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Fan Fiction

Ascension by Dragonclaws

Ascension: Chapter 1
Date: 7 September 2006, 4:38 am

"Rrrah!" Tartarus swung his massive battle hammer at him, missing by mere inches. The Arbiter ran backwards, shooting with both of the crimson plasma rifles he had taken from Jiralhanae corpses. The effort seemed futile, for the deadly plasma simply flowed harmlessly off his enemy's enhanced body shield. Overheating, the rifles spilled out plasma, and the Sangheili franticly held them away from his body to allow the plasma to drop to the ground.

Tartarus, seizing his chance, smashed his hammer into the Arbiter's chest. The hammer blew through his body shield and crushed the ancient armor. Tartarus laughed as the Sangheili cried out in pain, his fearsome eyes glowing wickedly in the shadow produced by his own bulk. "So here ends the mighty Arbiter!"

He watched the traitor raise his hammer for the killing blow, preparing for death's claw to rake him in… when a violet particle beam struck his killer's head. The beam, instead of bouncing off the Jiralhanae's shield as the other weapons did, caused Tartarus to jerk in pain. A second shot made him lower his hammer. The third shot completely took out his shield! The Arbiter raised both rifles and shot plasma into the wretched creature. Tartarus roared as the plasma burned through his chest and, with one last cry, he fell.

Without wasting any time, the Human Commander took action, leaping from platform to platform to finally land on the main level. She ran past him to the beam of energy, removing the Icon. The energy beam intensified, and then fired up through the ceiling. After a few seconds, the beam faded away and all was quiet. Did she stop it? The Arbiter rose, ignoring the intense pain in his chest, to approach the Human Commander. He stopped, however, as the console shifted image, becoming a cloud of geometric shapes. The Human Commander studied it as the Oracle floated down to her, carrying the darker Human, the one who wielded the particle beam rifle.

"What's that?" the Human Commander questioned the Oracle.

"A beacon," the Oracle answered simply. The darker Human dropped off onto the platform and joined his Commander.

"What's it doing?" she asked.

"Communicating," answered the Oracle, "At super-luminal speeds, with a frequency of-"

"Communicating with what?" the Human interrupted impatiently.

"The… other installations," the Oracle replied, as though surprised that the Human did not know.

"Show me," the Human commanded.

The Oracle turned to the hologram, interfacing with it. From a storm of geometric shapes, emerged the seven Sacred Rings. He moved in closer, noting that a small red note was attached to one of the Halos, likely noting it was destroyed by the Demon. The Oracle then spoke, breaking the Sangheili out of his thoughts.

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

"Remote activation?" repeated the Human. "From here?"

"Don't be ridiculous," the Oracle said in a patronizing tone. The darker Human moved in angrily.

"Listen, Tinkerbelle," the Human started, moving forward aggresively. "Don't make me…"

The Human Commander grabbed his shoulder and quickly cut him off with a question to the Oracle, "Then where? Where would someone go to activate the other Rings?"

The Oracle looked at them both, apparently baffled at the question. "Why… the Ark… of course," the Oracle finally answered.

"And where, Oracle, is that?" he asked, stepping into the group. The Humans stared up at him, perhaps astonished that he had left them alive.

"Scanning," the Oracle intoned as it turned back to the console. The hologram soon changed into a depiction of the galaxy. "Ark detected," announced the Oracle. The holographic galaxy rose, and a holographic star system took its place. "On the third planet of a planetary system approximately 6,100 light-years from our position."

"My god," the Human Commander said in a quiet voice. "That's…"

"Earth," finished the other Human.

Earth? The Human planet attacked by the High Prophet of Regret? "Oracle," the Arbiter began, "Can the Ark be disabled from here?"

"Certainly not," the Oracle stated, "My creators specifically created the Ark to control the installations. Should there ever be a circumstance where the countdown sequence is disrupted, the Reclaimers would override such infraction from the Ark."

"What are Reclaimers?" the Human Commander asked, making the Oracle turn to stare at her. After a long moment, the Oracle spoke.

"Why… the Reclaimers…" The Oracle indicated the Humans. "You are the Reclaimers," the Oracle said, utterly bewildered.

"Say what?!" cried the dark Human. Jahnsen, was it?

The Oracle looked between the two of them, concerned. "Are you two perhaps… ill?"

"We're fine," the Human Commander began to say, but stopped as a party of Sangheili reinforcements entered the chamber.

Five Special Operations Sangheili in shining white armor, led by a gold-armored Zealot Commander leapt down to the platform one by one, and ran toward the Arbiter. He rubbed his chest where Tartarus's hammer had struck, wincing at the pain. It will be good to get back to the healers. As the team neared, he realized they would see the Humans as hostile, and moved to intercept them.

"Do not harm the Humans," the Arbiter commanded. The Commander raised a hand to stop his subordinates, and then stepped forward himself. The Arbiter realized that this was Gerka 'Setfethee, Ship Master of the Eternally Faithful. Through exceptional battlefield skills, this Sangheili had achieved significant prestige.

'Setfethee bowed his head respectfully and spoke with a bold, clear voice. "Yes, Arbiter, I have heard of your alliance with the Humans." Despite the Commander's carefully neutral tone, he could still hear a disgusted inflection on 'Humans'. "I see you have killed Tartarus. If you have no further business here, I suggest we make our way to our fortification." He disengaged his sword and strapped it to his hip.

The Arbiter began to agree, when he realized he had no true authority over the Humans; their alliance had been a thing of pure necessity. Tartarus would have activated the Sacred Rings and ended all life—they had to ally. Now that Tartarus was dead and the countdown stopped, did that mean they were enemies once more? …Not necessarily, for it was the Prophets who had declared war on the Humans; the Sangheili race should have no quarrel with them.

The Arbiter turned to the Human Commander. "Commander," he began, feeling the eyes of the other Sangheili on him. "I thank you for your assistance. Now I ask you to aid us once more, if you are willing. If we can prevail over the Brutes, I will personally ensure that no Elite will ever harm another Human in the name of the Prophets."

The Arbiter felt the eyes of his fellow Sangheili boring into him. He was not exceptionally skilled at interpreting Human expressions, but he could tell that the Human Commander was equally stunned by his words.

"I'm very glad that you have seen benefits of such collaboration. Thank you for making this choice," the Commander finally said, "I will take any steps towards a peace between our species."

"Heh. You got that right," Jahnsen said.

"Surely this is in jest," one of the SpecOps soldiers snarled in outrage. "For it would be no less than heresy to ally ourselves with the Humans."

"Silence, 'Opskitee!" The Zealot turned to admonish the Sangheili. "This is the Arbiter, the hand of the Prophets; if there is any we can depend on in these violent times, it is him. While I am…" the Commander paused, searching for a proper phrasing, "Surprised by the Arbiter's decision, I will follow his command until death."

The offender was wise enough to know when to stop fighting. He lowered his head in submission. "My apologies, Commander."

The Arbiter felt a burst of pride fill him that almost made him forget his injuries; despite his colossal violation of the Oath, he was being defended by a Ship Master. Of course, it is foolish to place value on such things, he chided himself. Was he not a warrior? The Oracle looked between them, apparently fascinated by the discussion.

"Now then," 'Setfethee said, slipping into a rough English for the Humans' coprehension. "We have wasted enough time here; I suggest we return to the Phantom before the Jiralhanae decide to attack."

Unable to argue with the Commander's logic, the Human Commander ordered the Oracle to return the platform to its original position. Before leaving, the Arbiter lifted Tartarus' battle hammer; he would keep it as a trophy of his victory. They made their way through the debris caused by Jahnsen's Scarab and emerged to the sight of the Scarab itself, stretched out on the control room's front. Its back legs supported it on the ground while its front legs were placed up on the building. While it was an undignified position, he saw no other way for Jahnsen to have entered. Balanced on the Scarab's cannon, Commander 'Setfethee's Phantom waited for their return.

He noticed that the cruiser which once hovered nearby had departed. He hoped Commander 'Vadumee had managed to retake it as he had set out to do. The Sangheili paused on the ledge and took a moment to admire the Forerunners' profound work. He flexed his mandibles, breathing in the cool air, as he gazed at the brilliant landscape before him.

The last few units had been very tough for the Sangheili. After watching the Demon destroy the Sacred Ring, an object he revered beyond all others, he had been declared a heretic and sentenced to public disgrace. He had been tortured for half a unit before being given the Mark of Shame, which would bind his soul to the Shadow World, unable to ascend. When the High Prophet of Truth had offered him the position of Arbiter, how was he to refuse? Death on the battlefield was far preferable to death by execution, and all the better if he would do the work of the Prophets. Additionally, he would receive the honor of having his corpse preserved in the Mausoleum. If he could not go on the Great Journey, then at least he'd have a small piece of immortality.

As the Arbiter, he had killed those who perverted their faith and fought his way through numerous waves of the Parasite, released by the heretics as a weapon. Before he was free of that struggle, he had faced the heretic leader, revealed to be holding the Oracle. The heretic had used a defiled version of holodrones that could cause damage to the Arbiter, while his own attacks did nothing. The Arbiter had managed to corner the heretic and kill him using an Unggoy fuel rod cannon, then dropped the heretics' fortified Forerunner mine into the crushing depths of the gas-planet.

It had been less than a unit before it was announced that another Sacred Ring had been found, but that the High Prophet of Regret had been murdered by the Humans… specifically the Demon. Despite the rage that had filled him, he had remained focused on his task to retrieve the Sacred Icon. He had fought his way through legions of Flood and Enforcers, only to find the Icon locked in a sheath, hovering over a great shaft. If two Humans – the same Humans he now fought with – were not there to retrieve the Icon for him, he knew not what he would have done. After he had secured the Icon, it was taken by Tartarus, who, acting on the orders of the High Prophets, had cast him into the shaft.

His intense descent through the Library made him lapse into sleep. When he awoke, both he and the Demon were in the grasp of the Parasite leader: a massive, tentacled creature. The creature spoke of the Prophets leading them to their deaths; the same words spoken by the Humans and the heretics. He would have disregarded the Parasite's words had he not been betrayed by the Prophets only moments before. The creature then told them that there was time to stop the key from turning, but first they had to find it.

"Fate had us meet as foes, but this ring will make us brothers!" The Parasite had declared, before bending the very fabric of space and sending the Arbiter to a stretch of land not far from the Sacred Ring's control room. As he made his way toward it, the Arbiter had learned that the Jiralhanae race, along with the Kig-Yar and Yanme'e, had begun murdering the Sangheili, Lekgolo and Unggoy of the Covenant, and made up his mind to stop the Hierarchs from finding the path. When Jahnsen commandeered the Scarab and demanded a truce, he had immediately agreed.

Together, they made their way into the control room. There, they had all listened to the truth told by the Oracle. The Arbiter, despite his sorrow, was able to accept the Prophets' betrayal. Tartarus did not, and attempted to have them walk the path to destruction. With the help of the Humans, the Arbiter was able to slay him and stop the Great Journey weapon. Yes, it had been a very long, difficult unit. But now, with the truth known and a new alliance, the Sangheili felt better than he had felt in a long time.

"Arbiter!" beckoned Ship Master 'Setfethee. The Arbiter came to his senses and led the Humans into the Phantom.

Three Sangheili veterans greeted them as they entered. They stared in awe at the Oracle, who hovered around the cabin, commenting on its design. After a moment had gone by, they turned their gazes from the Oracle and looked curiously at the Humans, particularly Jahnsen's particle beam rifle and his Commander holding the Sacred Icon. "Prisoners, Arbiter?" one questioned.

"Allies," the Arbiter said firmly. "I will explain it all when we reach our fortification."

The Sangheili looked as though they wanted to question further, but refrained for politeness. They did trade each other meaningful glances, however.

"Arbiter? Might I speak with you, Arbiter?"

The Arbiter turned to see 'Setfethee standing at the far end of the craft. Excusing himself from the red-armored warriors, he placed his trophy in a weapons compartment and joined the Ship Master.

"Arbiter," the Commander began in a low voice, "Your decision to ally our noble race with the likes of the Humans is not only a breach of the Oath we all swore, but is a true insult to us and our ancestors. Earlier, I supported your words merely to punish the insolent 'Opskitee, but I see it as a blatant attack on everything for which the Covenant stands. I was truthful when I spoke of following you until my death; however, I must warn you that others will not share my viewpoint…" he broke off to look to his left. The Arbiter followed his gaze. The two Humans spoke to each other quietly, while the Sangheili warriors glared at them with hate.

"It could end here," the Ship Master spoke up in a soft yet frantic voice. "The Humans are contained and outmatched. They are armed with merely a Kig-Yar's rifle in a crowded Phantom; they have no prospect of survival. Tartarus is dead, we have the Oracle and the Sacred Icon; there is no longer a need for an alliance. Arbiter, I bid you, let it end here!"

During 'Setfethee's speech, the Arbiter felt all his new sense of pride drain away. "No," he said simply. "The Humans are not our enemies. My decision cannot be swayed." He shared a hard look with the Ship Master.

"Commander 'Setfethee, a word?" buzzed the internal radio. It was the pilot.

'Setfethee glanced toward the cockpit but continued addressing the Arbiter. "Very well, Arbiter. But know the time will come that you will regret your choice." He turned and entered the cockpit.

The Arbiter sighed. So much for my good feeling...

Ascension: Chapter 2
Date: 10 September 2006, 11:24 am

Sergeant Johnson gripped the rifle as he watched the Elites glare at them; he glared back. Stepping closer to Commander Keyes, he muttered, "So, we've joined the Elites to fight in their rebellion… They don't seem very grateful." This he directed at the nearest Elite. The alien snarled, flexing its mandibles. Real pretty, split-jaw.

"With In Amber Clad taken by the Flood, we need as many friends as we can get." Commander Keyes said, smiling at the surrounding Elites. All this seemed to do was anger them more. Her smile faded. "At least the one in the fancy armor seems committed to our truce," she said as she rested against the Phantom's dark purple wall.

Johnson eyed said Elite as he spoke with the gold-armored Elite on the far side of the cabin. "Yes, ma'am. He's called 'the Arbiter'. I heard the Brutes talk about him. He seems to be some kind of Elite criminal who the Prophets made into a very high-ranking leader."

They watched as the two Elites argued with each other in their alien language, the gold one leaving into what must have been the cockpit. The Arbiter approached what Johnson recognized as a holographic generator on the side of the wall, and ran his hand up and down the side. After a bit of fiddling with it, the Elite left it be.

"Ma'am, what do you propose we do about this 'Ark'?" Johnson asked.

"We'll just have to convince the Elites to take their battle to Earth," Commander Keyes said. "From there, the Monitor should be able to find its location. We will then only need to reach the Ark and disable the Halos."

"Huh," Johnson grunted. "Sounds simple." Like things ever are…

The gold-armored Elite came back into the room and spoke with the Arbiter for a moment, then turned and barked an order. All the Elites, save for the Arbiter, stood at attention. As the Elite addressed his troops, the Arbiter approached the humans.

"We have sighted an Apparition dropship following us from afar," the Arbiter told them, "To ensure that the Brutes do not find our encampment, we will lead it far from our path and then destroy it."

"Ship Master, I have sighted the perfect area for our trap," Kiga 'Oimomee spoke into the radio as he steered the Phantom toward what appeared to be the ruins of an ancient temple. The compound was set in a small valley, with small waterfalls flowing down the sides and into a tower in the center.

"Excellent," the Ship Master's voice came through the speaker. "Proceed to engage the enemy craft."

Kiga reduced the Phantom's speed as he approached the site. He looked at his aft display and laughed as he saw the Jiralhanae dropship slow to match his speed. Loathsome rabble… He flew the Phantom slowly over a small cliff on the side of the temple complex. Just as the Phantom had cleared the top, Kiga moved it down and out of sight of the Apparition. He hovered the craft, waiting. "Steel yourself," he told his co-pilot, 'Tsafonee, who grunted in reply.

Kiga gripped the controls in excitement; never had he done battle in a dropship before. He had been trained primarily as a Shadow driver but after the rebellion began, he had been assigned to ferry troops in Phantoms. Such was his delight when he found himself the pilot of Ship Master 'Setfethee and the Arbiter!

Finally, the Apparition cleared the hill and was directly above them. The Jiralhanae saw them and tried to disengage. Kiga, however, sped after them at once. "Fire!"

