Halo: Array

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"We are the arm of the Prophets, and you are the blade!"

Chapter 11 (v.1) - Chapter Eleven: A Whisper in the Storm

Submitted: February 05, 2019

Reads: 17

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Submitted: February 05, 2019

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Chapter Eleven
A Whisper in the Storm

 

“When we joined the Covenant, we took an oath,” stated the white-armoured Special Ops Commander, Rtas ‘Vadumee as he strode around the inside of the Phantom.

Lines of black-armoured Special Ops Sangheili in Rtas’ command replied in unison.

“According to our station, all without exception!” They chanted.

“On the blood of our fathers and the blood of our sons,” the Spec Ops Commander continued. “We swore to uphold the Covenant!

“Even to our dying breath!” His Sangheili replied.

Thel ‘Vadamee knew the words like the back of his hand. Unfortunately, now the backs of his hands were scarred from his punishment at High Charity and were now barely recognisable to him. He was a new Sangheili with a new purpose. While Rtas ‘Vadumee and his Special Ops had once fallen under Thel’s command, he now had no authority over them. He was no longer either a member amongst their ranks or a leader they looked up to. He was an outsider, as was the nature of his new role.

“Those who would break this oath are heretics; worthy of neither pity, nor mercy!” Rtas proclaimed. “Even now they use our lords' creations to broadcast their lies.”

“We shall grind them into dust,” the chanters carried on.

“And continue our march to glorious salvation!”

When Thel had first met Rtas ‘Vadumee years ago, Rtas had not yet received command of the Special Ops. Thel had felt an inclination to distrust Rtas who, at the time, still wore jet-black armour like the other Spec Ops Sangheili. Thel ignored this distrust because he knew it was irrational. It came from the fact that Rtas was left handed. While this trait was rare for a Sangheili, it was regular for the Kig-Yar, who Thel had every reason to distrust just as much as he distrusted the Jiralhanae. In time, Rtas’ left-handedness became a positive. It allowed the Sangheili to stand out from the crowd, and when the warrior proved his battle skills and leadership during their fight against the humans, Thel promoted him to Commander. The Commander approached Thel now while the Special Ops Sangheili and the Unggoy around them ensured their armour was secure.

“This armour suits you,” Rtas nodded, “But it cannot hide that mark.”

“Nothing ever will,” Thel replied.

Thel’s new brand was in fact hidden by the armour of the Arbiter, but even if his skin were ever to fully heal, he would always feel its burn. Rtas ‘Vadumee had his own mark of sorts as well. The Special Ops Commander had recently lost half of his two left mandibles to the monsters on Halo. How he managed to maintain clear speech was beyond Thel. It must be a conscious effort, Thel thought to himself. Rtas continued to address his ex-leader.

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

“That makes two of us.”

The Spec Ops Commander nodded in reply. Thel sensed the Sangheili still held a modicum of respect for him. Thel felt the Phantom slow down as it neared its destination; a gas mine within the atmosphere of the planet Threshold. The voice of the Sangheili pilot sounded from the cockpit.

“Leader, there is no doubt the storm will strike the facility,” said the pilot.

“We will be long gone before it arrives.” Rtas replied. “Warriors, prepare for combat!”

The Spec Ops Sangheili and Unggoy shuffled their way toward the open hole in the centre of the Phantom’s flooring. One-by-one they stepped down into the gravity lift, which allowed them to float softly onto the roof of the gas mine. Thel stepped through last. As soon as his hoofs hit the surface, he reached for the hilt of his energy sword and ignited the blades while leaving his Covenant carbine over his back. An honourable Sangheili would only draw his weapon if there was no doubt he was going to use it. Only a shameful Sangheili would ignite an energy sword without good reason. Today, Thel was hunting heretics.

The Arbiter looked around. He had no doubt the ground on which he stood was a relic created by the gods. Like all Forerunner surfaces Thel had previously encountered, it had a distinct metallic appearance. The smooth upper surface reflected a faint gleam wherever he walked, but below this sheen was the oddly-shaped, tiled polygons that Thel had become accustomed to seeing on Halo.  The Forerunner design choices still bewildered the Sangheili. With the rustic textures of the metal polygons, the surface appeared advanced while also looking ancient and mysterious. Thel knew there were always many more layers to Forerunner architecture than what he could see.

