung from chains in the first cell to the left. Vharo ‘Ahtomaree. The disgraced Vicar of the Fleet of Particular Justice. It looked like the Kig-Yar had mauled him to death, for his flesh was torn and his bones were laid bare. The bars were pulled back, and a trail of blood was either leading to or from the cell to the pile of Kig-Yar bodies.

Passing by what remained of Vharo ‘Ahtomaree, Jiran ‘Ahinoee turned left and took the gravity lift up to the second floor, where Candor’s office was. We spent so many annual cycles above these cells. But up there, everything was quiet. There were no guards, no signs of a struggle: no bodies, no blood, no scorch marks, nor indeed any weapons were around. Jiran kicked open the door to Candor’s office, which had been decorated with gold-and-ebon stars and planets on its dark wood finish. Inside, he expected to find the Prophet with Nyhar. Not Nyhar… the other Jiralhanae… the one with Lerandus. Bactimus. Jiran wondered what had happened to Nyhar, and he half-expected Bactimus to step out of the shadows or burst through a door at any moment to confront him.

A Huragok was floating lazily through the air, over by Candor’s desk. Another was messing about with the Prophet’s reserve anti-gravity chair. There was no fighting here. It’s as if everyone just got up and left. On Candor’s desk, a sea flower in a little viridian-and-rose vase was wilting. Suddenly, a blur caught Jiran’s eye. He spun around, swinging his Vorpal Talon recklessly just as it shook to life.

“Easy, commander!” came a familiar voice.

“Kel…?!” Jiran began, almost in disbelief.

The Honor Guard stood upright. His red armor was dirty and scratched, but he looked to be in good health. “It’s good to see you, commander. I thought you were dead!”

“What happened? Where are the others?”

“Fighting broke out across the towers,” Kel said darkly. “Candor fled with his new Jiralhanae guards.”

“And Nyhar?”

“Dead. Betrayed by Candor.”

“Bastard!” Jiran felt himself gripping his sword tightly. “How many of the others are still alive?”

“Not enough.”

Jiran’s face flushed with rage. “I don’t care. We’ll take what we have and track down Candor…”

“He’s gone to his Phantom,” Kel spoke. “On the Hierarchs’ docks. It’s a long ways from here to there. Many Jiralhanae between us and them.”

“Where’s he taking that Phantom?”

“To leave the city. To leave the chaos. He’ll go to Bactimus’ ship if he’s smart. That Jiralhanae commanded a small fleet before he took our rank. I bet it’s still in orbit.”

“Then we will pursue him.” Jiran turned away from the other Sangheili. If only I had my own fleet still… He sighed, thinking of all the years he had spent protecting Candor. His thoughts drifted to Sanghelios, to home… to his family. He had no children, nor any women he loved, but Jiran was part of the Ahino clan. He knew dozens of cousins and uncles and nephews… there would be plenty of family there for him to return to. I could track down Candor, or return to live a peaceful life for the rest of my days. I’m old, he knew. Rage still flows through me like when I was an adolescent, yet now I have not the strength to match it any longer. At the same time, Jiran knew that this war would not end anytime soon. It will only end with our deaths, or the Hierarchs’ and the Jiralhanae’s.

He felt his blade in his hand again, light and humming, even though its power had been turned off.

“Do you have a Phantom?”

Kel cocked his head. “We could get one easily enough.”

“Good.” Jiran Ahinoee walked back out of the office and stepped up to the gravity lift, which was shimmering with purple energy. “Let’s leave this miserable city. We have a Prophet to hunt down.” I guess the demon and I are not so different, he mused silently, but he kept that thought to himself.

5. Enter The Monkey

“You have done well, Bactimus. I heard the Heretic died screaming. Pity we cannot savor the thought.” The Prophet of Candor’s voice quavered in the empty air. “Rise, my new Honor Guard.”

The pack leader grunted and stood, his shoulders thrust back, a sly sneer on his face. His grey-white fur blew in the wind. In the distance, molten metal poured out of the gash left in the far tower by the crashed humans’ ship. A death cry carried across the towers, like smoke. High and wailing was – an Unggoy, perhaps, or a Yanme’e. Sylarus sniffed and smelled blood. That was definitely Unggoy.

“Thank you,” Bactimus growled. “You will be safe with me. You have my word, Councilor.”

To the left, a blur of brown caught the Jiralhanae’s eye. An armless parasite was chasing an orange-armored Unggoy. The cowardly beast was shouting fearfully, his plasma pistol waving wildly over his head. “There!” Sylarus yelled to the others, interrupting the conversation going on behind him “More parasites!”

“To the Phantom! Protect the Prophet!” Bactimus roared.

Sylarus glanced around at the docking bay to the right. That was the only one of the three bays that still had a Phantom docked in it. It was Candor’s ship, he knew, for the San’Shyuum had served on the High Council for annual cycles beyond count. The other two docks were completely vacant – the one for the Hierarchs, and the one for the Sangheili councilors. That was no surprise to Sylarus. The crashed human dropship just to the left of the dock was, though. The parasite breaching into High Charity itself… that was bethom fathoming. Sylarus was awestruck and felt lightheaded. He didn’t fully comprehend the calamity going on around him.

Corpses lay scattered on the ground like dead leaves – brown-furred, or clothed in orange or red or blue or purple armor, or infected and covered in putrid decaying growths. All lay quiet as death against the solid indigo-jet metal floors. Everyone was dead, except for that armless infected Sangheili and the Unggoy. Still, as Sylarus eyed the nearby platforms and walls, he knew the peace they enjoyed could end at any moment. He’d seen the parasites appear out of nowhere before… on the way here from Candor’s office. They had pushed the parasite back then, but they were more vulnerable here, out in the open on the High Council’s landing pad.