His co-pilot acted promptly, spilling plasma fire over the dropship's aft. The enemy, instead of returning fire as Kiga expected, swung around and smashed their starboard troop bay into the Phantom's underbelly. The Phantom shook with the impact. Kiga pulled the craft back hard, feeling the controls vibrate under his hands.

"Status!" He cried.

"Our first and third cannons are offline," 'Tsafonee reported. "The fuel line for the gravity lift has been ruptured; it will be offline shortly."

The Apparition shook off its shattered bay and tilted sideways, revealing an open corridor. In the opening stood a Jiralhanae wielding a sword; the beast shook the weapon tauntingly. Kiga growled; the sword was a sacred weapon of the Sangheili. Thinking about an unworthy Jiralhanae using one filled him with disgust. Just as he gave the order to fire, the Apparition's cannon swiveled around and fired on them.

"We have lost the last cannon," 'Tsafonee reported grimly.

Silently cursing the Jiralhanae, Kiga quickly informed the Ship Master of the current situation. He moved the Phantom out of the Apparition's range, sliding towards a temple structure as it gave chase. To his surprise, the one who answered was not 'Setfethee, but in fact the Arbiter.

"I believe I have a solution," the Arbiter said. "Meet the gravity lift with the opening so that we may do battle with the enemy."

"Yes, Arbiter," Kiga said, following his orders hastily. He moved the craft into position, swinging treacherously close to a building on one side of the temple complex. I hope this does not mean a demotion…

As he collected his crimson rifles, the Arbiter quickly explained the situation to the Humans. "While we are in the troop carrier, you must guard the Oracle and the Sacred Icon. You may wish to further arm yourselves," he said, indicating the weapon storage containers built into the walls.

The alien Commander opened an Unggoy's compartment and, after sifting through the supplies, removed a needler and two crystals. Jahnsen chose four grenades and raised his rifle to a firing position.

The Phantom groaned as it once more made contact with the Apparition. "We are in position, Arbiter," the pilot said.

"Very good, warrior," the Arbiter said into the radio. "Hold as long as possible." He turned to the warriors, "Attack!"

The Arbiter engaged his camouflage, raised his rifles and charged forward. He quickly stopped before reaching the lift, realizing that his camouflage was not on. Putting down a rifle, he ran his hand over the armor's censors more deliberately but with no effect. He realized with a jolt that his body shield was not there either. Tartarus's blow must have dealt more damage than I believed…

He was too important to take such risks. While traditionally an Arbiter would place himself in the greatest of danger, these were very unusual times. Because the Prophets had betrayed the Sangheili, he was needed to inspire courage among the troops. He was also the only Sangheili who knew the truth of the Sacred Rings, the only one who would be able to protect the Humans. Will 'Setfethee continue to accept the Humans as allies if I should die? He did not think so. Despite the Arbiter custom, it would be best for him to wait behind in the Phantom.

"Is there something wrong, Arbiter?" asked Commander 'Setfethee.

Startled out of his thoughts, he realized he had stood there for the past ten seconds. Turning to the Sangheili, he informed them of his circumstances. "I will have to stay here."

"Upon reaching our stronghold, we shall have the Huragok restore it to its full glory," 'Setfethee said. "For now, let us handle the battle." He turned to his Sangheili, "Come, my warriors, let us show these creatures our blades!" The Sangheili disappeared through the lift.

Kiga hissed as the enemy craft slid away from him. Fortunately, the Arbiter's troops had successfully entered the craft, as was evidenced by the dropship ceasing to fire on his Phantom. However, Kiga had a strong suspicion the Arbiter would be angry should he find the connection broken.

I am in enough trouble already, he thought as he chased the Apparition toward the small tower in the center of the complex. An idea formed in his head as he eyed the tower's open roof.

When the Apparition was directly over the opening, Kiga slammed the Phantom down into the enemy dropship, forcing it into the tower. Here the dropship would be effectively contained, unless the Jiralhanae chose to abandon their craft and flee. Kiga hoped they would; then they could be hunted down!

"We have lost the gravity lift," 'Tsafonee said anxiously.

"It matters little," Kiga said with more confidence than he truly had. "It would have lost power regardless. Now that the Apparition is contained, the Arbiter may complete his task."

"…Which is why I simply cannot understand why you meddlers insist on behaving in such primitive…" the Oracle was saying, when the Phantom violently shook, stopping him in midsentence. "Oh dear…"

The sudden sounds of battle filling the air made the Arbiter realize that the Phantom's gravity lift had finally succumbed to the dropship's abuse. "Oracle, do not expose yourself!" he ordered quickly. While it was doubtful these Jiralhanae had any gravity tools strong enough to capture the Oracle, he was not going to take any chances.

Careful, he crept over to the opening and looked through. They appeared to be in a circular chamber of Forerunner build. Below them, the one-winged Apparition lay pinned to the ground, the sounds of frenzied battle still coming from its interior. As he watched, a Jiralhanae emerged from the opening and began to flee from the battle, splashing through a thin layer of water covering the ground.

Suddenly, a particle beam shot out from the Arbiter's right, hitting the beast directly in the head. As the body fell, the Arbiter turned in surprise to see Jahnsen standing at his side. This Human seemed to have a talent for moving unseen and unheard.

"You wield that weapon very well," the Arbiter complemented him, remembering that it was his shots that extinguished Tartarus' enhanced body shield.

"The Reach Naval Academy trains all officers in the use of known Covenant weaponry," Jahnsen explained, sounding pleased.

"When I was a Supreme Commander," the Arbiter said, "I attempted to have a law implemented to have all warriors instructed in the use of Human weaponry and vehicles. I am afraid my request was ignored by the Council." Because I was the heretic who lost the Sacred Ring…

"Well, now that the Covenant has split," Jahnsen said carefully, studying his expression, "I'm sure you'll be able to command these Elites all you want."

"Yes, as Arbiter, all Elites are under my command," the Arbiter asserted. Inwardly he worried the statement would prove to be inaccurate. Seeming satisfied with his response, Jahnsen nodded his head. The Arbiter absently rubbed the Mark of Shame, noticing the sounds of battle had ended.

Ascension: Chapter 3
Date: 21 September 2006, 11:59 pm

'Setfethee swung his blade into the last Jiralhanae, slicing him in two. He paused to take a breath as his shield recharged. These Jiralhanae had been stronger than any he had yet faced. They had not only worn the armor of Honor Guards, but had body shields and two had Sangheili swords.

He examined the markings on their armor. Yes, these were the guardians of the Prophet of Justice. Interesting…

"Ship Master!"

'Setfethee quickly regained his senses. 'Opskitee limped toward him from the control room, dark Jiralhanae blood trapped by his body shield dripping down his torso. "'Opskitee, what is our status?" he asked.

"Excellency, 'Gamstikee, 'Hoktapee, 'Akpomee, and 'Segbleimee have all fallen to the Jiralhanae," 'Opskitee reported, solemn. "As have two of the veterans. One lies unmoving but living."

Forerunners have mercy! He cried silently. Must all my Sangheili perish before our lords have their fill?

"Excellency, the Phantom is greatly damaged," 'Opskitee continued. "We have lost both the cannons and the gravity lift. With the Arbiter in his present condition, it is crucial we reach the base as swift as possible."

"Yes, we must not tempt fate," he agreed. "Take the wounded into the Phantom, I shall follow shortly."

'Opskitee began to leave, but stopped. "Excellency, I understand the Arbiter is the Prophets' hand, and his word is to be trusted… However, I wonder if our choice to ally with the Humans may have upset the Forerunners enough that they sought vengeance on us?"

"Enough!" 'Setfethee snapped. "I do not wish to hear any more of this! 'Opskitee, to your task!"

"Yes, Excellency," he answered shortly, moving at once.

After he had left, 'Setfethee sighed. Although he had sworn his life to the Prophets and the Arbiter, he definitely saw truth in 'Opskitee's words. The Prophets say to kill Humans; to disobey the Prophets is heresy. The Forerunners punished heretics. That was the way of it.

Yet, he thought, the Arbiter is the will of the Prophets. The Arbiter now said to ally ourselves with the Humans. Therefore, it is no longer the Prophets' will to kill Humans, he decided finally. The death of six Sangheili was no more than tragic circumstances.

Walking over to the consoles, he activated the communications log. A list of all transmissions scrolled over the display. Excellent. He downloaded the information into his armor and exited the craft. Finding himself hoof-deep in water, he looked around, finding they were in some ancient temple site crafted by the Forerunner.

He felt a pang of sorrow, realizing they had defiled this holy place. He sighed, silently promising the Forerunners he would alert the Prophets of its existence. Utilizing a ramp, he made his way up to the level of the hovering Phantom. Leaping onto the stub of a smashed cannon, he climbed over to the lift opening.

Eito 'Opskitee stood at attention in his perimeter even as the Ship Master piloted the Phantom. After carrying the wounded veteran inside, the Arbiter had helped him lay him flat on the cockpit floor. They had decided it was too probable the Sangheili would fall through the broken lift should he be left in the main chamber.

Ship Master 'Setfethee had harshly berated the pilot for making poorly thought out tactical decisions, insisting that he assume the task for the remainder of the travel. The blue-armored fool now stood with the Arbiter… and the Humans.

Eito clicked his mandibles in disgust. The pilot actually seemed intrigued by the notion of an allegiance, asking them questions in their English. Eito simply could not understand why these people would ever think that Humans, the abominations of the galaxy, could ever be considered to be at the same level as the Sangheili or even the Unggoy.

He had been raised to look upon the Arbiter as a hero, the blade of the Prophets, taking on important tasks to enforce their might. However… it was obvious this Arbiter had made a terrible mistake. There, it has been thought.

To say the Arbiter made mistakes was to say the Prophets made mistakes, the greatest blasphemy. If he was heard uttering it, he would be stripped of his honor and cast into the abyss of space. Yet, would I not suffer a worse fate for declaring a Human equal to a Sangheili?

He bowed his head as he thought on this dilemma. All at once it came to him: The Prophets had made a mistake in trusting the Jiralhanae; the vile beasts were attempting to take over the Covenant and walk the path alone. As hard as it was to comprehend, the Prophets were not flawless when it came to recognizing the evils inherent in other races. Neither, it seemed, was the Arbiter.

He looked back over at the Humans. They had already corrupted the Arbiter and the Ship Master, now they were working on this pilot. He had a vision of Humans ruling the Covenant, forcing their great race into servitude as they alone walked the path. No. He swore to himself, the Prophets, and the Forerunner, that he would do everything in his power to stop it from taking place.

"Arbiter, we have reached our fortification," the Ship Master's voice came suddenly, breaking him out of his thoughts.

"Excellent, Commander," the Arbiter said.

Eito took a breath. Yes, soon the Arbiter would go to the healers and the Humans would be unprotected. He would have to act swiftly and quietly, something a warrior of his class was well prepared for. He felt the Phantom descending and stole another glance at their weapons. A needler and a Kig-Yar's rifle, both useless at close range. Perfect, he thought as they landed.

Jitji stood at the console, watching the image of the heavily damaged Phantom enter the makeshift launch bay. He blinked back his tiredness and was preparing to send a request for Huragok, when a voice behind him snapped suddenly, "Unggoy!"

Startled, Jitji yelped as he turned. A red-armored Sangheili glared at him. This was 'Neporee, he realized, the Commander of the guards. He quickly attempted to regain his composure. "Yes, Excellency?"

"Unggoy, have you prepared any excuse for not alerting us of an approaching Phantom?!" The Sangheili's mandibles spread in anger, and Jitji hastened to reply.

"Excellency, they broadcast sign of Councilor," the Unggoy said meekly, pointing out the signal displayed on the console.

"Worthless!" Spat 'Neporee. "Could not a Jiralhanae manufacture such a signal? Could they not have stolen the code while they murdered half of our Council?! Brainless fool!"

Terrified, Jitji lowered his head and stammered an apology. Continuing to glare at him, the Sangheili said, "I will allow you to live, Unggoy, but you will no longer monitor the entrance; you will now serve with the guarding troops. Now go."

"Thank you, Excellency," Jitji said, leaving quickly.

"Commander, if you wish it," the Arbiter said. "I can carry you out of the Phantom."

They had landed at the bottom of some ancient shaft, which apparently connected to a Forerunner facility repurposed for use by the Sangheili. Although 'Setfethee assured him the entryway was within sight of the Phantom, the Arbiter could see nothing but darkness as he stared down the opening.

"Don't worry," the Human said, "I'll be fine." She stepped over to the hole.

Worried she would be unable to climb safely, the Arbiter offered to hold her weapon. Again she declined and, slipping the needler into her belt, climbed down. Jahnsen was quick to follow. The Arbiter made sure the Oracle would follow him, and then leapt down into the darkness.

Immediately, he could see the outline of a door. Two light markers cast their glow upon it. Wondering how anyone could have ever found such a place, he looked around for the others. After a moment, his eyes found their forms in the shadows.

'Opskitee and 'Oimomee had carried the unconscious Sangheili out of the Phantom. The co-pilot, perhaps not wishing to be near the Humans, had left as soon as 'Setfethee had. The Oracle seemed very distraught at the sight of the aged shaft, now covered in dust and growth.

"How unseemly!" The Oracle exclaimed as it examined the ancient structure. "To think that the Monitor of this Installation would let the constructions reach this horrid condition!"

Another Oracle? A piece of memory flashed through his mind. "Greetings. I am 2401 Penitent Tangent. I am the Monitor of Installation 05."

"Holy Oracle," the Arbiter said, "I have seen this Sacred Ring's Oracle held in the grasp of the Parasite leader."

"A Monitor allowed itself to be captured by a Flood intelligence form? How impossibly thoughtless!" The Oracle fumed. "I suppose I will have to assume the position myself."

The Oracle floated to a section of the decayed wall and fired a fine beam of green energy. The energy burned through the grime, and seemed to flow into the architecture itself.

Could the Oracle be somehow strengthening the structure? he wondered in awe. An instant later, the door opened, and a group of Unggoy led by a Sangheili minor rushed out.

"See?" cried an Unggoy. "Enemies!" The soldier fired a stream of needles at the Humans.

"The Humans are not to be harmed!" He roared at the group. He watched in fear and anticipation as the pink spines neared his allies. He felt relief when they managed to dodge them. Of course, he thought. They must have been trained to avoid such things.

"Hold your fire!" The Sangheili called. "Arbiter! We were not aware it was you! We thought the Jiralhanae had stolen your craft."

"Just allow us entry," he growled, "And tell everyone we have two Humans with us that are not to be harmed in any way."

"Yes, Arbiter," the minor said, quickly leading his Unggoy back inside. Not five seconds later, a red-armored veteran came through the doorway.

"The greatest of apologies, Arbiter," the veteran said, keeping strict eye-contact with him. "When I reviewed your signal, I found no trace of the established entry code and assumed your craft to be hostile. Please, bear me no hatred."

"Your name?" asked the Arbiter.

"Anre 'Neporee," he said.

"'Neporee, of course I understand you defending your base," he said. "However, I find it worrying you did not share this code with your dropships…"

"That was my error," 'Oimomee interrupted, bowing his head in shame. "I was told the entry code by my Commander, Kerp 'Lanukee. Yet when the Ship Master relieved me of my duties, I failed to inform him of its existence."

"Fool…" 'Opskitee muttered under his breath. The Arbiter had to agree with his assessment. Through the battle with the Jiralhanae dropship, they had lost all three cannons and the gravity lift. He had to wonder how much of the damage had been caused by Jiralhanae and not the pilot's inexperience.

Yet… This had been the first Sangheili to show an interest in an alliance with the Humans. Such a warrior could be useful to him. Perhaps he could guard the Humans from trigger-happy Unggoy… or Sangheili… in the future. Deciding to keep an eye on 'Oimomee, he turned his attention back to the veteran.

"Now that we have that cleared up, allow us entry," the Arbiter said. "I must speak with the leaders in this fortification at once."

"Yes, Arbiter," 'Neporee answered. He stood aside so they could enter, allowing his eyes to stray over the Humans. His weight shifted with bemusement as he gazed upon their weapons.

"These Humans are not to be harmed," the Arbiter told him firmly, as he led the group inside. "Whoever tries will face my wrath."

After being demoted to the lowest of ranks, Jitji had joined a group of Unggoy preparing to defend the base from the 'Jiralhanae attackers'. Just as they prepared for a deadly battle, the Sangheili came to inform them there would be no need for their assistance. The occupants of the Phantom had turned out to be none other than the Arbiter and fellow Sangheili.

