Halo: Array

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"If they came to hear me beg, they will be disappointed."

Chapter 10 (v.1) - Chapter Ten: The Arbiter

Submitted: January 14, 2019

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Submitted: January 14, 2019

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Chapter Ten
The Arbiter

 

The two main strips and smaller rubble left over from the destruction of Halo floated through space like driftwood. The five-hundred-kilometre-long jellyfish that was High Charity swam amongst it still surrounded by its staggering fleet. A small portion of the fleet had left the Threshold system earlier in search for the sacred treasure that was hidden on the planet Earth. The outer layer of the Covenant’s mushroomed megastructure consisted of a hard shell built around a rocky chunk left over from the San Shyuum’s long dead homeworld.

Within the main dome was the holy city itself. Cylindrical towers coated in nanolaminate purples, indigos, silvers, and magenta rose up over other Covenant buildings with less conventional designs under a bright artificial light that shone down from the centre of the dome’s ceiling. One structure stood out from the rest; the Forerunner Dreadnought. The grey, straight and angular architecture of the Dreadnought contrasted the typically cool-coloured and curved geometry of the Covenant. The three diagonal legs of the Forerunner building met halfway up its body while its narrower, monolithic upper-half towered high above the skyline of the rest of the city. The ancient Forerunner relic stood proudly. It was over one hundred thousand years old but powerful enough to distribute energy to the entire city and charge High Charity’s engines.

Supreme Commander Thel ‘Vadamee strode beside the lumbering Jiralhanae that lead him away from the High Council Chamber. The Jiralhanae were taller on average than the Sangheili and much broader as well, but they were slow and cumbersome. The thick hair that covered their entire bodies had a dirty musk to it. The only parts of their bodies that was not covered in hair were the faces that sat beneath their domed craniums as well as their bare palms and wide two-toed feet. Their squashed noses with large nostrils sat atop stiff jaws that protruded forwards. Four large canines stuck out from between their lips which were almost always left slightly parted. Their eyes were slightly squashed below heavy eyebrow ridges, and their skin was thick and course.

The Jiralhanae leader, Tartarus followed closely behind Thel. Tartarus was taller than guards who walked beside the Sangheili and older as well. His long white hair stuck out in every direction except the hair at the top of his head which pointed directly upwards into a moehawk. He wore minimal protection aside from the rectangular gold plate that sat on his shoulder, which was left behind from a full suit of armour that had been lost years ago. Tartarus dragged his long war-hammer on the ground behind him. The Fist of Rukt hammer was a traditional weapon that had been wielded by each Chieftain of the Jiralhanae. Tartarus had challenged his uncle for the title just as his uncle had challenged the previous Chieftain, and with the title came the hammer. It seemed Tartarus had modified the weapon since claiming ownership of it, Thel observed. While before it had appeared primitive and unimpressive aside from its hefty size, it now looked a hybrid between primal and modern technology.

The group walked down a wide walkway at the edge of the dome that ended with a view over the city. Aside from the ever-looming Dreadnought at the city centre, the buildings looked miniscule and all seemed to blend into one another from this high above. There was a line of thick rotating piers on the sides of the walkway. The spaces in between the piers were filled with Covenant members of the worst kind. Thel ignored them as he lumbered onwards at the Jiralhanae’s pace.

The crowd was mostly filled with lowly Unggoy. As a Supreme Commander, Thel ‘Vadamee had not needed to interact directly with many Unggoy, but he had fought alongside them during his earlier years on the frontline and on his rarer more physical missions as Commander. He found them to be curious creatures. They acted uneducated and uninterested but not entirely unintelligent. While many were sickeningly cowardly on the battlefield, Thel had come across the occasional outlier he found worthy of respect. Their greatest strength was in their breeding. The Unggoy bred faster than any species in the Covenant and even the humans. They had a high population as a result of this, and that was what the Sangheili valued most from their shortest associates. The Unggoy’s high numbers could be used to overwhelm the Covenant’s enemies. Thel saw no Unggoy worth of value in this particular crowd.

Small groups of Kig-Yar were also dispersed between the piers. To this day, Thel had never encountered a single Kig-Yar he liked. They were scaled and bird-like with quills that flared out from their heads and elbows. Before the Covenant had drawn them into their ranks, the Kig-Yar had been pirates and scavengers. Like all races the Covenant had encountered, the Kig-Yar had at first appeared primitive to the developed alien collective. However, the pirates managed to band together to form a creditable resistance before they were eventually forced to surrender. Thel knew the Kig-Yar resented the Sangheili, and he did not think there was any other race more suitable than this filth to be jeering at Thel from the sidelines.