The gas mine was one of many stations that hung down from a cable attached to a much larger structure suspended higher in Threshold’s atmosphere. It had many blocky parts to it, one of which Thel and the Spec Ops Sangheili stood now atop. Thel looked up at the Phantom that had dropped him off. The Spec Ops Commander remained within. Two other Phantoms floated further up in the clouds of Threshold’s atmosphere. The clouds above were crisp and golden, but when Thel peaked over the side below, he saw a swirling whirlpool of rust-red gas. The Phantoms were ready to deliver reinforcements if need be, but this was a stealth mission. The fewer units there were, the better.

“We are the arm of the Prophets, and you are the blade, Arbiter!” Rtas announced over the dropship’s com. “Be silent and swift, and we shall quell this heresy without incident.”

Thel and the Spec Ops units moved down a ramp to the side of the roof on which they stood. They found the first entrance into the station on the next platform below. One of the Sangheili accessed a holo-panel beside a rectangular Forerunner door with a familiar triangular symbol on it to allow them entry into the facility. Once it opened, they all marched through into the wide airlock. They waited as the room pressurised with both doors sealed shut before the second door could open. Rtas’ voice came over the com again.

“The storm has masked our approach, and it should have their local battlenet in disarray. We have the element of surprise... for now.”

One of the Sangheili within the airlock spoke up.

“Engage active camouflage. Reveal yourselves only after the Arbiter has joined battle with the enemy.”

The Unggoy and Sangheili around the Arbiter faded away. Their active camouflage rendered them close to invisible. Thel could see them well enough with the knowledge of where they had just faded, but an unsuspecting heretic would be sure to miss them.

“You may wish to do the same, Arbiter,” Rtas transmitted, “But take heed. Your armour's system is not as new as ours. Your camouflage will not last forever.”

Unsure of how long Thel’s active camouflage would last, he waited until the door began to open before he engaged in his own. He watched his own arms fade away in front of his face before stepping into the chamber ahead. The Spec Ops units followed closely and silently behind. Despite being barely visible, Thel moved from cover to cover for certainty. After a while he noticed his camouflage begin to dwindle slightly and paused behind a pillar. He watched his body come into view, waited momentarily, and then reactivated the camouflage before moving on.

Before long, the group came upon a crowd of heretics. The heretic Sangheili wore hazard harnesses similar to the one Thel had seen Sesa ‘Refumee wearing in the Prophet of Truth’s hologram but without the thrusters. He also noticed that the shield emitters on their armour glowed purple instead of the usual blue of most Sangheili armour. The rebreather packs worn by the heretic Unggoy were also different from the ones Thel was used to seeing. Instead of being long and pyramidal, they consisted of two transparent tubes that displayed the blue methane gas within. 

The heretic Unggoy slept silently sitting curled up on the floor as their species often did. Two heretic Sangheili murmured with one another as they strode between the unconscious Unggoy. Thel hugged the wall and slid across to get closer to the centre of the heretic group. He then stepped forward, snuck up towards the backs of the Sangheili and stabbed both swiftly and silently. They each died with a soft gargle before they had a chance to react. Their bodies hit the floor at the same time as the sleeping Unggoy flopped over, killed by the camouflaged Spec Ops crew.

The next area contained three energy belts transporting large empty cannisters along its length. The cannisters consisted of four transparent tubes, similar to but larger than the ones on the backs of the heretic Unggoy. More Unggoy slept between the energy belts while three Sangheili conversed in between.

“Any word on our missing brothers?” Thel heard one of them ask.

“Still nothing,” another replied. “Given what we have learned, I fear they are lost.”

“Maybe the Oracle will protect us,” the third joined in.

That was an odd likelihood, thought Thel. The oracles were creations of the Forerunner, left behind to guide the Covenant’s Great Journey. Thel had never encountered any himself, but he had received descriptions of one oracle sighted by some of the Sangheili in his command on Halo. He assumed Halo’s oracle had perished along with the rest of the destroyed Fortress World.  Whatever the case, these heretics were deluded to think any servant of the gods would protect them. Thel ‘Vadamee swept in and put an end to their delusions. His active camouflage deactivated once he’d assassinated the heretics.