Angered that he had been demoted heedless of the circumstances, Jitji complained to his new leader, a red-armored Unggoy named Tatat.

"There nothing me can do," Tatat said with sympathy. "You know Sangheili all dislike us. You good soldier, you maybe get rank."

"Hope me live long enough," he said. Tatat nodded.

"Well, if we time, why not take drink at nipple?" Jitji suggested.

Tatat shook his head. "Sangheili have ration. When we ran from ships, we not take much food-drink. Now we only drink one time per unit."

"One?!" Jitji asked in shock. An Unggoy would not live very long on such a diet. "Surely they find/bring food-drink next attack?"

"Me not know," Tatat said gloomily. "Me think they not care we starve."

Despair filled him. To think they were on a Sacred Ring, a symbol of salvation, only to face death from the mere disregard of their superiors. No… Despair steeled into resolve as he found himself saying, "Me not let us starve. Me go on next attack, me make them bring food-drink."

Ascension: Chapter 4
Date: 6 October 2006, 5:01 am

Commander Keyes followed the Elite, the 'Arbiter', into the facility with Sergeant Major Johnson at her side. Ignoring the various Elites and Grunts that stared at them, she questioned the Arbiter, "So what happens now?"

The Elite's head swung around on its elongated neck to look down at her. "I will inform the leaders in this base of our alliance and the truths learned from the Oracle," he said in a gruff yet powerful voice. "After, we shall retake a ship from the Brutes so we may reach this 'Ark' and remove the threat of the Sacred Rings."

"Retake?" she asked. "You have no ships under Elite control?"

The Arbiter paused to speak to the gold armored Elite. "We do not," he said finally. "We have been seperated from our greater forces and are unable to communicate. However, we are currently fighting for control of the land surrounding the Zealous Missionary and the Eternally Faithful. Both sit upon the surface of Halo."

"Which one is more accessible?" she asked.

Once more, the Elites exchanged words. "The Zealous Missionary rests on a small island perhaps 50,000 units from here. Most of the Brutes have left to fight on the mainland, leaving it exposed. However, any of our transports would be seen at once, making surprise attacks impossible."

"Units?" she questioned.

"Units of distance," he explained, stretching out his arms to demonstrate.

"About a meter," she said. "What about this Eternally Faithful?"

"198,000 units away," he said. "In a cold mountain pass perhaps 16,000 units from the chamber which once housed the Sacred Icon. According to our reports, their ground forces have been occupied with repelling waves of the parasite. Commander Setfethy," he indicated the gold wearing Elite beside him, "Is the master of the vessel."

"Yes," agreed Commander Setfethy in rough English. "I ran from my ship, leaving the Brutes to the Flood."

The Flood? "It would be best to keep away from the Flood as much as possible," she decided. "The Missionary sounds like our better option."

The Elites clicked their mandibles in what she took to be agreement, although Setfethy seemed somewhat reluctant. She could understand that; to a Commander, their ship was their home of a sort. Ignoring the sudden pangs from abandoning the In Amber Clad, she followed the Elites.

They led them inside a nearby room containing several large chairs obviously built for Elites. Strange rectangular markings covered the floor and at least half of them had scorch marks. A rather foul odor was evident as they sat down on the presented chairs, presumably waiting for the door on the opposite end to open. While she awkwardly sat down immediately, Sergeant Johnson stayed where he stood.

"I'd know that stink anywhere," he said. "This room's been crawling with Flood!"

She stiffened, her hand reaching toward her needler. He was right; it was the smell of Flood. Standing, she drew the weapon, ready for any attack.

The Flood? the Arbiter thought. Yes, I should have identified the smell sooner. He drew the Jiralhanae-made rifles he had attatched to his hips and stood up. The Humans simlarly raised their weapons and stood with their backs toward the Sangheili. Despite everything, he had to marvel at their trust.

"Peace, Arbiter!" 'Setfethee said hastily. "This room is secure; none of the Parasite are present."

"How do you know this?" he asked skeptically, lowering his rifles slightly.

"The Forerunner created this complex to house the Parasite, Arbiter," the Commander explained. "When we found it, many of these rooms contained tanks, imprisoning the Parasite in its lowest form. We were certain our gods left us these as gifts, as weapons to be used. However, we were in great need of space, so we moved the containers into the central shaft to be retrieved at a later time. When we attempted to move the container in this room it broke, spilling its contents to the ground. Ever prepared, we had rifles to purge the Parasite from the room." He guestured at the large scorch marks on the floor. "Arbiter, there are no Flood rampant in the complex. Now, do tell your Humans to lower their weapons!" He finished, looking pointedly at them.

Still digesting the information, he lowered his rifles and translated quickly.

"Have this shaft sealed off," the Human Commander advised him. "No one goes in or out."

He clicked his mandibles in agreement. "It shall be done."

Before anything more could be said, the door opened and thus entered Sangheili High Councilor Kagu 'Lafatee. The Arbiter remembered freeing him from the Jiralhanae prison soon before joining Jahnsen. "My most sincere apologies, Arbiter," he began, but stopped as he saw them with their weapons drawn. "Are you having trouble controling your prisoners?" he asked in a somewhat condescending manner.

"Not at all," he replied calmly. "We merely reacted to the scent of the Parasite. Commander 'Setfethee soon told us of the earlier events. However, I should clairify, these Humans are not prisoners; they are allies."

The High Councilor clicked his mandibles in amusement. "Arbiter, you certainly realize neither of these Humans command a Scarab. We can slay them without delay."

"There is no reason for such an action," he said. "It is my will that these Humans be our allies."

"Is it?" 'Lafatee asked, mandibles pulled back in a questioning look. "Tell me, Arbiter, what use will two Humans have in a war against Jiralhanae?"

The Arbiter guestured to Jahnsen. "This one, Jahnsen, was instrumental in my defeat of Tartarus…"

"You know what I hate?" Jahnsen drawled suddenly, cutting him off. "When people talk about you as if you're not there. Whatever you've got to say about us you say it to our faces, all right?!"

"Jahnsen…" the Human Commander hissed in warning. 'Opskitee growled softly.

"My apologies, Jahnsen," the Arbiter said after a second's thought. "The High Councilor was questioning your value as allies, and I was explaining your assistance in the defeat of Tartarus."

"That so?" Jahnsen said. "Make sure to include the part where you're about to have your skull crushed, and I save the day."

"The Human speaks the truth," he told 'Lafatee, in English for the Humans' benefit. "Tartarus had me at his mercy, and then Jahnsen brought down the his body shield through expert wielding of a Kig-Yar's rifle, allowing me to send plasma throughout the beast's body.

'Lafatee bowed his head slightly, impressed. "And of the female?" he asked, also in English.

"I am Commander Muraandah Keezz of the United Nations Space Command," she introduced herself. "As well as being an adept Naval Officer, I command the frigate In Amber Clad. As for my achievements here, I removed the Index from its sheath; and the Monitor, what you call the Oracle, appears to follow my command."

"It appears I was mistaken," the High Councilor admitted. "Your Humans seem quite in touch with the Forerunners' will. I shall support this alliance, Arbiter… at least until the Prophets hear of it."

"Good," he said. "Because we have more important issues to discuss. I suggest you send for the Oracle."

Jitji stood in line for one of the rooms converted into a methane pit. If Tatat was correct, this was where the Special Operations Unggoy rested. Although he was assigned to a room on the other side of the complex, he was hoping the bored-looking Sangheili minor by the entrance would be too indefferent to care.

He felt himself tire, and blinked several times to ensure he would not fall asleep where he stood. At last, his turn came.

"Name?" asked the Sangheili.

"Jitji," he answered, trying to keep calm.

The Sangheili studied a holographic display mounted on the wall next to him. "You are not assigned here, Unggoy," he said gruffly.

"Yes, Excellency?" he asked, trying to sound surprised. "Me no recall me placement… Excellency, me very low tank. Why not you let me breathe now? Me find own pit after."

The Sangheili growled softly. "Unggoy are always being foolish. We have been betrayed by the Jiralhanae, Yanme'e, and Kig-Yar, forced into hiding… and you forget your methane pit!" He snarled in disgust.

"Forgive me, Excellency," Jitji said, bowing his head. "It not happen twice."

The Sangheili opened the door. "Enter, Unggoy," he hissed.

"Great thanks, Excellency," Jitji said as he entered the airlock. First part done, he thought to himself in relief.

He tapped a control recently attached to the wall, and the poisonous oxygen was sucked from the room through a vent. Another tap and it was soon filled with sweet methane. He removed his tank and mask, setting them on a provided rack, and entered the main chamber.

To his surprise, there was a masked Sangheili in the room… guarding the food-nipple in the center. An unforeseen complication, Jitji thought to himself wearily. Too late to stop now, he decided, walking towards the Unggoy dressed in Special Operations armor farthest from the guard. "Greetings, friend," he said brightly.

"Greetings," the Unggoy responded, somewhat surprised.

"Me name Jitji," he continued on. "Guarding unit."

"Me Lamal," the Unggoy introduced himself. "Special Operations unit."

Jitji glanced at the Sangheili to make certain he was not listening and quietly asked, "Hungry?"

"Me can live on no food for days," Lamal replied stiffly.

Jitji marveled at his stamina, realizing this Unggoy really was one of the best. "You think we can?" he asked.

Lamal looked at him, glanced at the guard, and back to him. "You point?"

Jitji made sure the guard was not paying any attention before answering in a low voice, "There not enough food-drink to feed all Unggoy."

"What you think me do about it?" Lamal said quietly.

"Next attack, they send your unit?" Lamal grunted an affirmative. "When inside enemy base, an Unggoy should find food-drink/make unit bring back."

Lamal scowled. "You know what you ask me do? Me lose all rank, maybe life, if me win!"

"Then me do it," he said. "Give me armor, me be you. Sangheili never know difference." It seemed perfect. The Sangheili never paid enough attention to Unggoy to be able to tell them apart without their armor colorations.

"Maybe Sangheili fooled," Lamal admitted. "But not Unggoy in unit."

"Me convince Unggoy to help," he said confidently. "You not agree?"

Lamal scratched his cheek in thoughtful contemplation. "How we switch?"

"We do it in airlock," Jitji said, having the basic idea planned. "While it filled with methane, we switch armor."

"We not go together," Lamal said after a moment. "You leave room, soon me follow."

He agreed, and after saying his farewells, left for the airlock. Unfortunatly, an Unggoy was currently inside and he had to wait for the methane to fill the chamber before he could enter. Upon entering, he greeted the Unggoy and pretended to examine his air tank while waiting for the other to leave the airlock.

After a few heartbeats, the Unggoy walked into the main chamber. Jitji watched with relief as the doors began to close behind him, then his heart skipped a beat. Lamal was talking to the Sangheili guard.

Has he betrayed me? thought Jitji with horror. His senses came back to him and he knew he must act. He quickly put on his air tank and mask, and then activated the airlock. The Sangheili would have to wait until the airlock filled with methane before he could enter.

Jitji grabbed a pistol left on a shelf and held the trigger down, letting the weapon fill with plasma. He aimed it at the control panel and released. The hologram sparked and faded as the console melted. Now, it would be a good time before the guard would be able to leave the pit. Still, the guard could have some way to communicate to the other Sangheili. He decided to start moving.

Ascension: Chapter 5
Date: 5 June 2010, 7:55 am

"No…" the High Councilor murmured. "I cannot accept it. Arbiter, surely you must recognize the lunacy of such a suggestion!"

"Believe me, High Council member," the Arbiter said, "No one weeps more than I at this prospect. But the evidence is solid and we must act. Oracle, tell us once more."

"The seven Fortress Worlds were designed by the Forerunners as potential offensive measures against the Flood," recited the Oracle. "When the parasite threatened to consume all my creators treasured, they activated the rings, killing all life forms in the galaxy with sufficient biomass to sustain the Flood."

"High Councilor," he said. "The Prophets tried to slay us all, and they may still succeed if we do not reach the Ark first."

"Arbiter," 'Setfethee said. "Even if this is true, are we certain the Prophets knew of it?"

He lowered his mandibles in a frown. "The Prophets have always restricted access to holy… to Forerunner articles for what purpose? There is something they did not wish us to know."

"Come now, Arbiter!" 'Lafatee said scornfully. "Which is the greater possibility, the Prophets are traitors or the Oracle is false?"

"The Prophets have always said their word was truth," he said. "The High Prophets have also spoken of the Oracles' unfaltering wisdom. To say this Oracle is false is to say the Prophets are false."

Commander 'Setfethee lowered his head in despair. "Therefore the Prophets are false," he murmured quietly.

The High Councilor sucked in a breath. "You realize if the Prophets ever become aware of this conversation, we will all be sentenced to death?"

The Arbiter looked at him in disbelief. "We have learned the Prophets intend to kill us all, Councilor 'Lafatee. Now is the time to strike first! We already are at war with the Jiralhanae, Kig-Yar and Yanme'e; now we will attack those who lead them." 'Opskitee suddenly stamped his hooves upon the ground, growling with rage.

"Do you disagree with the Arbiter's words?" 'Setfethee asked him harshly. After a long moment, 'Opskitee closed his mandibles and bowed his head.

"I do not," he said softly.

"He is right to object," the High Councilor defended him. "Since the Covenant began we have followed the Prophets, protecting them as they searched for the Sacred Rings. To proclaim war on the Prophets is simply…" he broke off.

"We warred with them once before, High Councilor. Remember your teachings. 'On and on shall old war go. Without respite my blood will flow,'" he quoted the Writ of Union. All at once, he saw the horrible truth before him. He hastened to explain to the others. "We ceased fighting when the Prophets shared with us the knowledge of the Forerunners, and formed the Covenant. The Prophets did so because they knew the war would never come in their favor, yet it was not in peace as we were taught. They knew the Sacred Rings were weapons and they intended to use the Sacred Rings to annihilate the Sangheili race… as we helped them!"

Jitji walked rapidly through the halls. He had decided to resume his original plan and stowaway on the next outgoing dropship. Fortunately, there seemed to be no knowledge of his actions as of yet. Something Jitji thanked and praised the Forerunners for, as he made his way toward the secondary entry shaft.

Turning a corner, he almost slammed into an Unggoy. Yelping, his fellow jumped back. He muttered a quick "Sorry," before continuing on. He blinked sleepily, acquiring the will to continue with an unspoken prayer to the Forerunners. Suddenly, his radio came to life.

"Attention: The Arbiter has brought two Humans into the complex. They are not to be harmed under any circumstances. Should any attempt be made, the violator shall suffer the harshest of punishments."

He gave a sigh of relief that he was not part of the announcement. Although, the wording seemed unusual. Why would the Arbiter deny the Humans to the skilled interrogators? Maybe he wants them for himself, he thought. But for what purpose? Surely he would not have time to torture them. Maybe he would want to keep them as servants? No, he thought. Such a thing was surely prohibited by the Prophets. He stretched his arms. There is no sense in trying to understand Sangheili. The radio spoke again, breaking him out of his thoughts.

"Attention: All Unggoy assigned to methane pit-3, report to the guard stations at once."

Well, now they know about me. Although, they hadn't yet realized it was him. And as long as that guard doesn't remember my name, I'm free. He continued toward the entry shaft.

Heretics! Fools! War with the Prophets? They had truly succumbed to madness! Worse still, the Arbiter was protecting the Humans. He would not be able to slay them with the two veterans guarding his prey. His casual attempt to persuade the guards proved useless and, no matter how horrible the Humans were, he would sooner kill himself than harm a fellow Sangheili. He would have to wait for the chance to strike to unveil itself.

The Arbiter had left the Humans in the High Councilor's quarters so they could 'assist in planning a strategic assault', while he visited the facility's healers. Eito, who had taken damage in the battle, chose to join him. Not together, of course; it would be improper to do such a thing. Instead, he had taken a longer route.

He listened as the intercom announced several orders pertaining to Unggoy as he walked, thinking how odd it was. Could the Arbiter be preparing them for an attack? If that was so, why did they not simply state it in the announcements? It made little sense. He decided to speak to a Sangheili veteran passing through the hall.

"Greetings, warrior," he said, holding up a hand in greetings.

The veteran stopped at once. "Greetings, Excellency," he raised his own hand.

"I am Eito 'Opskitee, servant of Ship Master Gerka 'Setfethee," he introduced himself, lowering his hand. This was excellent – the veteran would surely answer any of his questions in an attempt to further his own career.

"I am Tsuku 'Lermugee."