Most of what the crowd yelled was incomprehensible, but occasional clearer phrases fell upon Thel’s hearing-orifices. 

“Heretic! Heretic!” Yelled a gaggle of Unggoy.

“You will die, infidel!” Shrieked a Kig-Yar.

“The gods have no tolerance for negligence, halfwit!”

The last voice sounded suspiciously like a Sangheili, Thel thought. Individuals such as this tarnished the Sangheili reputation and deserved no place within the Covenant ranks. No true Sangheili would dishonour themselves by spectating such an event.

Thel stopped over a circular plate at the end of the walkway. Looking down ahead, he saw several curved stadium-esque stands that faced up toward him. The crowds in the stands were far greater than that on the walkway. Thel could see several Jiralhanae, a swarm of insectoid Yanme’e and even a few tank-like Mgalekgolo pairs in their spikey suits of armour. They roared in unison as the Supreme Commander came into view.

Two small, blue energy rings appeared suspended in mid-air on either side of the circular plate. The Jiralhanae guards roughly yanked at Thel’s arms and fastened his wrists within them. His hands were held upright while his arms hung below the rings. As a Sangheili, his large palms grew into two long fingers with an almost-just-as-long thumb on both sides of each palm. He tested the strength of the rings by attempting to yank his hands out from them. He was unsuccessful. Tartarus stepped forward in front of the restrained Sangheili.

“You’ve drawn quite a crowd,” huffed the great white brute in his slow, lazy Jiralhanae speech.

“If they've come to hear me beg,” Thel began, “They will be disappointed.”

“Are you sure?” Tartarus smirked.

The energy rings turned red. For a fraction of a second, Thel’s wrists felt cold before his senses corrected and he realised they were actually hot and burning his skin. The red energy grew from the rings and spread down his arms. The pain that came with the energy was torturous. His toned muscles spasmed. His body shook violently as the energy crept down towards his chest. His two hearts tightened as if squeezed by cold iron hands while his skin turned to fire. Thel groaned involuntarily. He would not scream for the benefit of the verminous spectators, but the pain only grew stronger.

When will it end? Thel thought. He knew it could not have been even half a minute yet, but already, his peripheral vision was subsiding. Every inch of his body was in excruciating agony. When he had marched into the High Council Chamber earlier, he had been sure of himself that he was no failure. He did not deserve punishment such as this. It was due to his actions as a leader that the humans were all but extinct. He had fought with high honour and strategic prowess like few others could have. He was not arrogant. He knew his shortcomings, but he also knew he was one of the greatest commanders the Covenant had ever had. None of that mattered now as he could do nothing to dull the most intense pain he had ever felt in his life. His flesh was literally cooking before him. Then, after what felt like a lifetime, it stopped.

Smoke and steam rose off Thel’s limp body. He was badly burnt. The red energy had been deactivated, but he still winced as his body twitched in extreme discomfort. He lifted his head as Tartarus addressed the stands below.

“This Sangheili was gifted the task of destroying the humans,” the Jiralhanae yelled in his rumbly voice. “He controlled fleets; Sangheili, Jiralhanae, Unggoy, Kig-Yar, Lekgolo and Yanme’e like yourselves, but not to victory. Instead, when he found the very object the Covenant had spent eons searching for, when we were so close to true Reclamation and the Great Journey itself, this Sangheili let Halo fall to ruin! He failed to protect it from a single Demon, and for that reason, Halo’s destruction is his doing. He has disobeyed the Prophets and defied the gods!”

None of that is true, Thel thought. He had obeyed every order from he received from the High Prophets and every lesser San ‘Shyuum that had ever accompanied him during his reign as Supreme Commander. He had certainly never defied the gods themselves. Tartarus continued his speech.

“There can be no greater heresy. Let him be an example for all who would break our Covenant!” The Chieftain of the Jiralhanae turned to the guards on either side of Thel ‘Vadamee and barked, “Strip him of his armour.”

Thel’s gold combat harness had already been charred dark-brown from the burning of the energy rings, and its shield emitters no longer glowed, but this armour was all he had left. His other belongings had been ransacked shortly before the trial. Thel had no shame in letting others see his unclothed body, but leaving him naked before the Holy City meant the Covenant no longer saw him as a warrior. He had no choice but to hang still with his wrists remained locked in the energy rings as the Jiralhanae tore Thel’s armour apart segment by segment.