Behind him, Bactimus and the rest of the pack escorted the High Councilor to the Phantom while Sylarus and the other guards took up the rear, their eyes ever on the parasite and Unggoy. None of them had bothered shooting it yet, for the others had found it entertaining watching the craven creature flee about, squealing and crying, as a harmless foe hunted it. Still, Sylarus didn’t want to take any chances, so he raised his grenade launcher, aimed it casually at the parasite and squeezed the trigger.

The explosion that burned away the infected beast washed over the back of the Unggoy. Shrieking wildly, the little soldier flew through the air, burning and burning until his armor exploded and his body went sailing over the edge of the tower walkway in a streak of leaking methane, smoking and charred.

The others laughed; Sylarus peered around the platforms nervously, making sure there were no other foes lurking about, waiting to strike.

From the sides of the walkways, a sudden mass of small, balloon-like objects came bursting up. They spread onto the landing pad, encircling the entire pack.

“Parasites! What are they doing?!” Bactimus’ voice was as sharp as a razor’s edge.

Then came the screams. These were no Unggoy or Yanme’e screams, nor were they even Sangheili screams. They sounded like an expunging of air from a corpse, dry and lifeless – and there were dozens of them, rising together and blending into one deathly howl.

“More!”

All around the pack, infected humans, Jiralhanae, and Sangheili jumped up from the below walls on the sides of the dock that led down towards the lower districts. Many held weapons; some did not. The one in front of Sylarus had a bloody gravity hammer between its tentacle-hands.

“What are they waiting for?!” one guard asked.

“Protect the Councilor,” Bactimus muttered. “With your lives, if it comes to that. Clear a path to the Phantom.”

Everyone raised their weapons – grenade launchers, plasma rifles, carbines; even Bactimus unshouldered his gold-and-orange gravity hammer, ready to fight. For two moments, the parasites remained still as statues. Then, a ripple spread through their ranks, a murmur that would have been imperceptible had so many of them not been packed so tightly together. In the next breath, they were charging headlong at the pack.

His comrades shouted war cries and beat their chests and unleashed their weapons upon the monsters. Sylarus had only two clips of grenades left – three shots in his current clip. He made sure not to waste his shots, angling at the parasite with the hammer coming straight at him. But every shot he fired exploded against the infection forms, or other infected forms who shot forth out of nowhere to stand in the way of the slouching dead Jiralhanae.

When Sylarus went to reload, the parasites reached them. Several of the guards were washed over by the infection forms, covered and screaming, while ahead, Bactimus had used his hammer to beat back the corrupted bodies, and his bodyguards had cleared the remaining path with plasma grenades. Surrounding the Prophet of Candor, the chieftain and his pack ran unmolested to the Phantom. Where Sylarus was, this was not so hopeful a sign. The other guards were dead or dying, being overrun. He shot his grenade launcher until it ran empty, and when the parasites closed in on him, he ran. Swinging his blade all around him, Sylarus cut down incoming monsters. The window of escape was closing. On all sides of him, the circle was shrinking. Jiralhanae fell and bled in purple spires on all sides, their screams quickly silencing. Ahead, the pack was disappearing into the dropshop, the last few stragglers scampering on.

Just before Sylarus reached them, the circle closed, with another wave of infection forms coming over the walls near the Phantom. He suddenly realized he was lost. Crying in dismay, the Jiralhanae threw his grenade launcher aside and drew his plasma rifle. Spinning around, he howled madly as they closed in on him. His plasma decimated the smaller ones by the dozens, and even pushed a few larger enemies back. But it was only one rifle – it could only fire so much, so fast. He didn’t even notice when the infected Jiralhanae came up behind him and swung at him with the gravity hammer. When Sylarus flew, pain blossomed inside him and he howled like a feral ape. Yet, when he crashed into the side railing of the dock, his pain vanished, and a warm, numb feeling spread across his body.

They seemed to be vibrating with starvation, burning with hunger, when they took him. Sylarus barely felt it when the first infection form touched him; it was only a passing breeze against his fur, he thought. And then his numbness faded and he felt nothing; the Phantom was in the air, its engines blaring, flying off towards freedom.

There was no feeling, save for the odd twitching of his muscles. He tried to raise his fists, to punch them away if he had to, but he found he had not the strength. Sylarus sighed and spat up blood. Watching the Phantom shoot away, he thought coldly of Bactimus – how he had raised Sylarus up, made him a member of the inner pack, a guard to the chieftain himself. He had fought with the pack leader in a dozen battles, had survived the journey from Candor’s headquarters to here (they had fought many parasites and Heretics on the way). And yet, what had it been for? This had been Sylarus’ dream, to guard Bactimus with his life. Now, all he could do was curse himself for being so naïve.

“Y-you… a-a-aband-doned me…” he tried to say, though he couldn’t hear his own voice.

He felt tired, felt his eyes slipping. Why had Bactimus not made sure the whole pack had made it onto the ship before leaving? Why hadn’t he wait for Sylarus? Did he not care? Did he think more of that frail San’Shyuum than a fellow Jiralhanae?! They began to cover him so thickly, his vision of the city beyond, where the Dreadnaught was just beginning to rise in a magnificent launch, darkened and was blocked.

The last thing Sylarus saw was the Phantom turn swiftly to avoid something in the air before disappearing in the dark smoke rising out of the other tower, where the humans’ ship lay nestled. Below the rising grey-black cloud, molten metal dripped from an open wound. Then he thought of the armless infected Sangheili chasing that Unggoy, and how the Unggoy had flown when he’d pulled his trigger, and his thoughts fled from him into the cold and hollow dark.