Now that the introductions were complete, he continued. "Perhaps you would know why there have been numerous calls for Unggoy?"

'Lermugee shifted his mandibles to indicate affirmation. "Yes, Excellency. An Unggoy has damaged the airlock controls of a methane pit, sealing inside a Sangheili guard."

Eito's mind raced. An Unggoy traitor? This had to be the work of the Humans! "Was the Sangheili harmed?" he asked.

'Lermugee tightened his mandibles in a denial. "The guards became aware of it rapidly and cut an opening, saving the Sangheili at the expense of the Unggoy held within."

"Unggoy can be replaced easily," he said dismissively. But perhaps if he were to examine the affected Unggoy, he would be able to prove the Humans' malignance. "Are you aware which Unggoy is the traitor?"

"I am not, Excellency," 'Lermugee admitted. "Perhaps Commander 'Neporee knows this answer."

He dismissed the veteran; he was of no more use to him. Yes, I will make contact with the guards. He headed for the nearest guard station.

Jitji paused. He had reached the guard station placed beside the secondary entry shaft. Dozens of Sangheili were present, but there were no other Unggoy in sight. How unusual…


A Sangheili minor was behind him. He nervously turned and bowed his head. "Yes, Excellency?"

"Unggoy, state your pit assignment," the Sangheili barked.

"Pit-1, Excellency," he said truthfully.

"Your name?"

He paused, and then answered, "Kopok, Excellency." It was the name of an equal he had served with as a security monitor, who he knew rested there.

The Sangheili paused to examine a handheld pad. "On your way, Unggoy," he said after what had appeared to be a very long moment.

He bowed respectfully, "Me thank you, Excellency."

The Sangheili nodded, and left Jitji to continue on his way. That was close, he thought in relief. He continued toward the station's armory. If the design was identical to the primary station, the armory would lead into the shaft.

Sure enough, as he entered the room filled with weaponry, he saw a door on the far side… guarded by an Unggoy. This Unggoy wore the red armor of a leader, complete with a helmet ridge to signify his rank. The Unggoy turned to see him staring. "Who you?" the Unggoy asked.

Searching for a believable story, he decided to tell a partial truth. "Eh, me Kopok. Me be demoted to guard." In an attempt to seem authentic, he discreetly shelved his pistol and began loading a needler.

The Unggoy narrowed his eyes in a frown. "Why you demoted?"

"Me fail to alert 'Neporee of Arbiter's arrival," he said truthfully.

"Me hear 'Neporee think Arbiter Jiralhanae," the Unggoy said, looking at him disapprovingly.

"Why me demoted," he explained, indicating his orange armor and small air tank. Now that the matter of who he was appeared to be without scrutiny, he addressed the door. "Why you guard door?"

"Leaders say 'no let Unggoy pass'," the Unggoy explained. "Me not know why."

Jitji tried to think of a way to have the Unggoy let him through. However, his 'mission' had been very hard on him. Filled with fear and desperation, he was unable to think of a peaceable approach. He raised the needler and aimed it at the leader, saying vehemently, "You leave door!"

The Unggoy's eyes widened in shock. Then, he quickly raised a small radio to his mouth and said, "Crazy Unggoy here! Name Kopok!"

"No!" Jitji pulled the trigger and watched in horror as the stream of needles raced toward him. The Unggoy dropped his radio and ran from the stream. The stream followed him and struck his air tank. He fell to the ground as the needles burst, ripping a hole in his methane tank. He let loose a moan as he began to suffocate.

Horrified at what he had done, Jitji hastily grabbed some extra ammunition and entered the shaft. Inside were five Phantoms and three Seraphs. He walked over to the farthest dropship, deciding it was least likely to be occupied and boarded it. It quickly became apparent that there were no others on board, and Jitji tried to relax while still horrified he had killed a fellow Unggoy.

He considered trying to pilot the dropship himself but decided that would be suicidal and reverted to his plan to stowaway. He opened a secondary storage compartment for Unggoy and, shoving everything to the side, slipped inside. With the backup methane tanks at close reach, I should have enough air to complete the mission, he thought to himself as he prepared for a long wait.

Hita 'Befuwee carefully watched as the Unggoy made its way over to the armory. There was no reason for an Unggoy to arm itself at this moment, making such actions suspicious. Especially because the Unggoy had identified itself as Kopok, and his data told him the Unggoy named Kopok served at the primary station. Protocol was to report this to his Commander. However, if this was the traitor, 'Befuwee wished to have the honor of killing it himself.

He entered the armory to find a red-armored Unggoy dying on the floor, a hole burnt in its tank. Excitement came. It was the traitor.

"Excellency…" the dying Unggoy moaned softly.

"Worry not, Unggoy," he told it. "The traitor will be found." He grabbed a pistol from the shelves and ended the Unggoy's pain. Placing the pistol back on the shelves, he picked up a rifle and hunted for the traitor.

It was easy to see no vehicles had been taken, which meant the traitor was still within the shaft. He began searching through the vehicles to see if it was hiding in them. Not long after he started, numerous other Sangheili appeared to join his search. 'Befuwee felt disappointment; he had been hoping to find the traitor himself.

At last, only one vehicle remained unsearched. 'Befuwee followed two others into the Phantom. Feeling certain the traitor would not be in a main room, he opened the storage compartments while the other guards searched elsewhere. To his great pleasure, there was indeed an Unggoy in one of the compartments.

"I have located the traitor!" 'Befuwee said in triumph. He grabbed the Unggoy and pulled it out struggling. He took the traitor's weapon and threw it to the side. He heard someone board the dropship behind him. Good, another to witness the execution. He raised his rifle, ready to smash the traitor's skull, when a strong hand took his wrist. He turned to see a Sangheili dressed in the white armor of the Special Operations Forces.

"You shall not kill the traitor," the Sangheili said calmly, releasing his wrist.

"Yes, Excellency," he said at once, startled at the intervention. "May I question why I am not allowed the honor?"

"There is an Arbiter present in the complex," the Sangheili replied. "It is his honor."

Although disappointed, he certainly understood the Arbiter's rights and did not object as the Sangheili took the traitor away.

Ascension: Chapter 6
Date: 11 June 2010, 7:06 pm

"I am afraid the holy armor could not be fully mended," 'Bepolee told the Arbiter with distress evident in his voice.

The Arbiter had just awoken from stasis, fully healed by a skilled team of Huragok, and had began consuming energy supplements when the mechanic Kigu 'Bepolee arrived to inform him of his failure.

"Is it unfit for battle?" he asked, gazing at the armor before him. From his vantage, the suit appeared mended.

"I am afraid so, Arbiter," 'Bepolee said, bowing his head with shame.

Despite the severity of the news, he was not nearly as disappointed as he would have believed. Now he had learned the truth, he no longer desired to be the blade of the Prophets and felt great desire to simply become another warrior. It is fitting, he thought to himself, that the end of the Prophets would also be the end of their most trusted servants.

However, he could not simply end his life as the Arbiter; he had to help convince the whole of the Sangheili race of the Prophets' treachery, and for such things he needed such a role of power. If the sacred armor was unfit, he needed to find a way to maintain his image as Arbiter without it…

"'Bepolee, I will need armor to fight," he began. "Craft for me a new suit, one which all may recognize as holy. Do this and I will hold you in favor."

"I am honored, Arbiter," the mechanic said, clearly astonished at his orders. "I shall begin at once."

"Do so," he said, bowing his head in a dismissal. The Sangheili hurriedly left to perform his duties, leaving the Arbiter to his meal of protein crystals.

Miranda and Johnson, finding they had little to contribute, kept quiet as the Elites discussed their allegiance to the Prophets and the Covenant. It seemed to be going quite well, the 'High Councilor' seemed committed to following the Arbiter as they waged war with their once leaders. Yes, she thought, this new alliance could very well turn the tide of the war.

However, they were cautious about informing the whole of their squad, afraid a sudden change would inspire insurrection. For now only about a dozen trusted soldiers were filled in. She looked up as a blue-armored Elite stepped in, bringing a large holographic generator.

"Greetings, Excellencies," the Elite bade with a bow of his head, speaking in the slow purposeful English of most their kind.

"Greetings, Oymomy," Commander Setfethy returned. "I trust you have learned our purposes?"

"Yes, Excellency," he answered. "I look to our changing relationship with the humans with growing anticipation."

"Good," the Commander acknowledged. "You may proceed," he gestured to the equipment.

"Yes, Excellency." The Elite positioned the machine in the center of the room and began setting it up, all the while taking curious glances at her and Johnson, particularly her. The machine lit up as he activated it, and he stepped back with what appeared to be a frown on his features.

"Is there something wrong, Oymomy?" Setfethy asked him.

"I am fine," the Elite answered. "I am only troubled because the High Prophet of Truth has not broadcasted for nearly a quarter of a unit. Normally, his encouragement is constant throughout a crisis." He motioned to the machine, currently displaying nothing.

"Another unit?" Johnson muttered to himself.

One of the two red-armored Elites, who had been assigned to guard them from possible insurrectionists, glanced at him. "It is a standard unit of time," the Elite explained gruffly. "An equivalent to your 'military days.'"

They nodded in understanding. While on Earth a day was always 24 hours, the time varied depending on the planet. Therefore, the UNSC employed the use of the 'military day,' identical to an Earth day, to be used in all situations.

"Do not waste your concern on the High Prophet," Commander Setfethy said with an uncomfortable warble in his voice.

"Yes, Excellency," Oymomy said after a slight pause, and then inserted a disc into the display. After a few seconds, an image of an island supporting a Covenant cruiser appeared over it.

"The cruiser Zealous Missionary, damaged by battle, chose to rest upon this small island for repair," the High Councilor narrated. "Many of the traitors left to inspect Forerunner monuments on the mainland, leaving the ship somewhat open to attack. However, the island itself has been fortified. Any attack would be seen at once by their forces and soon defended against. Commander Miranda Keyes," he looked her in the eyes. "Long has your kind fought against the tools currently wielded by our enemies. It would do this council a great kindness if you were to share the secrets your kind possesses of waging war."

She froze. To give away such information would be treason. On return to Earth, she would be sentenced to permanent induced coma. Yet… This cause was important. They needed to reach the Ark to deactivate the Halos, and to do that they needed a ship with slipspace engines. Also, the informal alliance they had made with these Elites threatened to break should she not aid them as requested.

Against her better judgment, she cleared her throat. "I'll tell you what I know."

Jitji hung limp as the Sangheili carried him to the Arbiter's quarters. Grief filled him; he had not only failed his task, but had caused the deaths of several other Unggoy. Now he would suffer death as a traitor to the Covenant. At least with less Unggoy there will be more food-drink for all, the horrible thought went through him.

He heard cheering and opened his eyes to see a crowd of Unggoy gathered around the entrance to the leaders' quarters. Cries of 'Praise Forerunners, traitor caught!' and 'Kill traitor!' assaulted his ears. He looked among them and saw Tatat, his new leader, cheering for his death like all the others.

He stared into his leader's eyes, trying to find any compassion, but found none. The Unggoy who had once supported his plan to save his brothers from starvation was replaced by an Unggoy who cried out for the death of a traitor. I am a monster, he thought with growing depression, closing his eyes.

The diming voices of the crowd made him aware his captor had entered the leaders' rooms. He tried not to think about anything as he heard the Sangheili talk to each other.

"'Opskitee, why have you brought this?"

"Bring the Arbiter at once. I have secured the traitor."

The Arbiter, having finished his rest, donned the broken armor and strode back towards the High Councilor's quarters. He paused as he heard his radio speak.

"Fear not, warriors," the radio crackled. "The traitor has been captured."

Traitor? he thought in alarm. His thoughts leapt to 'Setfethee and the High Councilor; had one betrayed the other? He quickened his pace.

"Arbiter," called out a Sangheili down a corridor on his right. The Arbiter stopped to allow the red-armored warrior to approach him. "Greetings, Arbiter, I am Omin 'Pirztikee. I have been sent by Eito 'Opskitee to deliver a message."

"What is the message?" he asked with some apprehension. 'Opskitee's continued opposition to his alliance made him weary.

'Pirztikee bowed his head and recited the message. "'Arbiter, I have secured the Unggoy traitor. I ask that you join me in storage room 7, so I may give you the honor of sending it to eternal darkness.' That is his message."

"The traitor was an Unggoy?" he asked aloud, startled.

"Yes, Arbiter," 'Pirztikee answered. "It killed one of its own and attempted to kill Warrior 'Ulkolee."

His thoughts raced. Unggoy had long been faithful servants. It seemed an incredible concept… much like what he preached to his comrades. This was a time for accepting incredible concepts. But it is not so, he thought, for what of the Unggoy Rebellion?

He remembered his teachings well: the Unggoy once thought they could take over the Covenant and walk the path alone, and so had attacked the Hierarchs. The Prophets, acting swiftly, created an Arbiter to force the Unggoy into submission and thoroughly punished them for their crimes. Perhaps this traitor similarly lusted for power?

But no, that could not be. Those past traitors were not bound as their descendants were. Puzzled, he thanked the messenger and sought out 'Opskitee.

Unfamiliar with the layout of the Forerunner complex, he followed directions given to him by the messenger, leading him to the storage room. He entered, laying his sight upon 'Opskitee standing in triumph aside an Unggoy, who knelt on the floor. "Greetings, 'Opskitee," he said formally.

"Greetings, Arbiter," replied the white-armored warrior, his mandibles twitching in anticipation. "Arbiter," he started. "Here lies the truth of the Humans' evil. For what else could drive a loyal servant into darkness? What else could make him lose his trust?"

What indeed? the Arbiter wondered. Had he not been certain of the Humans' innocence, he would likewise suspect them at once. He looked down at the Unggoy and growled. "Tell me, traitor," he said. "Why did you betray us?"

The Unggoy flinched, saying, "Excellency, we Unggoy no have food-drink to feed all. Me try go on next mission to bring back more."

"Clearly the creature has no knowledge of its own corruption," 'Opskitee interpreted.

The Arbiter frowned; the Unggoy's story was indeed perplexing. "Explain to me why your desire to feed your fellow Unggoy necessitated the death of a Sangheili warrior," he ordered the traitor.

"Sangheili go stop me, me seal in pit," the Unggoy explained. "Me no try kill, me try delay."

"And the Unggoy?" he asked, to some extent confused by the rationality of its explanation.

"Unggoy leader block exit, me no choice," the Unggoy answered. "Arbiter," the traitor began trembling as he spoke. "Me no care about own life, me only care for other Unggoy. Please, Excellency, bring back food-drink!"

He stared at the Unggoy with amazement. Only then had it occurred to him that if the Prophets were indeed false, that if the reasons which formed the Covenant were wrought with deceit, then perhaps all he knew of their history had been tainted with their lies. He ignored 'Opskitee as he blathered on about the evil Humans had brought with them, and instead spoke to the Unggoy. "Your name, Unggoy?"

"Me Jitji, Excellency," the Unggoy answered nervously.

"Servant Jitji," he addressed him formally. "Do you know why you must drink from the food-nipple?"

"To live, Excellency?" Jitji asked with obvious confusion.

"Your kind once ate from plants and animals, similar to the Kig-Yar," the Arbiter informed him. "Have you never wondered why you possess teeth?"

"No, Excellency," Jitji said.

Unggoy have never been valued for their intelligence, he thought to himself as he continued. "Your ancestors committed a grave crime, Jitji, for they attacked the Hierarchs themselves. An Arbiter, a tool of the Hierarchs, was created to quell their insurrection." He thought back to his own rebirth and of the High Prophet of Truth using him to execute the leader of a group of heretics, people who had simply learned the truth. "The Unggoy were made to pay for their deeds and so the Prophets created the Milk—what you call 'food-drink'—to bind the Unggoy to the Covenant for all time. As history tells it, the Prophets wove obedience and honor into the Milk to cure your corrupt race…

"However, I have recently learned historical facts from the Oracle which undermine what I have been taught. Now, after contemplating the Unggoy Rebellion, I see the truth before me. The Milk has no power on its own, it is simply a tasteless liquid designed to feed and humiliate your race. You, having been raised on Milk, are no better than an Unggoy raised on meat. It is useless to starve your brothers, Jitji, therefore I will grant your wish and allow your kind to eat meat and plants once more."

"Thank you, Excellency!" Jitji cried, beginning to weep openly.