Thel ‘Vadamee thought back to his keep on Sanghelios. Sangheili males did not typically have the privilege of knowing their biological sons. The identity of Sangheili fathers were kept secret from them while they completed their training with other members of their keep, but every Sangheili in the keep of Vadam had the same blood running through their veins as Thel did. Thel knew he was no criminal, but the other Sangheili would not see it that way. His home would be destroyed or acquisitioned by another keep. The Sangheili of Vadam, his family would all be slaughtered. One by one they would be hunted down and murdered purely because Thel had directed his attention to the Flood rather than the single human Demon that had landed on Halo. Thel’s hope lay in the possibility that one of the more honourable keeps would find his family first, kill them quickly and cleanly and perhaps even allow some of them to live if they could prove themselves worthy.

The last of Thel’s armour to be removed was his helmet, which still sat upon his head. The other pieces were discarded off to the side. Tartarus himself stepped up and lifted the helmet off the Sangheili.

“And so ends the reign of the Supreme Commander of Particular Justice,” Tartarus uttered to him before dumping the helmet on the ground.

The Chieftain of the Jiralhanae then reached for something Thel had not yet noticed during the commotion. It must have been delivered during his scorching or while his combat harness was being removed. It was a long branding iron as large as the Fist of Rukt. The metal at its wide and trunk-like end glowed a bright yellow-orange. Embossed upon it was a symbol. It was a circular hieroglyph that appeared to have been made with quick, curved and sharp strokes. It was the Mark of Shame; a symbol of heresy, lost dignity and execution. It meant that Thel ‘Vadamee would be killed today in a painful and humiliating manner. He was no longer Supreme Commander. He was no longer a warrior, and he was no longer a servant of the gods.

Thel’s failure finally sank in on him. He had commanded his fleet as proficiently as possible up until the battle of Reach, but it was his decisions on the Forerunner ringworld that ultimately had decided his fate. Protecting Halo had been Thel’s only truly vital task in his time as a leader. His failure to safeguard and activate the ring had prevented the initiation of the Great Journey, and nothing else mattered. Had his fleet succeeded at Halo, they would now all be gods like the Forerunners before them. Alas, they were not. 

Tartarus rose the branding iron towards Thel’s naked torso. Before it even touched the Sangheili, the heat from the iron stung his already tender flesh. The brute then thrust it as hard as he could into the Sangheili’s chest. Thel felt his welted skin give way to the Mark of Shame before his sternum became alight with fire. Hot steam hissed out between the iron and the flesh as they made contact. The pain pierced right through the Sangheili. He roared louder than he had ever roared in his life. His vision turned white then red, and then faded to black. The head and neck of the Thel ‘Vadamee flopped forward as he fell unconscious.

 

In another part of the Covenant holy city, the Prophet of Truth sat silently atop his hover throne. The throne was now connected to a much larger anti-gravity barge. Beside him sat the old codger and his direct peer, the Prophet of Mercy in his own hover throne. The barge was taking them from a dock near the High Council building to another of High Charity’s blessed landmarks. Truth considered the trial that had just occurred. He knew there was no truth to it. It had been a performance for the Councillors.

Truth neither liked the Councillors nor did he think the Covenant had any use for them. While it was they who that had voted Truth, Mercy and Regret into power, they were now obsolete as far as he was concerned. The Great Journey was near. No decisions made by those sappy old politicians was going to change that. From the moment the hierarchs came into power, they had worked every day to ensure the initiation of the Great Journey, to secure their position as the High Prophets and to prevent the interfering of the human race.

Truth thought back to the eventful day that had lead to the Covenant declaring war on humanity. A small Kig-Yar ship had discovered the human colony named Harvest. At the time, the only people within the Covenant who were aware of the humans’ existence were the crew of the ship, the three Prophets and another crew of Jiralhanae they had sent in to investigate. The Kig-Yar crew had messaged the Prophets after discovering the humans using a device called a luminary.

The luminaries had been reverse engineered from Forerunner technology to aid the Covenant in their search to uncover ancient relics that could lead to the Journey. The Covenant was built upon the belief that the Forerunner had left their artefacts on Janjur Qom and Sanghelios for the San’Shyuum and Sangheili to reclaim the Forerunner’s power and walk in the same steps as they did. The end goal was the ascension to godhood.