As Thel’s companions eliminated the sleeping Unggoy, the Arbiter looked around the room. He noticed several trims and braces around the sides. They were purely decorative. Nothing was needed to hold up Forerunner architecture aside from the walls themselves, which displayed many brass segments engraved with ornate patterns to break up the duller greys. The patterns, trims and braces gave the chamber, and indeed all Forerunner structures Thel had ever visited, a distinct temple quality.

Thel and the Spec Ops team or lance trod alongside the moving canisters to the end of the room. The canisters dropped down a seemingly bottomless pit beside an elevator shaft. The lance crowded around the elevator as it rose up to their level. A single heretic Sangheili stood on the lift with his mandibles agape in surprise at the sudden appearance of the Special Ops. Thel spoke to him.

“The Prophet of Truth sends his regards,” the Arbiter said before the entire lance blasted the lone Sangheili with plasma.

They pulled the corpse out of the elevator, and once they were all inside, one of the Spec Ops Sangheili activated the holo-switch that sent the lift downwards. The elevator itself was a single platform with no walls or roof that moved down seemingly magically with a slight gap between the platform and the walls. Like the Covenant, the Forerunner tended to use gravity lifts where necessary, but elevators like this one were not uncommon. The lance reactivated their active camouflage as the elevator entered the next room.

They were now in an large shuttle bay with a closed transparent hangar door. Suspended in the air at the centre of the hangar was a large Seraph. The lance found themselves atop a walkway that stretched around the sides of the hangar. There was a ramp at the end of each walkway leading to the level below. Several machines hovered around the hangar carrying large gas canisters like the ones seen in the previous room. The mechanical drones were slim but clunky-looking, and seemed to be made from the same metal as the Forerunner architecture around them. Each one consisted of a long angular body with light plating and two equally plated, grappling arm-like extensions that extended along the sides of their bodies. Halfway up the front was a single glowing lens or eye, and underneath hung a flexible, slim canon of sorts.  

The machines carrying the cannisters disappeared into the left wall through dark tunnels near the ceiling while others entered the room from tunnels on the right with no cannisters. Thel could see some more energy belts carrying the cannisters on the sides of the lower level while more heretic Sangheili strode between sleeping Unggoy. A Spec Ops Sangheili standing beside Thel cloaked in camouflage whispered to the group regarding the flying machines.

"Sentinels, the holy warriors of the sacred rings,” he informed. “Why have they sided with these heretics?”

“Leave your questions to the Prophets,” Thel replied quietly. “It is not for the Sangheili to ponder such concerns. They are the head of the Covenant, and we are but the arms. Let us remind these heretics what they have abandoned.”

“Agreed, Arbiter. If you stay to the right path we will go left and take them from behind.”

Thel pulled out his Covenant carbine and crept silently along the side of shuttle bay, passing several locked doors to his right before one of them opened. Three heretic Unggoy waddled forward into the room without noticing the camouflaged Arbiter until the front Unggoy smacked right into him. Thel clubbed his carbine into the Unggoy, rendering it unconscious. The other two Unggoy each fired a small shot at the Arbiter’s shields before Thel fired his carbine in return. The lime-coloured energy of the carbine was smaller, more solid and had longer tales than the plasma being fired from the Unggoy’s pistols. It was also faster and more accurate. The Unggoy were dispatched with a single headshot each.

Unfortunately, the heretics below heard the weapons fire. Unggoy leapt from their sleep and began firing with their Sangheili commanders in Thel’s direction. Thel dove to the side as the Spec Ops lance on the opposite side of the room returned fire downward at the heretics. The Sentinels ignored the firefight below them. They continued to float down, pick up a cannister each and head up to their tunnels while avoiding stray jets of green and blue that flew past them.

Thel focused his fire on the Sangheili. His carbine energy was not as useful against energy shields as plasma was, but if he fired rapidly enough their shields would be stripped in no time. Soon enough the heretics’ shields were depleted with the help of the plasma that rained down on them from the Spec Ops. Thel’s camouflage wore off just as he popped two Sangheili in the head with his carbine. As their bodies hit the floor, the Arbiter ran down the ramp to meet the remaining Sangheili and Unggoy on their level. The Spec Ops then jumped down to join him.