The Arbiter thought he understood: the Unggoy had calmly gone on its 'mission' knowing he would die in any case, but now he wept knowing his fellows would survive while he would not. I was once like you, Jitji, he thought. Bowing before my executioner…

The High Prophet of Truth had shown him mercy and transformed him into an icon of their power. It was a good strategic move, one that could aid him well… "I shall spare you, Jitji," he said, causing the Unggoy to stare up at him with amazement.

"Me… thank you, Excellency!" Jitji managed to say as he shook with excitement.

"Arbiter!" 'Opskitee cried in horror. "This Unggoy is a traitor! It must be punished!"

"You are correct," he agreed. "I cannot think of a faster way to die than as personal servant to the Arbiter. Come, Jitji." He turned and walked out.

Eito watched in horror as the Arbiter walked away with the grinning traitor at his side. Now he knew for certain: the Arbiter had been thoroughly corrupted by the Humans' evil. There was no way to reason with him nor, he reasoned, with any of those he had turned. The way to break the spell, he was sure, would be to slay the Humans.

Despite his clarity, he knew he would never be able to slay them surrounded by the corrupted. His only choice would be to reach his brothers before they fell to the corruption, for he was certain he would not accomplish this task alone.

Ascension: Chapter 7
Date: 16 July 2010, 8:18 am

The Arbiter led the Unggoy to the leaders' chambers, feeling apprehensive about his actions. Had he made the correct decision? Protecting the Humans is one thing, but forgiving a traitor? "Now, Unggoy, you are not to repeat anything you hear," he ordered him. "Everything discussed in this room is classified." He slid his hand down a strip of light projected at the side of the threshold, causing the door to slide open.

"Greetings, Arbiter," Commander 'Setfethee bade as he entered. "Are you well rested?"

"Well enough," he answered. "However, my armor could not be fully mended."

"Such I have heard," High Councilor 'Lafatee said with a trace of amusement. "Nearly our entire workforce has been tasked to craft you a new suit, one which appears to be recycled from that of a Special Operations officer."

"I apologize for diverting the unit's resources," he began, only to have the Councilor cut him off.

"Not at all," he said. "If it were not for the Arbiter, we would all be dead now."

Feeling appreciative of the praise received, he turned his attention to the upcoming battle. "Have we achieved the necessary means to engage the Jiralhanae? The Brutes?" he asked, switching to the Human term for their race.

"Yes, Arbiter," 'Setfethee answered. "Commander Keezz has been most helpful; she has provided us with code we may use to disguise our ships."

He noticed the alien shift her balance – what he believed to be a sign of discomfort. Perhaps she dislikes praise, he reasoned. "Promptly after our equipment is prepared, we shall move," he decided. "What is our force comprised of?"

"6 Seraphs, 7 Phantoms, 2 Apparitions," 'Setfethee stated. "Approximately 250 Elites and Grunts, 6 Hunters, and two Humans," he glanced over at them. "I know not what has become of our deployed skirmishers."

Unfortunate numbers, he thought. As for the Humans… "Perhaps it would be wise for Commander Keezz to remain here during the battle," he suggested, looking at her for approval. "Because no true treaty yet exists between our races, it would be most regrettable should the first Human leader to consent fall in battle."

Keezz sighed. "Agreed." She looked at her companion, "Jahnsen, you up for it?"

He straightened, pulling his rifle to his side. "Yes, ma'am." He looked at the hologram depicting their target, before turning to him and asking, "So why can't you call up your buddies and ask for back up?"

"High Charity began polluting the battlenet not long after our struggle began, corrupting our transmissions," 'Setfethee answered for him. "Presumably, no radio signal outside this complex will be received. The Prophets have granted the Brutes many gifts…"

Is that so? The apparent lack of communication between the various Sangheili units he had encountered became clear. Remembering 'Opskitee, he spoke, "Commanders, I believe warrior 'Opskitee to be a vulnerability. Repeatedly has he spoken against me, against the truth. Just now, he came to me claiming this Grunt traitor was a result of my alliance with the Humans." At his side, the Unggoy shifted uncomfortably.

"Officer 'Opskitee is the sole survivor of my elite Special Operations unit," 'Setfethee said, his expression darkening. "Despite his unfaltering obedience to the Oath, he has proved his worth. I will not cast out a loyal warrior simply because he has shown grief after we abandoned our teachings in favor of that which the Oracle has preached."

"Very well," he agreed after a tense moment. "I believe you would understand him better than I."

"Indeed," answered 'Setfethee calmly, but with an intense look in his eyes as he stared at the Arbiter. After a moment he sighed, closing his eyes. "Do inform the Arbiter of the Prophet, High Councilor," he requested, reopening his eyes when he had regained control of his temper.

"Very well," 'Lafatee muttered, obviously annoyed at being ordered by a Ship Master. "The Brutes in control of the Apparition that attacked your Phantom were guardians of the Prophet High Councilor of Justice. In the last four cycles, the Prophet has steadily grown in power and influence. When the High Prophet of Regret was killed, it is probable that Justice sought a place in the Hierarchy. In what was likely an attempt to gain the High Prophet of Truth's favor, Justice presented his Brutes with artifacts forbidden to races outside the Union, specifically the body shield and sword."

Those foul traitors… "The High Prophet of Truth gifted Tartarus with a powerful body shield, one only Jahnsen's particle beam could penetrate," he noted. "Do you suspect our enemies at the Zealous Missionary possess such tools?"

"We simply do not know," 'Lafatee answered. "However, it is, of course, best to be alert."

"Do you not realize?" asked 'Setfethee in a rather condescending tone. "The crimson rifles carried by the Brutes are no doubt the product of the Prophets' influence. Did it simply not strike either of you as unusual that the beasts could create such weapons so soon after the conflict began?"

He looked down at his own rifles, attached magnetically to his hips. He had not even stopped to wonder. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the Unggoy, Jitji, also examining them with the infamous fatigue suffered by all his kind. There is no doubt that his failed task intensified such fatigue. "Jitji," he spoke to the Unggoy, who swiftly looked up at him. "Return to your pit and rest. You can do nothing for me now."

"Yes, Excellency," returned the Unggoy. He wasted no time following his order.

Heading for the pit, Jitji resisted the urge to drop and walk on four legs as was natural for him. I answer to the Arbiter now. I must remain respectable.

He grinned to himself. What a glorious event it had been! He sat waiting for his execution, only to receive mercy. Not only had his life been spared, he had been given a great duty, one he was sure no Unggoy had ever been given.

And his brethren, freed from the bond of food-drink? He would surely have laughed in delight, were it not for the fatigue which clouded his thoughts. He had been more active for longer than he had ever been, and the effects pulled at him.

He paused as his radio spoke up with the Arbiter's voice, "Attention: I have forgiven the Unggoy traitor. He is now my personal servant; treat him with respect." How glorious!

He hurried to pit-1. The Sangheili guard scowled at him as he entered the airlock; clearly he did not appreciate the Arbiter's mercy. He triggered the airlock and smiled as he breathed in the fresh methane. Never had it smelled so sweet. Removing his air-tank, he entered the pit.

What first caught his eye was the missing food-nipple; in its place stood a meat container. He sniffed the air excitedly, breathing in the smell of the roasted flesh. How wonderful, he thought, approaching.

As he moved in, all other Unggoy flinched away from him. He stopped. "Why you hide?"

No one spoke.

"Why?" he asked again. Confusion filled him, alongside despair. Do they still fear me?

After a moment, a Major approached him cautiously. "We hear you bad," he said bluntly. "We hear Humans bring bad spirits, turn you traitor."

"Me not traitor," he denied. "Me work for all Unggoy. Me work to feed us." He gestured at the meat. "Me forgiven by Arbiter. You think Arbiter bad?"

"…Arbiter not bad," the Major decided. "You good." The Unggoy around him relaxed.

"Me Jitji," he introduced himself.

"Me Gedeg," the Major returned. He gestured at the container, "Hungry?"

He smiled and walked over to the container. He picked up a piece and examined it. After turning it over a few times, he realized it was a Kig-Yar forearm. Careful, he placed his mouth over the limb and attempted to use his teeth to scrape the cooked flesh off the bone. Unfortunately, much of it ended up on the ground.

"You learn how," Gedeg comforted him. "Just act like Kig-Yar."

He scooped up the meat. Putting it in his mouth, he carefully ground it with his teeth, and then swallowed. The texture felt strange and the taste was strong, but it was far better than food-drink had ever been. He kept repeating the process, somewhat easier each time, until his hunger was sated. "Thanks, Gedeg," he said. "Me rest now."

"Rest well, Jitji," the Major bade.

He entered his quarters and yawned. It far too long day, he thought, curling up to sleep. Truly, most Unggoy would never spend so long without sleeping even a few moments. He drifted off, thinking of the Arbiter's mercy.

"Behold, Arbiter," 'Bepolee said, unveiling his new armor on a gravity display. Each piece was held aloft so it could be examined from every angle. "Does it meet your Excellency's approval?"

The Arbiter approached the display to appraise it. Although 'Lafatee had indicated it to be altered Special Operations armor, this was not obvious. While the Covenant Special Forces were known for their dresses of shining white or glittering black, this suit was a strong magenta reminiscent of Prophet blood – or at least depictions of it; the Arbiter had never seen such a thing for himself.

Following the second Age of Doubt, all created military armors had the Abiri, symbol of the Great Journey, inscribed between the shoulders with a glowing texture to imitate the cleansing flame of the Sacred Rings. 'Bepolee perhaps did not have such techniques at his disposal, for while the back plate bore the customary Abiri, various other holy symbols had been crudely carved into its visage: the sword along the arms, the seven Sacred Rings (three on each shoulder, one upon the forehead). Yet, what caught his eye was the Kama, the symbol of Union, etched on the chest plate. It was fitting, for he was to create a bold new union in which Sangheili and Humans would join as one. Yes, he thought with a mental smile, this shall serve me well.

"Indeed it does, Major 'Bepolee," he acknowledged. "I shall whisper your name into the ears of leaders." He began to disrobe, first removing his helmet.

"One thing more, Arbiter," the mechanic halted him. He spread his arms to regard the suit with an act of glorification. "I have made some modifications to the shielding, enhancing its durability. Even the strike of a fully charged pistol shall not bring it down!"

"How did a simple mechanic come to learn such crafts?" the Arbiter asked skeptically, wondering if such a thing was even possible.

Abruptly 'Bepolee's demeanor changed; he dropped his arms and gazed at the floor with shame. "Forgive your servant, Excellency. I instructed a Huragok to enrich the body shield with the protective materials given to it by the Prophets. I beg you to consider sparing this unworthy one."

Upon reflex the Arbiter looked upon his display with contempt. To think I would forgive an act so sacrilegious… But of course it was not so.

For the Prophets are the enemy, he reminded himself. With that knowledge, the mechanic's act was most loyal. "Yes," he said, seeing the glorious potential this offered. "I shall indeed spare you. Tell me, Major, can your Huragok apply this enhancement to the shielding of others?"

'Bepolee easily ascended from his groveling state, and looked the Arbiter in the eye. "Yes, holy one. The Huragok can recreate anything they have seen but once."

"Then have your Huragok swiftly see to the shields of the greatest number of warriors, starting with the leaders," he instructed. "While the Huragok works, I wish for you to design body shields for the races of Lekgolo, Unggoy, and Human."

Visibly surprised, the mechanic dipped his head in a bow as he took his leave. "Yes, Arbiter."

Kigu 'Bepolee laughed to himself in delight as he strode towards his workstation. The rumors were indeed true: the Arbiter sought to wage war against the Prophets! Why else would he defy law and Oath so blatantly? Foolish one, he thought. The prophecies held within the Writ of Union make it clear that should the Prophets and Sangheili do battle, none shall be victorious. However, the Arbiter's folly gave him opportunity.

He had installed a device inside the armor that would, upon receiving a seven tone signal he would broadcast, shut down the shields. By their great strength, the Jiralhanae would surely see to the Arbiter's demise. When the true leaders take power, I shall tell them how I deceived the traitor, he thought. I may yet become a Ship Master.

Of course, he would not build any more of the Huragok body shields; he was no heretic. He would merely attempt to design the lawful body shields for the rest of their forces, albeit slowly.

However, I shall not design shields to conform to the structure of the Human filth, he thought vehemently. As for the Huragok he had used to copy the technology? A small computer error would ensure the savant's name be misplaced, allowing it to disappear amongst its brethren.

I am brilliant, he chuckled to himself.

Jitji woke from his most enchanting slumber as he felt an Unggoy shake him. He opened his eyes to see Gedeg.

"Arbiter want you," he was informed. "Soon time to fight."

He lifted himself off the small cot, feeling very refreshed. He turned to dress himself in his subordinate orange armor, only to see it replaced by the gleaming white dress of a Special Operations Unggoy.

"Minor Sangheili bring in while you sleep," Gedeg explained.

Jitji let his eyes travel over the sleek metal surface, taking in every groove. Who would have thought I would ever stand by the feet of the Arbiter? Slowly, savoring the moment, he lifted the garment, and began to dress.

He giggled to himself as he strapped the cool metal to his body… and then froze. What if this was Lamal's? His thoughts went to the tough Unggoy he had sentenced to death by imprisoning him in an airtight methane pit with a Sangheili.

Did his eyes once admire this garment? Did his hands once pull these straps tight? The thought made him queasy. He tried to settle his thoughts as he felt the half-digested Kig-Yar meat threaten to leave his stomach.

"Arbiter waits," Gedeg insisted, bringing him out of his thoughts.

"Yes," he agreed, forcing himself to remain rational. He made his way to the airlock, only to stop as Gedeg called to him. He turned and was shocked to see the Major bowing to him as if he were a Sangheili. "Why you do this?" he asked in bafflement.

"Never Arbiter forgive Unggoy, never take Unggoy as aide," Gedeg explained, still gazing at the floor. "You blessed Unggoy. It honor to know you." As he spoke, all other Unggoy in the pit bowed deep.

Jitji blinked in astonishment. He, the traitor of the Covenant, blessed? It seemed an incredible concept. To be bowed to by his brethren as a delegate of the Arbiter, of the Prophets even.

What to say? 'Thank you?' No, the Arbiter never thanks his followers, he thought. If I truly am as blessed as they think, I must act accordingly… But how? "Farewell, brothers," he said at last, hoping his words were adequate.

"Farewell, Blessed One," Gedeg returned, solemn. He and the others did not cease their display until after Jitji had closed the airlock.

He blinked rapidly, trying to wake up from what was obviously a dream. An Unggoy does not rise from Minor to Blessed in the span of a single unit! But, of course, he did not wake up.

Refusing to think about such confounding things, he strapped on his tank and left the airlock. He ignored the glare from the Sangheili guard, and stepped confidently toward the leaders' quarters. Blessed or not, I am very lucky, he thought with a smile under his mask.

Sergeant Major Avery Johnson tried not to laugh when the Arbiter returned wearing bright pink armor. He knew the Covenant saw the color as fierce and powerful, and yet the sight of one of their most respected leaders emerging in such a getup put an awful strain on him as he fought hard not to giggle. Biting his lip, he turned away to look at his Commander. Her tense expression was enough to calm him down, and he turned back to the Elites with earnestness.

"I believe my new armor to be quite adequate," the Arbiter was saying, spreading his arms to display various decorations.

"It will suffice," the white Elite with the fancy helmet agreed. "It is a pity for the holy armor to have been wrecked; it has been used by the Arbiter since the first age of conversion."

"That was an Arbiter who served only the Prophets," the Arbiter answered. "That Arbiter is now dead, and I stand in his place. It is fitting that I now take on a new form, for which I may serve my race."

The Elite in the helmet (Laflity?) looked at him sharply. "Indeed," he said slowly, as though having come to a realization. "If the Prophets are our enemies… then you have no authority here. As the sole surviving member of the Elite High Council, I shall take control of our coalition. Will you submit to my command?"

The Arbiter visibly tensed and did not answer. Every Elite in the room slid a hand over the rifles attached to their sides. Johnson tightened his grip on the alien sniper rifle, ready should a fight break out. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Commander Keyes' hand move to her needler. He slipped a hand into his grenade pouch and, grasping a plasma grenade, held his finger over the primer. What side are we on, anyway?

Fortunately, no fight occurred. The Arbiter knelt on the ground and declared himself subordinate to Laflity. "Good," the Elite stated, and the room relaxed. Letting out a hissing breath through his teeth, Johnson removed his hand from his pouch. "Now," Laflity began, as the Arbiter stood. "Is there anything you have neglected to inform me?"