When the luminary had lead the Kig-Yar ship to the humans, the Prophets were confused. They confronted an oracle left behind by the gods within the Dreadnought in the centre of High Charity. The oracle had remained active only long enough to tell the Prophets that the Covenant had been mistranslating Forerunner scripts. The symbol they believed to signify the ‘Reclamation’ was in fact the symbol used by the Forerunner to represent the ‘Reclaimers’. These Reclaimers, the beings planned by the Forerunners to reclaim all they left behind, was in fact the humans. After informing the three Prophets of this, the oracle had attempted to leave the city. Failing that, it was disabled and remained dormant ever after.

Truth glanced sideways at Mercy. The shrivelled fool had been a fraud in Truth’s eyes back then, but he had managed to activate the oracle for a short time. This act had proven most useful. After receiving the oracle’s message, the Prophets had concocted a plan to eradicate the human race before the rest of the Covenant could hear the same message. Personally, Truth believed the oracle to have been mistaken, but it did not matter. Whatever the Forerunner’s original intent, it was the Covenant who would complete the Reclamation, not this humanity that Truth had since come to despise.

This was the secret held by the Prophets of Truth, Mercy and Regret. They told the Sangheili that the humans had begun destroying Forerunner relics for no reason other than to prevent the Covenant from attaining them. The Sangheili had then gathered their warships and led a fleet to destroy the humans at Harvest. It was only after that in which they learned the humans were in fact spread across numerous colonies. In time, with the assistance of the luminaries, the Sangheili tracked the colonies down one by one. At the present time, Truth knew that few colonies remained. It would not be long before humanity was eliminated once and for all.

The anti-gravity barge floated down beside a dropship pad. The drooping lobes on the sides of the San Shyuums’ heads swung forwards along with their chin-waddles as the barge came to a quick halt. The two hierarchs disembarked from the barge along with two lines of their most loyal Sangheili. The Sangheili Honour Guards wore combat harnesses of red and yellow with decorative headpieces similar to the gold arms that stretched up from the High Prophets’ shoulder ornaments. The only Honour Guards not present here were those that waited for them in their inner sanctum and those that guarded the Prophet of Regret in his assault carrier.

Of his two colleagues, the Prophet of Regret was the one Truth disliked most. Mercy was stubborn and fanatical, but he could be easily manipulated. Regret was younger and sharper, and Truth got the feeling he was always scheming behind his back. Regret had won the admiration of the Sangheili. In some ways, Truth thought Regret acted like a Sangheili. It was a terribly-kept secret that Regret had a hidden plasma pistol on him at all times, and Truth suspected he’d even meddled with his anti-gravity throne to fire energy weapons of its own.

As he floated his way besides Mercy and the marching Honour Guards toward the cylindrical tower ahead, the Prophet of Truth turned his mind to more immediate concerns than the history of the war. One of his Honour Guards named Lhar ‘Terohnee had asked him about Thel ‘Vadamee’s family. Truth knew the typical behaviour of Sangheili after such events. As intelligent as they were, the Sangheili were barbaric. They were warriors at their best and warriors as their worst. In reply, Truth issued an order to protect the Vadam keep on Sanghelios. He needed the family alive, as he may require them for leverage against the ex-Supreme Commander. The Council had decided the fate of disgraced Sangheili, but the High Prophets had conceived an alternative solution.

 

When Thel came back to consciousness, he found himself being dragged through a dark hallway. The two Jiralhanae guards pulled him along by his arms. Tartarus strode ahead. Thel heard the familiar ring of a Covenant door closing behind him. Still gaining a sense of his surroundings, Thel then noticed the prison cells on either side of him. The metal bars suggested this particular brig was very old. Typical Covenant holding bays were locked using hardlight shield doors rather than primitive bars such as these. A sharp talon reached out from one of the cells in an attempt to grab the Sangheili. These cells were filled with villainous Kig-Yar. The Jiralhanae slugged onwards. Thel’s knees stung badly as they rubbed along the hard ground.

“How much further must we heft this baggage?” Said one of the Jiralhanae. “Any cell will do.”

“Why not toss him in with this lot?” Replied his partner. “They could use the meat.”

“Them? What about us?” Grumbled the first. “My belly aches, and his flesh is seared just the way I like it.”

"Quiet,” Tartarus snapped. “You two whimper like Unggoy fresh off the teat. He's not meant for the jails. The hierarchs have something special in mind.”