Due to the level of movement the Spec Ops were making while dodging left and right, shooting and swinging at their enemies, their active camouflage was practically useless. It wasn’t fast enough to track their changing environment as they battled around the hangar. Both Sangheili and Unggoy deactivated the camouflage to save power for the fight. The purple shields of the heretics and the blue shields of the Spec Ops lit up around Thel, but the Arbiter knew who had the upper hand. Before long these heretics would be dead, and he would be free move in on the position of Sesa ‘Refumee.

Just as the last of the heretics were hitting the floor, the doors on the sides of the room opened to let more heretics pour in. Countless heretics flowed in through the doors causing Thel and the Spec Ops to be outnumbered. With this many heretics, the Spec Ops could not win this fight. The Arbiter looked around for an advantage. He noticed a holopanel near the door and ran for it while activating his com.

“This is the Arbiter,” Thel transmitted. “More heretics have entered the hangar. We are outnumbered.”

“No worries, Arbiter,” replied the voice of Rtas ‘Vadumee. “I will deliver our second lance.”

The Arbiter hit the switch, and the large hangar door opened to the cloudy atmosphere outside.

“Retreat to the shadows!” Thel yelled.

The Spec Ops lance drew back into the space below the walkways while still firing at the heretics. Thel’s shields flickered out as a green explosion beside him knocked the Sangheili to the floor. He recovered and joined the Spec Ops while scanning for his opponent. A heretic Unggoy on the upper level had heavy gold Handheld Fuel Rod Canon resting on its shoulders. The Unggoy fired again, but this time Thel was ready. He dive-rolled before the explosion could reach anywhere near him. The Unggoy’s corpse fell to the lower level after the Arbiter performed a headshot on it. The fuel rod gun hit the floor beside the body.

Suddenly all the Sentinels in the room retreated into their tunnels as a Covenant Phantom flew into the hangar, squeezing in behind the Seraph. The heretics were lit up with red plasma as the Phantom’s Shades annihilated them. Thel and the Special Ops finished off the remaining heretics that were in harder-to-get places for the Phantom. By the end of the firefight, only two dead Spec Ops Unggoy lay amongst the countless heretic bodies. Nothing can measure up to the might of the Covenant, Thel thought. This was the fate of the heretics the moment they turned from us.

The Phantom dropped several more Spec Ops units before exiting the hangar. Thel turned to one of the Spec Ops Sangheili from the first lance; one he noticed had put up an impressive fight against the heretics. He pointed to the Sangheili and then to the fuel rod gun on the ground.

“You,” Thel barked with authority, “Drop your rifle for the fuel rod. It will serve us better if we are greeted by more groups like that one.”

The Handheld Fuel Rod Canon would be much slower to fire than the plasma rifle, and it ran on cartridges rather than battery power, but the blast radius of its shots would prove more useful. Thel watched the Spec Op Sangheili hesitate. They stared at one another briefly before the Sangheili walked over and picked up the gold canon. Thel wondered what the hesitation had been for. Perhaps the warrior did not wish to take orders from a disgraced commander. Whether because of the Arbiter’s authority or because the Sangheili agreed the fuel rod gun would be the better choice, he listened.

Thel and the two Spec Ops lances formed together and headed down an open door on the lower level directly below the elevator. They traversed hallways that twisted and turned downwards into the facility. Every so often, they were confronted with opposing heretic groups. The Spec Ops swept through without casualties. They no longer required the use of their camouflage now that the heretics were aware of their presence, and with their great numbers within the tight hallways, they were a black wall that crushed its way forwards.

Eventually, they entered another chamber of energy conveyer belts. This time the cannisters on them were filled with blue gas, likely methane like those worn by the Unggoy. The Sentinels here ignored them as the heretics and Spec Ops engaged in further combat. A band of heretic Unggoy ahead activated a plasma grenade each, their movements synchronised, and raised the glowing orbs above their heads. Before they could throw their grenades, the Sangheili with the fuel rod gun fired at the Unggoy. The green explosion broke through the glass of their methane tubes and propelled them into the heretics that surrounded them. The methane in the Unggoy’s rebreather packs ignited, turning the Unggoy themselves into explosives and blowing their allies apart along with the detonating grenades. It didn’t take long before the Spec Ops cleared the rest of the room, but an idea came to Thel that he wished to execute before continuing on.

“Wait here,” Thel ordered to the Spec Ops lance. “This chamber is large enough for another full-scale firefight. Look at the doors around the room. The heretics will flood in if we do not move onwards.”