"…Yes, Excellency," the Arbiter answered. "The mechanic who created this armor, of his own will, placed within it the superior shielding systems used by the Engineers. I instructed him to provide every one of our warriors with such shielding, including Hunters, Grunts, and humans."

Laflity looked over at him and Commander Keyes distastefully. "Giving humans Prophet technology? Even if we may become allies, I do not wish to freely offer such things." He called to one of the blue Elites, "Minor, do tell this mechanic to cease this foolish task at once."

"Yes, Excellency," the blue Elite said shortly, leaving quickly.

"Now, Arbiter, you will lead the attack on the Zealous Missionary. Take control of the vessel by any means necessary. When you do so, return to this complex to transfer all remaining personnel to the cruiser."

The Arbiter bowed his head respectfully, "Yes, Excellency." He began to turn away, but was halted.

"One thing more, Arbiter," Laflity called. "I will leave the Grunt alone, but do not make further decisions regarding traitors without my consent."

"Yes, Excellency," the Arbiter answered obediently.

Johnson frowned. He understood the Arbiter's desire to relieve his comrades from the unnecessary burdens placed on them by the Prophets, yet he felt the Arbiter's act of promotion given to a recognized traitor to be quite incompetent. A soldier of the UNSC wouldn't be able to commit an act of treason without finding themselves caught in a living death of perpetual comatose. Exactly what the damn bastards deserve…

Jitji waited outside the room where the leaders had gathered. Despite his new 'status,' the guard had insisted he wait for the Arbiter to emerge. He chuckled to himself. Even if I were blessed, Sangheili would never care.

He came to attention as the door slid open. From inside stepped out a Sangheili wearing an unfamiliar suit of armor, the rich pink of Prophet blood. He peered up at the Sangheili curiously. What manner of rank does this symbolize?

Noticing the Halo carved into the helmet, he lowered his eyes away from those of the clearly holy warrior. As he slid his gaze down, a pattern of scars on the Sangheili's chest caught his attention. The marks were quite clearly deliberate, for they made a glyph from the language of the Prophets. Any Sangheili who receives such an honor must surely be a grand warrior…

"Are you ready, Jitji?" asked the Arbiter; for that was, of course, who the mysterious Sangheili was.

The Arbiter has shed his ancient and holy armor? Jitji blinked in surprise. And the glyph… is the Mark of Shame! Embarrassed he was unable to recognize his new leader, he quickly answered, "Yes, Excellency. Me more awake than ever."

And he knew it was true. The small rest had greatly lessened the lingering tiredness inside him, to the point that he felt he could look upon things with a new light. The gray walls of the Forerunner complex now gleamed with hidden details; he studied the small imperfections in the rock-like material with interest.

Such a thing could be quite useful in a battle capacity. A product of the Arbiter's good will, he assumed. Is this a gift given to all who follow the Arbiter? Truly the Prophets are wondrous! …Or perhaps it is a sign I am blessed? He ignored the stray thought, deeming the whole concept ridiculous.

From behind the Arbiter, a Human holding a Kig-Yar rifle stepped forward. He yelped at the sight, and groped for a weapon, but found none attached to his new armor. Such an image was something out of his nightmares.

"Calm yourself," ordered the Arbiter. "This Human is an ally. Indeed, I have trusted Jahnsen with my life, and would do so again."

"Yeah, it's nice to meet you too," the Human mocked in its English. While it may not have fully understood their conversation, it still managed to realize it was being spoken about.

Utterly unsure how to respond, Jitji settled on: "Yes, Excellency."

Eito watched the Arbiter as he and his 'pets' strode off toward the Phantoms. Filthy vermin… It was because of them he had to slip about in secret, merely to speak the truth. It was because of them that the Arbiter, the High Councilor, and the Ship Master all sought war upon their lords.

Soon, he promised. Soon they will all come to their senses. He had already spoken to several people throughout the complex, even the lowly Unggoy, to inform them of the rampant evils brought by the damned beasts. All he had spoken to were quite receptive. Indeed, even should I fall in battle, I have faith in the knowledge that my brethren shall uphold the Prophets before all else.

Soon, the Humans would perish.

Ascension: Chapter 8
Date: 18 July 2010, 9:05 am

"Board the Exalted Courier, Jitji," the Arbiter said, nodding over at the Phantom they would use. They stood at the bottom of an entry shaft, preparing for their imminent battle. Unlike the time of their arrival, the surrounding area was brightly lit with several dozen light markers.

"Jahnsen," he began as the Unggoy walked off, "Are you satisfied with your particle beam rifle? We have a good supply of weapons," he added, perhaps inaccurate in his claim, for truly he knew not the store accumulated by these Sangheili.

"I'm good," the Human answered. "All's the same, I'd rather take these Brutes on from a good distance."

He nodded his head in acknowledgement. "At barest, allow us to recharge your rifle to its full capacity," he ordered, carefully dressing his command in the guise of a request. It would not do to anger the brash Human; however, it was necessary to ensure all equipment was fit before engagement. "Tell the Unggoy to power your weapon, and then proceed to board the Phantom," he directed Jahnsen to a cluster of orange-armored Minor Unggoy gathering supplies.

After making sure Jahnsen would indeed follow his instructions, he re-entered the complex to search the armory. Brushing aside the Minor Unggoy praising his presence, he opened the storage crates. Good, he thought, finding the object of his perusal. He crossed back into the shaft and, taking a short gaze around the shaft, strode toward the transport.

"Arbiter?" a voice called from behind.

He stopped, turning to see Major 'Pirztikee, the veteran who had delivered a message from 'Opskitee, holding Tartarus' gravity hammer. "Your hammer, Excellency," he said, holding it out to him.

"No, no," he said, shaking his hand in a refusal. "This hammer is but a prize…" But then it occurred to him the value of such a weapon. This was the Fist of Rukt, a name referencing a Sangheili of legend, one of the first Arbiters, who slew the Quelni. This had been given to Tartarus by the Hierarchs themselves, and it had shown itself to be of considerable strength. He felt his muscles tense as he remembered being struck by the hammer. In my hands, this could be considerably useful. "Thank you, Major," he reconsidered, accepting the weapon.

"I am quite glad to assist, Arbiter," 'Pirztikee said with a bow. "If there is any more I may do to serve you, you need only speak."

He was about to simply dismiss him, when a thought struck him. "Actually, I do require a sniper spotter. Are you qualified?" The question was purely a formality, for all Sangheili higher than Minor were trained to accept any position with ease.

"Indeed, Excellency," the Major replied eagerly.

"Good," he said. "You will join the Human Jahnsen."

For an instant 'Pirztikee's face lapsed into a quick series of emotions, including disgust and outrage, but then it vanished into the carefully controlled expression of a subordinate. "Yes, Excellency," he said with little enthusiasm.

"I shall see you on our Phantom, Exalted Courier," he said as a dismissal. Turning away from 'Pirztikee, he stepped toward the vessel. He ran his hands lightly over the handle, feeling for the thin grooves which would control the hammer's gravity functions. His fingers tingled as he passed a particularly potent line, and he made a mental note to include that path in his strokes. The power of Rukt in the hands of a new Arbiter, he thought with the beginnings of a smile.

Johnson, finally managing to communicate with the timid Grunts, watched as they hooked the alien sniper rifle up to a machine. Is that how they do it?

As far as he knew, the UNSC had not been able to determine how the battery cells of Covenant weapons were recharged or replaced. He hoped his helmet recorder was working, but had no way to check with Covies all around. Alliance or not, he was going to take every opportunity to gather Intel while he could.

"Gun ready, Excellency," a trembling Grunt squeaked in its broken English. Barely able to carry it, two of them offered the particle beam rifle.

Grunting a thanks, he accepted the rifle, and walked over to the dropship indicated by the Arbiter. He hesitated before stepping beneath the Phantom's gravity lift. I don't think I'll ever get used to this alliance, he thought as he rose into its troop bay. Inside was only a white Grunt, standing alert inside a dark strip which spanned the center. From its unsurprised behavior at his presence he assumed it was the traitor, who he had met earlier.

He surveyed the many circles lining the walls, unsure of the Covenant troop placement custom. Because of the obvious anti-human bias, he knew he would likely be placed alongside the Arbiter, and he decided to stand in a circle close to the front. The Grunt stared over at him. "How you doing?" he snapped at it.

The Grunt blinked. "Me well," it squeaked, apparently mistaking his comment for a real question. It continued to stare.

"What, never seen a human before?" he asked, trying to get it to stop. Idiot Grunt.

"Me no…" it paused, apparently trying to find the right words. "No… see human when not fight," it got out.

He made a mental note to avoid using sarcasm when speaking to Grunts – they just can't get it. "Well, let me tell you a little bit about human culture," he said, trying unsuccessfully to not get frustrated. "It's rude to stare at people."

Understanding finally, the Grunt chose to stare down at the floor. About time, he thought. Hearing the grav lift, he turned to see a red-armored veteran Elite rise into the bay. It glared over at him and slowly approached, bowing its head in what he took to be a greeting.

"Johnson," it said in slow, brutal tones. "I am Major…" The Elite said something that sounded to his ears somewhat like 'Omen Peer Sticky.' "I have been assigned to you as a sniper spotter."

No way I'm going to remember that name, he thought, slightly intimidated. He grunted in acknowledgement, "Hm. Well, welcome aboard, 'Sticky.'" That fixes that.

The Elite scowled at having his name mangled, but thankfully said nothing more. It stepped into the adjacent circle, letting out a snort of contempt.

Well, this is fun, he thought sarcastically. No Marine would ever get this uptight after a small joke.

And me, a spotter? He was not a professional sniper. The instructors at the Reach Naval Academy had trained him to be very versatile, able to use whatever weapon he had available, but he did not have the necessary training to be an accomplished sniper. On the other hand, he theorized, perhaps the Arbiter just wants me out of harm's way until a proper treaty can be written. With that in mind, he decided to hold off from objecting.

He turned again as two Hunters rose up the grav lift, and moved to stand in the center with the Grunt. Wrinkling his nose at the smell produced by the big cans of worms, he was grateful to see the Arbiter, along with six Elites, enter the craft. There's been enough awkward conversation.

The Arbiter, hefting the white Brute's immense battle hammer, walked across the length of the Phantom to stand in the circle across from him. "Johnson, Peer Sticky," he nodded to them in turn. "I trust you have become acquainted?"

"Yeah," he started to say, only to be cut off be a terse "Yes, Arbiter," from Sticky. He scowled; clearly the Elite no more liked the notion of their partnership than he did.

"Good," the Arbiter said. "I was unable to convince the High Councilor to produce a body shield for you, Johnson; however, please accept this as a token of my gratitude." He temporarily set down the hammer, and reached a hand over his shoulder to remove an object from his armor, and held it out to him. It was a short, thin strap with a white metal disk protruding from its middle – a Jackal's shield generator.

For a moment he was unable speak his excitement at such an opportunity. How many times had he been driven to great annoyance by the buzzards' shields? How many men had they lost due to their own lack of shields? Eagerly accepting the gift, he strapped it to his forearm as he had seen Jackals wear them.

Curious to see it in action, he jerked his arm, causing the five-foot wide golden shield to abruptly spring out from the disk. He sharply exhaled as he compensated for the new weight, barely managing to hold onto the rifle. "Should come in handy," he remarked, grinning for the first time since the Flood attacked the In Amber Clad.

Aboard the Phantom Noble Message, Eito 'Opskitee stood at attention along with twelve other Special Operations Sangheili, and two Lekgolo relaxing in the center strip. Unlike he with his shining white armor, however, the Sangheili around him wore the lesser black suits of a mere stalking unit. Due to his own superior abilities, he had been assigned control of this unit by the Arbiter. Perhaps he wishes to keep me from educating the mightiest warriors? It matters not, for this wicked spell shall soon be undone.

He shifted his weight as the Noble Message began its ascent, and raised his hand so the others could see. When he was certain all paid heed, he made a gesture to turn off their radio transmitters. Nearly all obeyed his command at once, stroking their helmets to disable the devices. Two simply stared at him perplexed, but, perhaps out of curiosity rather than obedience, eventually relented. The Lekgolo ignored their exchange as their kind always did.

"What is it you wish, Excellency?" one of the officers asked him after it was certain none would hear beyond the troop bay.

"To follow my Oath," he answered diligently. "To assist the Prophets in any way, to ensure one day we will walk the path to godhood together. Does any one of you disagree?"

"Certainly we do not, Excellency," the officer said, puzzled. "Is that not the wish of every member of the Covenant?"

"Tragically, some of us have been deceived by foul spirits," he informed them sorrowfully. "The Arbiter, the blade of the Prophets, has allowed the filthy Humans to whisper in his ear. Our once hero, the embodiment of the Prophets' wishes, has fallen from his grand height and descended into the depths of sin. For the Arbiter does not merely wish to cease our eradication of the Human menace, he indeed intends on committing an unthinkable crime no civilized being would even contemplate: war on the Prophets!"

Every warrior instantly became alert, even the Lekgolo turned in his direction. The worm colonies rarely, if ever, showed any interest into matters outside their own species, and to have these two listening to the truth was surely the sign of a higher being. The Forerunners are on my side, he thought.

Jitji stood silently beside the Lekgolo, waiting for the attack to begin with a hint of nervousness. He had been trained to kill Humans, not Jiralhanae. Before he fled to the Forerunner complex, he had watched a single Jiralhanae kill two Major Sangheili within the span of forty heartbeats. He felt his own heart speed up as he thought about it, and willed himself to relax. I will do the Arbiter no good if I cannot function.

He uncomfortably shifted the fuel rod cannon balanced on his shoulder. While he was glad he had been given perhaps the only weapon effective against such creatures, did it have to be so heavy?

"Hey, Arbiter!" the Human, Jahnsen called out.

He shivered. It was not right keeping a Human aboard, having it behaving like a real person. What is going on? Has the Arbiter really been corrupted by their evil? His first instinct was no, the Sangheili seemed far too calm to be possessed by spirits. Then why does he bring Humans here? he continued to wonder.

"Yes, Jahnsen?" the Arbiter answered, turning his head to regard the creature.

"What's that you said earlier about this Halo's Monitor being held by the Flood?" the Human asked.

Flood, he thought with another shiver. According to the stories swapped by feeding Unggoy, which admittedly tended to stray from the original history, no force had damaged Covenant forces as great as the Parasites at the now lost Halo. Or was that the Demon? The Heretic? He closed his eyes, trying to remember the details.

Regardless, the Parasites were certainly a fierce and plentiful race. Their very presence upon this Halo had been enough to throw the Covenant into chaos. He reopened his eyes as he heard the Arbiter reply.

"Soon after I retrieved the Icon," the mighty Sangheili paused for perhaps ten heartbeats before continuing, "Tartarus took it from me, and then cast me into the great shaft. When I awoke, I was held in the grasp of the Parasite leader, along with the crimson Oracle, the Demon, and the High Prophet of Regret."

"Hold on," Jahnsen interrupted him, "The Flood have a leader?"

Jitji's head spun at the wealth of knowledge the conversation contained. Tartarus betrayed the Arbiter? From what he was told, the Sangheili-Jiralhanae conflict arose when the Jiralhanae, already given the role of honor guard, chose to take control of the High Council, but Tartarus was the High Prophets' own servant. How could a person granted more power than even an Arbiter be capable of committing such a terrible crime? He hastened to listen as the Arbiter responded.

"So it appears," he said. "The creature consisted of massive tentacles, one of which had been reconstructed for use as a mouth. The Parasite spoke to me and the Demon, urging us to stop the Prophets from animating the Sacred Rings, lest we suffer the fate of the Forerunners."

A Parasite leader? he registered the thought with horror. The creatures were terrible enough if they were mindless animals, but a thinking army of Parasites made them far greater than he could have imagined. The creature even sought to inspire heresy in the Arbiter? A true creature of evil. Yet, a part of him wondered if there perhaps was some downside to the Great Journey; he quelled that thought at once.

"Huh," the Human grunted. "What's a Demon?"

A horrible monster that could slaughter hundreds of Covenant warriors without sustaining injury, Jitji thought with a shudder. By that definition, does that mean the Parasites as a race are Demons? he wondered.

I suppose so, he decided. However, I will not refer to them as such before the Council declares them so.

"The Demon is the greatest of your warriors," the Arbiter explained. "I believe his name to be Master Chief."