Thel shut his eyes again for a while as the Jiralhanae hauled his aching body through the city. When he eventually opened his eyes, he recognised a tall cylindrical building with ovular blue lights and an ornamental entry. Thel looked around as they passed through doorway. There was only one room in the large hollow tower. The curved walls were covered in small closed hatches the entire way up and around. They had red lights to indicate they were locked, and Thel understood why. They were tombs. Standing around the edges of the circular chamber were several Honour Guards, and in the centre of the room was a capsule taller than a Thel himself. In front of the capsule hovered two High Prophets. Tartarus knelt before them.

“Noble Prophets of Truth and Mercy,” said the Chieftain. “I have brought the incompetent.”

The Prophet of Truth waved his hand lazily to dismiss the Jiralhanae.

“You may leave, Tartarus,” he said.

“But I thought-”

“And take your Jiralhanae with you.”

Tartarus sighed before speaking to his guards.

“Release the prisoner,” he ordered.

The Jiralhanae let go of Thel’s hands, causing the Sangheili to drop onto the floor. The initial impact hurt the Sangheili’s injured body, but the cold surface offered some relief. They then left the room. The door shut behind them, leaving Thel alone with the Prophets and their Honour Guards. Truth addressed the naked soldier.

“The Council decided to have you hung by your entrails and your corpse paraded through the city,” said the Prophet, “But ultimately, the terms of your execution are up to me.”

“I am already dead,” Thel whispered in response.

“Indeed.” Truth continued, “Do you know where we are?”

“The Mausoleum of the Arbiter,” the Sangheili answered.

“Quite so. Here rests the vanguard of the Great Journey, every Arbiter from first to last; each one created and consumed in times of extraordinary crisis.”

The Prophet of Mercy joined in with his strained, crackly voice.

“The Taming of the Lekgolo, the Unggoy Rebellion,” he exclaimed. “Were it not for the Arbiters, the Covenant would have broken long ago!”

“Even on my knees,” replied Thel, “I do not belong in their presence.”

“Halo's destruction was your error, and you rightly bear the blame,” said Truth. “But the Council was overzealous. We know you are no heretic.”

Truth then activated a holographic display over the left arm of his hover throne. It exhibited a Sangheili with lighter skin than Thel’s and equipped with a non-traditional combat harness. This harness was ideal for use on planets with potentially toxic atmospheres. The Sangheili had a small mouthpiece fit between his mandibles and vertical thrusters protruding from his back. It was Sesa ‘Refumee, a Field Master who had belonged to Particular Justice. He had been under Thel’s command at Halo before the Minister of Stewardship had reassigned him without Thel’s agreement.

“This is the true face of heresy,” the Prophet of Truth nodded toward the display. “This one would subvert our faith and incite rebellion against the High Council.”

The Prophet pressed play on the message, and the holographic form of Sesa ‘Refumee spoke up.

“Our Prophets are false,” said the hologram. “Open your eyes, my brothers! They would use the faith of our forefathers to bring ruin to us all! The Great Journey is a-”

Truth hit stop on the message.

“This heretic and those who follow him must be silenced,” he said.

“Their slander offends all who walk the path!” Mercy added.

Thel ‘Vadamee thought for a moment. Why are the Prophets showing me this? The hierarchs had supported Thel throughout his rise to power. They had seen his ambition from the start, before Particular Justice had ever formed. Perhaps they still saw use in the damaged Sangheili.

“What use am I?” Thel asked. “I can no longer command ships, lead troops into battle-“

“Not as you are,” said Truth, “But become the Arbiter, and you shall be set loose against this heresy with our blessing.”

The Prophets drifted to the side. Truth gestured with his hands toward the capsule in the centre of the room. A door at the front of the capsule opened forward like a drawbridge to reveal a suit of armour within. This combat harness was of a very old-fashioned design. It consisted of thinner plating with far more segments than modern combat harnesses. It had less sharp points to it and was a dull steel colour. Engraved across the entire armour were swirls and other detailed patterns. The front of the helmet curved forward in a way that would fit between the mandibles of its Sangheili wearer. Were the Prophets really suggesting what Thel thought they were?

“What of the Council?” He asked them.

“The tasks you must undertake as the Arbiter are perilous, suicidal,” Mercy explained. “You will die, as each Arbiter has before you. The Council will have their corpse.”

Thel rose off the ground with newly found strength and stepped up toward the capsule. He reached in, pulled out the helmet and placed it onto his long head. Then he turned back to the Prophets.

“What would you have your Arbiter do?”


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