“What is your point?” Asked one of the Spec Ops Sangheili.

“My plan is to lure the heretics to us,” Thel answered. “Place those gas tanks next to the entrances. As soon as our enemies enter, we fire upon the tanks and blow them to pieces”

Thel waited. Both lances paused, but before long they were all shuffling about. He helped them push the cannisters into position, while the Sentinels watched on curiously. Thel was worried the Sentinels might interfere, but they hovered by without protest. Thel was also glad the Spec Ops responded to him. They seemed to respect his role as Arbiter despite his past failure as Supreme Commander. Perhaps that business was now truly behind him. As soon as there were several stacks of cannisters beside each door, Thel instructed his allies to wait.

The Forerunner walls around them were completely soundproof, preventing the lance from hearing the rumble of approaching footsteps. When queues of heretics began to rush through the opening doors, the Spec Ops allowed the first few to pass through. The Arbiter held up his hand.

“Wait. Wait…” Thel ordered. “Now!”

The perimeter of the room became alight with blue explosions as the Spec Ops Sangheili and Unggoy unloaded their plasma into the gas cannisters. Pieces of heretic littered the room like a smashed piñata. Indigo coloured goop splashed across Thel’s face. He flicked it off with his long fingers and finished watching the destruction unfold around him with the literal taste of blood still upon him.

The room fell almost silent after the explosions and plasma fire ceased. The only sound heard was the buzzing of the Sentinels scanning the room. The chamber was completely stained in heretic blood with chunks of Sangheili and Unggoy bodies scattered across the floor. One Sentinel dropped down toward a limbless heretic Sangheili corpse, reached over with its mechanical extensions and grabbed the dead warrior. At first the corpse slipped through its arms back onto the floor before the Sentinel found a better hold and flew off into a wall tunnel. It must be tidying up, Thel figured.

“The heretic leader, Sesa ‘Refumee is supposed to be hiding just below our position,” Thel announced. “Let us move forwards.”

“Arbiter,” called a Sangheili to Thel’s right. “You… uh… have some brains on your mandible.”

The lance fought few heretics through the following corridors, which twisted and turned until they found themselves in another hangar. The transparent door ahead was closed, and on the other side stood Sesa ‘Refumee between two open Banshees. He had been just about to enter one of the support-craft but turned to face Thel ‘Vadamee who was at the head of the lance.

“I wondered who the Prophets would send to silence me,” said the heretic leader over an open com. “An Arbiter? I’m flattered.”

“Come forward and I will kill you quickly,” Thel replied. “Only a coward flees an fair fight.”

Sesa ‘Refumee chuckled.

“Only the fool of a Sangheili would not flee from two entire Spec Ops lances.”

“Then let me out, and I will fight you one to one.”

With each word, Thel was creeping forward, edging his way to the door switch.

“Get in line,” the heretic leader finished before sliding into the left Banshee and pulling its hinged roof down over himself.

By the time the Arbiter was able to press the switch, the Banshee had already disappeared into the crimson fog.

“The heretics are mobilising their air forces,” informed the voice of Rtas ‘Vadumee. “They have Banshee emplacements all over the facility. Go after their leader, Arbiter, but watch your back. I'm sending one of our Phantoms to support you.”

More heretics spilled into the room as Thel slipped into the second Banshee. The Spec Ops would have to do without the Arbiter for now. As soon as the lid of the Banshee closed, it was pushed to the side as plasma splashed along its body. The hum of the aircraft’s engines turned into a scream as Thel thrust the aircraft forward into the warm mist. An enemy Banshee followed closely at his tail while the silhouette of the hangar faded behind them within the gathering clouds.

Thel swerved left and right to shake the shadower off his tail. He managed to dodge some plasma, but not all of it. The biggest danger would be if the enemy banshee shot his wings off. Thel used the controls before him to switch from the Banshee’s primary canons to its slower, more powerful secondary canon. He pulled the Banshee up into a sudden backflip until he was now directly behind his enemy. With the support craft now having switched positions, Thel fired his Banshee’s fuel rod canon, blasting the enemy craft into shrapnel.  He pulled up to evade the debris which could have easily shredded through his Banshee. A friendly Phantom dove down from the clouds above.

“We have tracked the heretic to another part of the station,” said Rtas. “Follow. I will lead you to him.”