"'Master Chief' is his rank," the Human corrected him. "The man's designation is Spartan-117. What did the Flood thing want?"

Master Chief Spartan-117… The name seemed to echo through his head. This was the one true danger the Humans presented, a creature perhaps only slayable by a Prophet-blessed warrior.

Maybe this is why the Human is here, he thought, to give valued information. But then, why keep it alongside warriors and not chained in a cell? Maybe if it believes us to be allies, it would give information more readily than if it knew we are enemies? he answered himself. That must be it.

"The Parasite spoke to us of the Prophets' treachery, of leading us to our deaths," the Arbiter continued. "It pronounced us allies and sent us each to a location it believed may have held the Sacred Icon. I was sent to the Control Room; I know not where it sent the Demon. The Master Chief," he corrected himself.

So the Parasite believed it could do greater harm not by killing the Arbiter, but by corrupting his values and sending him against the Covenant… How unusual, and interesting.

"High Charity," said the Major Sangheili standing beside the Human. "Forgive me for listening, Arbiter. In one of the last transmissions sent by the High Prophet of Truth, he is seen attacked by the Demon. However, in the next, there is not even a passing mention of him." He turned to regard the Human, "Sergeant, your warrior was undoubtedly slain by the honor guards."

The Demon slain? Finally this conversation began to seem uplifting. However, something about it bothered him. He pushed the thought aside to figure out later, so he could pay attention to the conversation.

"Maybe so," the Human admitted. "But if he's still alive, we're not leaving without him."

Before any could respond, their radios crackled with the pilot's voice, filled with static yet understandable, "Arbiter, we are approaching the Zealous Missionary."

Patroclus growled at the uplink crate. It had been nearly a unit since the Sangheili uprising had begun, yet there was still no way to access the Covenant battlenet. The Jiralhanae reached for the controls and once more entered the destination code, only to have the machine let out an error beep. Anger filled him, and he grabbed the crate's sides, slamming the four-unit tall uplink crate into the rock wall three units away, careful not to send it over the nearby cliff.

"Be calm," snapped Bracchus. "It will do no good to damage equipment."

The crates have never broken before under such treatment, he thought, but held his tongue. Instead, he ran his claws lightly against his skin, cursing the biting insects which inhabited the Sacred Ring. Only gods are to know what purpose they have. He looked over at Bracchus, who looked as bored as he felt.

They stood upon a small plateau overlooking a canyon, in which the gravity lift of the cruiser Zealous Missionary was placed, with nothing more than an uplink and a storage crate. Due to the supposed threat of Sangheili insurrectionists, they had been posted as guard over the lift's base. Not that there was any point as far as he was concerned, for no dropship could land before being destroyed by the Seraph fighters patrolling the island. Truly, their job was a simple formality, nothing more.

Trying to avoid thoughts of his brothers feasting on Sangheili meat, he turned back to the computer resting inside the purple storage crate, and began to type a command. If he could not contact his brethren for discussion, perhaps he could listen to the last broadcasts downloaded from the local battlenet upon arrival to the system. He grunted with satisfaction as the crate began to play a sermon from the late High Prophet of Regret. May his spirit live in the Divine Beyond, he prayed.

"The Forerunners, our most exalted lords, used the seven Sacred Rings to flee a doomed existence…" the High Prophet's voice played smoothly, undisturbed by the abrasive static which currently plagued communications.

"Patroclus, you lazy fool," Bracchus insulted him. "An Unggoy could be more patient than you!"

"Nonsense, an Unggoy would fall asleep at once or wander off in search of its nipple," he retorted. "Whereas I, as weary as you are, have the decency to activate a sermon so that we may together listen to the holy words of the Prophets."

"Curse your tongue," Bracchus growled. "With it you spin sin into virtue!"

Now this is much more interesting, he thought with a mental smile. He opened his mouth to further antagonize his partner, but stopped as he saw a Phantom dropship drawing close. "Look, Bracchus," he said instead, "Our brothers return." Upon learning how long the ship's repairs would take, many of the high-ranking Jiralhanae took dropships to the mainland to explore the ruins left behind by the Forerunners.

"Good," the other Jiralhanae acknowledged. "Perhaps the ship has been repaired?"

"You assume they are even capable of receiving a beckoning call," he pointed out. If my own uplink fails, why should a Phantom's fair better? Then he frowned; the Phantom, instead of landing beside the main lift, chose instead to perch its lift upon their plateau.

Feeling a trace of unease, he grabbed a grenade launcher from the crate; at his side, Bracchus took and raised a carbine. We must appear as professionals, he reassured himself as the reason for his distress. When the captains see us, we will be praised. He suddenly realized the uplink crate, continuing to replay the sermon, was detrimental to that end.

"Damn machine," he muttered under his breath. He turned to deactivate the console, and soon heard, not the laugh of Bracchus as expected, but the bark of a carbine. Forgetting the crate, he turned around abruptly to see a pair of Lekgolo descending from the lift.

Damn… He slung his grenade launcher over his shoulder, and darted to claim a carbine of his own. Against such a heavily armored foe, one needed a precision weapon.

He raised the weapon, sighted, and fired. The green bolt struck the traitor's armor and simply bounced off. The next instant, however, Bracchus' bolt passed cleanly through the 'neck' of his target. "That one was mine," he growled, as the swarm stumbled.

"Down, fool," Bracchus snapped, ducking behind the uplink crate.

Seeing a green glow fill the air, he threw himself to the ground, letting the discharge pass harmlessly over him. Gazing at the destruction caused by the plasma, he realized just how close he came to death. Even the sturdy uplink crate, all that shielded Bracchus, had taken heavy damage and was unlikely to survive another blast. Fighting these cannons is too risky.

"We'll never win at such a distance," he declared, running toward the enemies fearlessly.

"Stop, you idiot!" Bracchus shouted after him.

The Lekgolo abandoned the use of their cannons at his approach, and lowered their shields defensively. He eyed the sharp spines on their backs with caution, throwing aside the carbine in favor of the grenade launcher; its bayonet would be more useful at close range. The one Bracchus had injured swung its shield at him, and he jumped back and fired a grenade. The grenade passed under the shield, but bounced off the armor to finally detonate against the inside of the shield. He only had time to feel a glimmer of satisfaction as the swarm took a tumble, for he had the second swarm to dodge as it came at him.

He jumped behind the first swarm, and, careful to evade the spines, slammed the grenade launcher's bayonet between layers of armor and into the mass of worms. Orange blood spurted over him as the swarm fell at last. Another vile traitor dead, he thought with pride, when he felt a violent impact crash into him and throw him several units through the air. The other one! He hit the ground with a shuddering thump, feeling his bones crack.

He struggled to stand, ignoring the pain that filled him, and saw the Lekgolo was charging its cannon. He glanced around; he had his back to the cliff, no weapons, and the Lekgolo stood between him and anything useful. May my soul reach the afterlife and rest at the feet of the Prophets, he pleaded to the gods.

Waiting for the Lekgolo to send him there, he was both surprised and delighted when the swarm was hit from behind, causing it to cease charging its weapon. Bless Bracchus! Abandoning the civilized biped stance for the faster quadruped stance, he made a rush for the discarded carbine.

Under the light of the Phantom's gravity lift, the carbine was easy to spot. Grabbing the weapon, he raised it and aimed carefully at the swarm's neck. His finger began to pull the trigger, when he felt something hot land on his left shoulder. He turned his head to see a mass of pulsing blue flames: a hand grenade!

The grenade detonated, sending a shower of plasma over his body. He turned his head to protect his eyes from the blast, but the effort seemed worthless, for beneath the endless pain he found himself unable to move. He could only watch as eight Sangheili descended from the dropship, and proceeded to attack Bracchus. Thankfully he did not have to watch long, for the world around him soon grew dim.

Ascension: Chapter 9
Date: 24 July 2010, 10:47 am

Stepping into the gravity lift, Johnson soon was faced with the stench of gutted Hunter. Lovely, he thought sarcastically as he stepped around the corpse. They appeared to be on a rock ledge some twenty feet in diameter with a good view down on the base of the gravity lift holding up the Covenant ship, perhaps sixty feet below. Three alien corpses and two Covenant crates marked the area as a former Brute post.

The Elites scurried around, moving the corpses into the Phantom and out of sight. The one remaining Hunter seemed slumped over, and Johnson wondered if the walking tank was feeling grief at the loss of its partner.

"Johnson, Peer Sticky," the Arbiter called them over to the far end of the ledge.

He jogged over to keep up with Sticky's longer strides, and met the pink-clad Elite over by a half-melted crate. "What's up?" he asked, refraining from using the 'sir' honorific. Although he was currently willing to follow the Arbiter's orders to promote the possible treaty, he drew the line at treating a mass-murderer with the same respect he showed his true superiors.

The Elite gestured to a small, bush laden patch of ledge beyond the sunken crate, "Here is where you shall rest, within the shadows of the greenery."

"Yes, Arbiter," Sticky said with fake enthusiasm.

Johnson merely nodded and moved to find a sheltered spot to lie down in the hedges. He watched with interest as another Elite handed Sticky a transparent pyramid with a ball of blue energy suspended in the center – portable active camouflage. Recalling the standing order to retrieve any Covenant armor enhancement containers, he made up his mind to procure one if possible.

For now, though, he would follow the Elite's command. He would camp out in the bushes, and from afar he would kill their common enemies: Drones, Jackals, and Brutes. Or Jiralhoony, or whatever the hell the Covenant word is. He would temporarily forgive the creatures who butchered his species in the name of mad preachers who couldn't tell godhood apart from suicide, and he would fight in their civil war because the treaty was what was important. It doesn't mean I have to like it.

Feeling guilty about having started to like the notion of their comradery, he began to silently recite each world destroyed by the Covenant. Harvest, Biko, New Constantinople, Paris IV, Draco III, Eridanus II…

Thunder boomed ominously overhead. He looked up, and was glad the ship just covered their small ledge. With the cover offered by the cruiser, they would be kept dry if it began raining. Thank God for small miracles, he thought bitterly. You can't count on him for the big ones.

After placing Jahnsen and 'Pirztikee upon the ledge, the Arbiter's warriors worked hard to clean the area. With any chance fortune, any Jiralhanae would assume their guards had simply returned aboard the cruiser. When the site appeared to have been cleansed ideally, he waved them into the Phantom.

Shortly, it deposited them on the canyon floor beside the gravity lift. Eager to engage the enemy, his Sangheili warriors excitedly leaped out nearly before he even gave a command. They all stepped over to the lift, ready to enter. However, first he activated his radio to speak with the Exalted Courier's pilot, "Stay close at hand, pilot. We will send for you if pickup becomes necessary."

After a short silence, he received a message so filled with interference he had to pause to understand it properly. "Un-stood, Arb-we sh-ke-Zelo-ssionary-ift-our sigh-all times."

Understood, Arbiter. We shall keep the Zealous Missionary's lift within our sight at all times, he translated in his head. It was quite apparent 'Setfethee had not been exaggerating when he had described the communication difficulties faced by Sangheili forces. Anger grew when he thought of the disarray caused by the foul Jiralhanae; it would feel good to spill their blood. "Come now," he said to his warriors, "Let us begin our ascent."

His warriors followed diligently. As one, they stepped beneath the gravity lift. In the space of a single breath, he felt the pull of the lift. As it pulled them high above the ground, he caught a brief glimpse of the enemy Seraphs keeping a holding pattern around the island, before the lift deposited them in its cargo bay. The opening sealed underneath their feet, and they were slowly brought to rest there. He scanned the lift bay: one Wraith, one Shadow, no visible enemies.

"Seal the entrances," he ordered. The Sangheili hurried to perform the task, while Jitji and the Lekgolo formed a defensive formation around him should any enemy spring upon them.

"It is done," the warriors reported almost simultaneously.

"Inspect the vehicles," he then ordered. They promptly obeyed, splitting into teams to study the parts of the vehicles.

"All vehicles fully operational, Arbiter," one eventually reported.

"Your name, warrior?" the Arbiter questioned.

"Officer Owlu 'Derolee, Arbiter," the Sangheili answered.

He nodded, and turned to address all warriors, "Officer 'Derolee and the Unggoy Jitji shall remain here to guard our exit. The rest of us shall advance on the nearby cargo hold. I shall take a team of four Sangheili to infiltrate the corridors leading to the second level of the hold, while one Sangheili and the Lekgolo wait here. Upon my command, the Sangheili, alongside the solitary Lekgolo, shall make use of this wraith and attack the hold. Any questions?" The warriors remained silent. "Very well. Engage active camouflage."

He rested the head of the hammer against the floor, freeing his left hand. He stroked his wrist, activating the stealth technology. He smiled, knowing it would be unseen by his warriors. Honor though it was to wear the ancient armor, it was good to be back in a fully functional suit. He stepped over to a side doorway, the shuffle of hoof beats informing him his squad was close behind him.

A glance at his motion detector told him the Lekgolo was moving outside the view of anyone who happened to be lurking in the corridor. Perhaps the High Councilor will allow the production of enhanced armor for the use of the Lekgolo? While many Sangheili still distrusted them, they had been loyal for Ages. Now that we are to seek war on the Prophets, we must establish bonds of loyalty to our allies.

He opened the door, revealing an empty side passage. "Seal it behind us," he ordered. When it had been done, he moved on to the main corridor. Inside it, however, two Jiralhanae were walking side by side. They stopped, realizing the door had been opened by one under active camouflage.

"Sangheili stealth party," one yelled, raising its crimson rifle and firing into their passage.

He pressed himself against the wall, avoiding the beast's barrage. Similarly, none of his warriors were struck. He noticed a definite pattern in the Jiralhanae's fire, and crept from the side passage and snuck behind their backs.

It is time to see the Fist of Rukt wielded by the Arbiter. He raised the heavy battle hammer and brought it swiftly down, smashing the firing Jiralhanae's skull and bringing its form out of camouflage.

Its partner turned around, and he savored the look of terror which crossed its face. He stroked the hammer, activating its gravity functions. With a smashing blow, he propelled the beast into the side passage and into the sealed door, where it was subsequently fired upon by his Sangheili. He smiled as he heard its dying cries, and brushed pieces of skull off his hammer. Yes, he thought. It has been one long unit, but now the vicious beasts will pay for spilling our blood.

He slipped back into active camouflage, preparing to lead his warriors into the cargo hold, when his radio began to play what he assumed to be a message. However, pure static met his ears and he could discern no voice among it, although he could make out a few tones. "I do not hear you," he called into the radio. "Adjust your frequency if possible." He received no response. Deciding to ignore the transmission for now, he opened the door.

Omin 'Pirztikee was not happy. Not long after the Arbiter had left, the skies let loose a sudden torrential downpour. Although the Zealous Missionary shielded them from the rain itself, the water clattered down angrily not eight units away. The moisture so filled the air, he found it near impossible to smell anything. This excepted, of course, the stench of the Human pretending it was a Kig-Yar. "Damned Human," he muttered under his breath.

"What's that?" it asked in a whisper, its eyes sliding over to look at him. "You have something to say?"

Did it understand our language? he wondered. Perhaps it merely recognized its race's name and assumed an insult? "I have no words to speak to you," he growled in English.

"Look," it began, "I don't like you any more than you like me, but if we hold so much anger against each other it will hurt our functionality as a sniper team. Besides–"

"Silence," Omin snapped, cutting off the Human in midsentence. His superior hearing had picked up something the Human's did not. "A Phantom approaches."

The Human appropriately fell silent. They waited, hugging the ground, as the dropship slowly slid into view. As soon as he saw it, he smashed the glass container and let the light-bending energy envelop him. Even with the added camouflage, he felt his insides quiver as the dropship drifted over to their plateau. If spotted, they would be burned away at once by the triple plasma cannons.

He willed himself to lie as flat as possible, while the Phantom hovered ominously overhead. After an eternity, the dropship drifted away to descend in the canyon near the lift. He let out a breath of air he had been holding inside his lungs. Now I shall do my duty, he thought, raising a monocular to his eye. The device amplified the present light, allowing Omin to see the dropship clearly.

"Two Minor Jiralhanae leaving the ship," he reported. "Behavior suggests reconnaissance." The two Jiralhanae spread out, inspecting the area. Jahnsen held his fire, waiting for their superiors to make themselves visible.

He watched through the powerful magnification scope as one of the Minors used a small handheld radio, certain their targets would soon appear. However, the Phantom simply rose in the air, flying back the way it came. The Minors stood on opposite sides of the lift, their crimson rifles at the ready. A trap to draw us out? The Human continued to wait.