Enemy Banshees appeared at every angle on the way to the other section of the hanging gas mine facility. The Phantom fended them off with its three Shade turrets while Thel performed more flips backwards, forwards, left and right to evade their plasma fire and occasional fuel rod shot. He destroyed another with a well-timed fuel rod shot, but had to chip away at the rest with plasma as they were too mobile, dodging his shots similarly to how Thel was dodging theirs. While Thel was the better marksman and manoeuvrer by a clear margin than these heretics, his Banshee was extremely damaged by the time he reached his destination.

Thel landed on a bridge that connected two parts of the hanging station together over the bottomless atmosphere below while the Phantom began to drop in the last Spec Ops lance behind him. The Arbiter wasted no time and sprinted toward the door they had tracked the heretic leader to. Before he reached it, the door opened as a heretic Sangheili stepped out equipped with a weapon that looked very much like the ones attached to the Sentinels. Orange and yellow energy was beamed out of the weapon like a firehose directly into Thel’s armour.

Thel leapt forward and slashed through the heretic, slicing him in half. The Arbiter, filled with rage, opened up his mandibles and gave an almighty roar. He was not hurt. His shields recharged as he stared down upon the maimed corpse which puddled the floor with blood. Indigo liquid splashed over the Sentinel’s beam weapon. How dare he, Thel thought. How dare he use the weapons of the guardians, technology of the gods themselves! As part of their sacred pact, only the Prophets were allowed to utilise such objects. The Sangheili were to search for ancient relics while the San ‘Shyuum assessed them and altered them only with the direct guidance of the gods. Then and only then could the technology be passed onto the Sangheili to aid their holy quest. This heretic was filth. He had no right to such devices.

The chamber beyond the door was tall and expansive. It had many levels around the edges and a seemingly endless ramp spiralling around a glowing tube that ran up to the ceiling above. Floating pieces of Forerunner geometry swivelled in the air around the long pipe as yellow energy surged upwards within it. On the ground level on which Thel stood, just behind the spiral ramp was a hologram displaying the three-dimensional schematics of the entire station. Running past it toward a door at the opposite end was Sesa ‘Refumee.

The Arbiter fired his carbine rapidly. Each shot hit his mark, but the purple shields of the heretic leader’s hazard harness protected him. Thel chased after the Sangheili, spamming the touch-trigger of the carbine the whole while, but once Sesa stepped through the porthole, a solid energy shield door lit up blue and separated the heretic from the room behind him. The Arbiter stepped up to blue shield, standing face-to-face with the Sangheili on the other side.

“This will save me from the storm,” said the heretic, “But you will be consumed!”

Thel slammed his fist on the shield door. The blue energy rippled slightly but remained solid. Sesa ‘Refumee slipped into the darkness on the other side as Rtas ‘Vadumee and the third Spec Ops lance joined the Arbiter.

“Where is he?” Rtas asked.

Thel nodded toward the shield door.

“Stinking floodbait boxed himself in tight,” said the Spec Ops Commander observing the hardlight energy. “We'll never break through this.”

Thel turned back to look at the station schematics before replying.

“Then we shall force him out.”

“How?”

“The cable,” said Thel, “I’m going to cut it. Get everyone back to the ships.”

Rtas scanned the hologram before barking orders at his Sangheili and Unggoy.

“Warriors, return to the landing zone! The Arbiter will continue upward, cut this station loose and scare the heretic from his hole!”

“May the lords guide you!” One Sangheili shouted to the Arbiter before turning to exit the way they had come with the rest of the lance.

Thel made his way up the spiral ramp without little resistance. A small group of heretic Unggoy equipped with Needlers and a single Sangheili confronted the Arbiter, but he dispatched of them with little damage to his shields. Any heretics still alive were scraps. They stood no chance against the Arbiter or the Spec Ops, and soon they would perish with the falling station. Thel knew there would be some in the Covenant who would question what he was about to do, but it was for the good of the Journey. In time, the Sentinels would build a replacement.

“All of my Phantoms are in the air, Arbiter,” transmitted Rtas ‘Vadumee. “Go ahead! Cut that cable.”

Thel found an octagonal elevator at the top of the ramp. He activated the switch and was propelled upward into a tunnel overhead. When the lift came to a stop, Thel found himself at the very top of the station. The cable holding up the station forked off into three smaller cords as thick as tree trunks in each corner of the area. The Sentinels watched his every move as he stepped toward the first of the three cords and activated his energy sword. He swung once, twice and then a third time before the cord was cut lose. It flipped up like elastic, sending white sparks around the room.

Thel was immediately greeted by an orange beam from one of the Sentinels. He dived rolled to avoid it, but still lost half his shield in the fraction of the second the beam made contact. There was a reason the San ‘Shyuum reverse-engineered Forerunner technology to create the Covenant’s weaponry. It would take no time for this Sentinel to eliminate his shields before killing him. The Arbiter needed to stay on the move.

Thel fired his carbine at the second cord while sprinting toward it. The Sentinel beam followed his every step. He cut the second cord successfully with his sword and continued on to the third without stopping. Two more Sentinels beamed in his direction. The Arbiter altered his movements to make it even harder for the beams to touch, but he could only keep this up a couple of seconds longer. He dived for the third cord and sliced as hard as he could.

The Sangheili’s stomach lurched as the floor below him jolted downward. He felt weightless for a brief moment as he looked up and saw the cord shoot upward away into the distance. Red wind rushed by as the station plummeted.

“That did it,” called the Spec Ops Commander. “The station is in free fall! The heretic leader is on the move. Do not let him escape! We will stay with you as long as we can.”

Thel noticed the Sentinels were no longer shooting at him. He could see them up above zooming down toward him from the clouds, trying to re-enter the facility, which had fallen away from their hovering mechanical forms. He jumped back over to the elevator, hit the switch and felt himself dropping down at a speed no Sangheili should be subjected to. He lost a little of his shield when the lift came to a halt at the top of the spiral ramp. The Arbiter activated his active camouflage as a swarm of Sentinels searched the room for the hostile who had cut the cable.

After reaching the bottom of the ramp, he made his way to the doorway Sesa ‘Refumee had hidden behind earlier. On the other side was an elevator. Thel reasoned that Sesa would have likely headed down this lift as soon as the cable was cut. He followed. The lift carried him to a room similar to the last, but with a much larger yellow tube and more ferociously revolving floating parts. He saw the heretic leader disappear into an exit two levels below.

Thel’s active camouflage ran out when he was halfway down the room. He was blasted by Sentinels, and as a result, had no choice but to return fire. He strafed left and right, firing his carbine at the eyes of the machines. He destroyed a few before his active camouflage came back online. He did not reactivate it however as the Sentinels could likely track his position after having already seen him. He stepped through the exit Sesa had disappeared into and found another elevator. He activated the switch. His shields recharged as he dropped.

“Are you still alive, Arbiter?” Rtas asked. “We're keeping pace as best we can, but this maelstrom is strong.”

Thel stepped out of the elevator onto a platform on the outside of the facility. An unpiloted Banshee sat to his right while another fleeing Banshee thrusted away ahead of him.

“What lunacy!” The Spec Ops Commander exclaimed. “He'll never escape the storm in a Banshee! Wait! The hangar; there was a Seraph fighter inside! Arbiter, you know what to do!”

The Arbiter felt his Banshee being torn apart by the wind as he attempted to follow the heretic. He crashed into a platform identical to the one he’d just left, but managed to scramble up the edge. A door to his right was still closing as if someone had just passed through it. Thel ran inside. Red warning lights flashed around the twisting Forerunner corridors as the Arbiter made his way to the hangar. At last, Thel caught up with the heretic.  

The Arbiter stepped into the lower level of the hangar just as Sesa ‘Refumee was thrusting his way up to the Seraph. The chamber was still filled with dead bodies and dropped weaponry. The heretic stood on the roof of the fighter and turned to face Thel.

“Supreme Commander,” Sesa began, “I would rather die by your hands than let the Prophets lead me to slaughter.”

“Who has taught you these lies?” Thel asked.

The humming of an unfamiliar voice entered the room followed by a blue glow from one of the tunnels in the wall. Then, in flew the spherical Forerunner machine that caused both. It had a circular eye similar to those of the Sentinels but with a Forerunner glyph on it that Thel recognised as the symbol for the Reclamation. The metal orb appeared to be about as wide in diameter as Sesa ‘Refumee’s torso, Thel observed. It matched every description he’d heard of the oracle on Halo.

“Hello,” greeted the Oracle in a cheery voice. “I am Three-Four-Three Guilty Spark. I am the Monitor of Installation Zero-Four.”

Artificial light projected itself off the Oracle with each soundwave as it spoke. Its voice sounded more male than female, but not quite either. It was oddly bubbly while still retaining a hint of a robotic undertone. The heretic leader readdressed the Arbiter.

“Ask the Oracle about Halo,” Sesa told him, “How they would sacrifice us all for nothing!”

“More questions?” Guilty Spark chirped, “Splendid. I would be happy to assist you!”

Sesa ‘Refumee continued.

“The Covenant are blind, Arbiter, but I will make them see-”

Thel fired his carbine before the heretic could spread any further lies. Sesa thrusted through the air from the Seraph over to the right walkway of the hangar; the same that Thel had stood upon earlier in the mission. The Arbiter ran towards the ramp.

“How did the Prophets buy your loyalty Arbiter?” Sesa spat from his platform. “With a new command? A new fleet? Or was it the promise of their Great Journey?”

Thel charged up the ramp, spamming his carbine at his enemy. Sesa leapt away again and thrusted over to the opposite walkway. The Oracle hummed to himself as he watched.

“Coward!” Thel growled.

“Look around you, Arbiter,” the heretic continued. “Where are these gods the Prophets would have us worship? Transcended?” A dry, sarcastic laugh escaped his throat. “Come, Arbiter. Let me show you where they went.”

Thel decided to change tactics. He jumped down onto the ground and stepped directly below the shadow of the Seraph. At his feet was the corpse of a heretic Unggoy. Beside it was a plasma pistol and a plasma grenade. Thel dropped his carbine.

“This mining facility predates Installation Zero-Four by several hundred years,” said the Oracle unexpectedly. “I designed and oversaw the construction of this facility's various outbreak management systems. The cable on top of this mine was designed as a failsafe in case an outbreak took place.”

“Show yourself, Arbiter!” Sesa cried.

Thel jumped up and grabbed onto the edge of the Seraph. He pulled himself up over it, while charging his newly acquired pistol. Sesa ‘Refumee was standing on the left walkway, where the first Spec Ops lance had stood earlier. The Arbiter launched his plasma grenade at the heretic. Sesa dove onto the floor and successfully avoided the explosion, but Thel’s charged plasma shot splashed over the heretic immediately after, stripping his shields completely. Before the Sangheili could stand up, Thel spammed small plasma pistol shots at him. The Arbiter charged forward, leapt off the Seraph and smacked the Sangheili in the side of the head with his pistol. Sesa ‘Refumee’s eyes opened wide with terror as Thel pinned him down and ignited his energy blades.

“Sesa ‘Refum,” began the Arbiter purposely leaving off the end of his name, “I sentence you to die!”

Thel ‘Vadamee stabbed his sword through his enemy's hearts. Sesa gargled softly and then fell silent as his head flopped back. Thel had purposely left the ‘Ee suffix off the heretics name to disgrace him. Only a Sangheili of the Covenant military could wear that suffix proudly. Sesa ‘Refum no longer belonged to the Covenant. The Oracle hovered over to the Arbiter.

“Unfortunate,” the Oracle began. “His edification was most enjoyable.”

“I had no choice, Oracle,” Thel replied. “This heretic imperilled the Great Journey.”

"Oracle? Great Journey? Why do you meddlers insist on using such inaccurate verbiage?”

A Phantom entered the hangar. Thel turned, expecting Rtas ‘Vadumee.

“Oh myyyyyy!!!” Cried the Oracle as it was sucked toward the anti-gravity technology of the Fist of Rukt. Tartarus, Chieftain of the Jiralhanae had dropped down from the Phantom. He caught the Oracle in one hand. His hammer was held in the other. Thel was astonished by the Chieftain’s rough treatment of the oracle.

“That is a holy oracle!” The Arbiter exclaimed.

“So it is,” Tartarus shrugged. “Come. We are leaving this system.”

Tartarus tossed the Oracle up into the gravity lift of the Phantom before floating up into its belly himself. Thel ‘Vadamee followed. His first mission as Arbiter had been a success. As the Phantom flew away from the falling station, he wondered what other perils the Prophets had planned for him.


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