After a few minutes had passed, he heard the approach of another Phantom. He momentarily lowered the monocular as he watched it come into view. This one held a large grey package under its belly; he assumed it was a collection of Wraiths. Examining it with the monocular, however, he realized it was actually leathery flesh.

Ten units above the ground, the Phantom dropped what he now realized was a monstrous creature. A loud thump echoed throughout the canyon as the creature impacted with the ground, spraying wet dirt over the canyon floor. It raised itself on its hind legs, reaching a height of nearly ten units. The Phantom rose and flew away, leaving the gigantic creature to slowly approach the lift.

"What the hell is that?" Jahnsen asked.

Never had he seen one, yet he knew its name instantly from his teachings. "That," he replied, not taking his eye off it, "Is a Sharquoi."


"Exceedingly," he answered, wondering how the Human could not have known simply at a glance.

"It's mine," the Human declared, firing its particle beam rifle.

Omin watched as the beam struck the creature's eye, causing it to stumble. It roared in pain, green blood dripping from its wound. His hearts sped up. That would have killed even the most robust Jiralhanae, but this creature seemed to defy such logic.

The Jiralhanae, unsure of Jahnsen's position, began firing roughly in their direction. The plasma splashed harmlessly against the cliff side units away. The Sharquoi growled, a sound reminiscent of Human aircraft, and turned its ugly round head to follow the path of fire. He watched as its healthy eye narrowed, feeling dread seep through him. It sees us!

With a flash, Jahnsen fired a particle beam directly into the Sharquoi's remaining eye, blinding it. Thank the Forerunners, he sighed in relief, as the beast stumbled and fell with a monstrous crash. However, that made him wonder: if the Forerunners guided a Human to help a member of the Covenant, then… the Humans are not wretched in their eyes.

This profound thought was put aside as he watched the Sharquoi stand up once more. It is blind and useless, he tried to reassure himself. Jahnsen fired once more, striking it in the center of its forehead.

Thick green blood dripped from all its wounds, creating the illusion it may have once possessed three eyes. It roared, sending the putrid smell of its breath in their direction, and then drove its hands into the wet ground. Pulling out hands full of soil, it began packing the mud together into a clump. A Sharquoi ritual?

"Well, damn," Jahnsen said with a hint of fear.

"What is it?" he queried, increasing magnification in hope of noticing what the Human had. However, the Sharquoi began to lift the mass of soil, and he had to decrease to see it properly.

"Run!" Jahnsen cried. Engaging his arm-shield, the Human stood and ran to the wider and less dry portion of the plateau.

Unknowing the threat, he decided to trust the Human (what an odd concept) and ran alongside him. He looked back at the Sharquoi, now holding the dirt clump back behind it head similar to how an Unggoy would prepare to throw a grenade. With shocking speed, the beast hurled the dirt clump directly where they had been moments before. It is true, he realized with shock. The Human is in touch with the will of the Forerunners.

His shields took a hit, and he turned to see the Jiralhanae firing at him. He realized the oddly warm rain now covered his body shield a subunit from his skin, creating a silhouette they could see. Fortunately, their accuracy was poor, and he was able to strafe and avoid the shots. He noticed they were not, however, firing at Jahnsen.

Do they think him a treasonous Kig-Yar? he wondered with amusement, looking at the Human hiding behind the golden shield. He then noticed he was trying to aim the rifle one-handed, using his left arm to hold the shield. "That is futile," he told him. "Not even Kig-Yar, Jackals, can do that." It was clear to him the Human was too small to operate the equipment in such a manner.

"Maybe you're right," Jahnsen admitted. "Kick at me. Don't hit me, but convince the Brutes that I'm a dead Jackal."

He paused. Such an act of deception would never be conceived of by a Sangheili. He wondered if that was good or bad. His shields took a hit, and he remembered to strafe again. Well, I doubt I could kill these things with only a plasma rifle, he thought, sharply kicking close over Jahnsen's head.

The Human quickly disengaged his shield and dropped to the ground. Slowly, to not reveal to the enemy he was alive, Jahnsen managed to creep into a sniping position. A flash from the barrel, and one of the Jiralhanae stopped firing. He chanced a pause to inspect the enemies with his monocular, and indeed one Jiralhanae was dead, the remaining one running to hide behind the immense bulk of the Sharquoi, which currently stumbled about the canyon blindly on all limbs.

"Can that hulk be killed with this rifle?" Jahnsen asked of him.

"I do not know," he admitted. "Warriors of my class do not interact with their race. However, I recall from my studies we dominated them through mass use of vehicle deployment."

Jahnsen let out a hiss through his teeth. "Always a new challenge to keep things interesting," he said sarcastically.

"Yes," he agreed, enjoying the odd humor. "The Jiralhanae would not want us to become weary."

He noticed the Sharquoi had managed to walk in a straight line, a line towards the gravity lift. "The Jiralhanae leads it!" He looked through the monocular, but could not see the fiend behind the great mass of the Sharquoi.

"I can't get a shot on 'em," Jahnsen reported, firing instead on the titan's wrist.

It reared back on its legs, roaring as green blood flowed freely from the wound. The Jiralhanae became visible, a streak of brown between the creature's legs. Jahnsen fired, catching the Jiralhanae in its belly and causing it to stumble back – where it was out of sight. The Sharquoi brought its wrist to its mouth, and began to lick at its wound with a long black tongue. Its saliva acts as a coagulant, he realized as the blood slowed.

"Do you see it?" Jahnsen asked.

He was about to comment on the Sharquoi's interesting biology before realizing Jahnsen, of course, was referring to the Jiralhanae. He decreased magnification, and spotted their prey crouching behind a small boulder on the other side of the gravity lift. He relayed this to Jahnsen, who fired a shot upon it. The beam sliced into its lower neck, and with a cry of pain, the Jiralhanae fell. "It has fallen."

"Two down," he replied.

Omin started to question the Human's meaning, when he realized the Sharquoi was walking toward the gravity lift. Following the sound of the cry. Jahnsen fired upon the base of its neck, causing it to stumble. However, the creature was strong enough to make it onto the lift's base. "No!" he exclaimed as it began to rise.

While Jahnsen made another futile attempt to kill it, he activated his radio. Adjusting it to send directly to the Arbiter, he called, "Arbiter, a Sharquoi comes for you!" However, nothing greeted his ears but sharp static.

In the gravity lift's cargo hold, Jitji waited beside a parked Shadow. Guard duty was a common task assigned to Unggoy, and he was quite accustomed to it. Normally he would pace back and forth to ensure he would not slip into unconsciousness; however, now all of the tiredness he once had was stolen from him, so he instead stood in thought.

He thought about the Arbiter's story of an Unggoy rebellion, of his kind forced to drink the Milk as punishment for attacking the Hierarchs. An incredible tale. It was no secret his race was disorganized and cowardly compared to the Sangheili, which made the concept of Unggoy assaulting the Hierarchs seem quite doubtful.

"The Prophets created the Milk to bind your race to the Covenant forever," he remembered the Arbiter telling him. "Within it, they wove obedience and honor. However, I have learned facts from the Oracle which undermine what I have been taught. The Milk carries no magic, it is merely designed to feed and humiliate your race." Thus were the Arbiter's words before letting loose their bonds to the food-nipple.

The notion of Sangheili historical teachings being inaccurate intrigued him. If this tale is at least partially false, what else may be? he wondered. He felt a desire to speak to the Oracle himself to ask it about other tales, but this was certainly impossible for an Unggoy – even a 'blessed' one.

His recent escape from drowsiness also intrigued him. While he had assumed it was a gift of the Arbiter's, now he became unsure. As the Unggoy in the pit had said, nothing like this had happened before. So how was an Unggoy to know it was the Arbiter and not something else?

It was surely not a sign of being blessed, so he wondered if perhaps the Kig-Yar meat had something to do with it. In forcing us to drink Milk, the Hierarchs could have meant to keep us from it. If the meat made Unggoy more aware, he could understand how constricting their food supply would protect the Prophets from insurgents.

Why would they have attacked the Hierarchs anyway? He wondered nervously if the meat had driven them to madness. Would he go mad and fire upon a fellow member of the Covenant?

If I'm even right about half of this, he chided himself. Maybe I should ask the Arbiter? The thought unsettled him. Maybe another Sangheili?

He walked over to 'Derolee, who stood on the other side of the Shadow, and hesitantly asked, "Excellency, may me ask question?"

'Derolee scowled down at him. "Speak, Unggoy," the Sangheili said, saying the name of his race as though it was profane.

This was a bad idea… "Excellency, why did Unggoy attack Hierarchs?" he nervously asked.

'Derolee closed his mandibles in surprise. Clearly he did not expect Jitji to ask such a question. Finally, he began to explain in a harsh tone, "…In the first Age of Doubt, a large group of Unggoy refused to believe in the Great Journey, even daring to claim it was fabricated by the Prophets as a ruse! Ensnared by this delusion, they launched an assault upon the Towers of Serenity. Before they were quelled, the treacherous beasts managed to slay the 15th incarnation of the High Prophet of Truth! Were there no living High Prophets present to take the Rite of Ascension, the Covenant itself may have ended that unit!"

Jitji trembled from the Sangheili's voice, at the rage used in his words. To think my ancestors could have been so evil… However, it seemed clear 'Derolee did not know the true source of their madness. "Excellency, me know Prophets true," he assured him. "Me not crazy like them."

"Yet," 'Derolee said with rising anger, "You betrayed us, killed several of your brethren, merely to fill your stomach. You have convinced the Arbiter to free your kind from the fidelity of the Milk. Now you question me of the Unggoy Rebellion? What are you planning, Unggoy?!"

"Me plan nothing, Excellency," he insisted, fear beginning to rise. He shifted the heavy fuel rod cannon in preparation to drop it and run.

However, 'Derolee misunderstood and raised his rifle threateningly. "Take care, Unggoy. I could send you to the Shadow World before your finger could even begin to pull the trigger."

This is not going well at all! "Me not traitor," he tried to tell him. "Arbiter see truth, he forgive."

"The Arbiter has taken leave of his senses," 'Derolee responded. "He believes even Humans to be virtuous! I shall not…" He trailed off as the lift plate in the center of the room opened. "…If you doubt your loyalty, know the Jiralhanae shall not be merciful," he noted swiftly, engaging his active camouflage.

Jitji hurriedly activated his own, thankful for the new capability his armor provided. Maybe if I attack the Jiralhanae, Excellency will know I am loyal? To his surprise and fear, the lift's occupant was not any race he knew, but a gigantic grey creature so large it had to squeeze through the lift door! Despite his terror, he managed to notice its eyes leaked the same green blood which coated its right wrist. Attacked by Jahnsen, no doubt.

Its huge bulk scraped the ceiling, and threatened to crush Jitji as it spread throughout the hold. So he did what any Unggoy would do: he fled. Clutching onto his cannon, he ran for the open doorway.

He overheard the sound of plasma fire as he ran. When he reached the safety of the hallway, he looked back to see 'Derolee sitting in the Shadow's turret, firing upon the creature. The creature, pieces of its flesh melting from the assault, reached out and grabbed 'Derolee from the turret.

"DRINOL…" the creature rumbled, gesturing toward itself with the claw that clutched 'Derolee. It then smashed the Sangheili against the floor, leaving a nasty smear of purple blood.

Jitji yelped in horror at the sight, and then cursed his tongue as the creature (Drinol?) turned at the sound. I'll run, he thought as the head faced him. I'll seek out the Arbiter and…

No, he told himself instead. I shall not run like a cowardly Unggoy, I shall fight and die as a Sangheili would. The Forerunners shall forever recognize me as a warrior, and I shall serve the Prophets themselves in the next life. Drinol's mouth opened, his head rushing toward him as if to swallow him whole.

"Unstoppable!" he shouted the Sangheili war cry. "Aaahh!"

The cannon rocked violently as he fired it, filling his shoulder with pain. The rod flew past rows of sharp teeth to impact against Drinol's throat. An explosive green blast severed Drinol's head from his body, and Jitji leaped to the side as the head flew by to impact the wall behind him.

Slowly, hesitantly, Jitji approached the head. Drinol is dead… by my hand! Amazed he accomplished such a thing, he reached out to touch the thick, warm blood which streamed out of its neck to pool on the floor.

The blood sparkled on his fingertips, its creamy green a stark contrast to the rough blue of his own flesh. Yet, he could see a strange sort of beauty in the liquid. I have killed Drinol, my prey, he thought with a new pride and delight. I am a warrior.

Ascension: Chapter 10
Date: 19 August 2010, 8:11 am

The doors slid open, revealing an open walkway on which several Jiralhanae paced. The Arbiter gripped his hammer and strode forward into the mass of enemies, his motion tracker telling him his warriors were following.

When he had reached the end of the walkway, he turned to look across the hold. A Wraith and a Spectre were located on the floor, lined up toward the door. He glanced around at the slight shimmers of light indicating his warriors, and motioned with the hammer for them to spread out.

"…And the Human called out for protection from its false god!" laughed a nearby Jiralhanae loudly.

"Fool!" its partner agreed. "What god would protect a Human?"

The Arbiter lightly clicked his radio, signaling for the Wraith/Lekgolo pair, as he chose his first target. He aimed the Fist at the laughing Jiralhanae, and stroked the trigger line. The blue burst shooting from the weapon brought him temporarily out of camouflage, but it went unnoticed as the beast was shoved off the walkway to land crushed on the floor below.

Its partner looked up at the Heavens alarmed, perhaps pleading for mercy from its sin. The Arbiter laughed at this, and showed it the same mercy the Forerunners would. This time when he fired, the surrounding Jiralhanae saw him. Fortunately, before they could fire, his warriors attacked them from behind.

He glanced away from the battle to see the Wraith and Lekgolo had not yet entered. He activated his radio and quietly spoke to the Sangheili, "Is there a problem?"

"Arbiter," the reply came, "There appears to be no way to open the door from our side."

He cursed his lack of knowledge of capital ships, it had been too long ago he served aboard one. "Be ready," he spoke into the radio, "I shall find a way to open it." He spied a holo-panel beside the large door, and prepared to jump down. He ran through the fighting warriors until he was beside the Wraith, and leaped onto it. He trusted his new armor to absorb the shock of landing, so it came as an unfortunate surprise to find his legs taking all of it.

Perhaps it is due to its Huragok origins? he wondered as he ran toward the panel, aware he was now in full sight. The Huragok, so light of weight, may not require any such protection.

Reaching the panel, he activated it quickly. As the door opened, he turned around, ready to face any Jiralhanae that may have appeared. However, none seemed present on the floor. On the walkways, battles were ending, and the chamber soon became silent. "What is our status?" he called up as the Wraith and Lekgolo entered, now unneeded.

"Arbiter," a Sangheili called, his shield appearing with a shimmer, "One of us has fallen, but none of the Jiralhanae have survived."

"Good," he said, thinking about their next moves, "Come down here through the corridors. Seal the doors as you pass them, and eliminate any enemy you encounter."

"Yes, Arbiter," the Sangheili answered as he and the others moved to obey. Soon, they entered the chamber, and he was hurt to see that one of his warriors had his right arm entirely ripped off. With his energy shield encasing his body, the blood which leaked from the wound covered his whole body, giving the Sangheili a quite gory appearance.

The Covenant was in disarray, making it very unlikely his sacrifice would be catalogued by the Ministry of Glory. No tapestries would be woven, his family would never receive any honor… and most importantly, there were no Forerunners to ensure an equal balance of malice and fortune.

The Arbiter now doubted very strongly in the existence of any of the after-lives of which he had known since birth, meaning that if any of them were slain, there would be no more life for their souls. I must plan very carefully, he reasoned. If any should die in vain, I will have failed.

"Arbiter, the only enemies we encountered were a few Kig-Yar," the same Sangheili that spoke before told him. "I suspect they were sent to investigate the noise created by our battle. When they cease to return, the Jiralhanae shall soon learn of our presence."

Accepting the news, he quickly gave them his orders, "We shall enter the launch bay, open its doors, and summon our brethren. Should any stand in our way, we show them no mercy. However, allowing our reinforcements entry is our top priority. Engage active camouflage."

Akiso Nonu Saba was amazed. After such ages under the oppressive rule of the creatures who dared to call themselves 'Prophets,' it seemed a group of Sangheili was finally revolting. With the fierce warriors as allies, the Lekgolojiri could very possibly overthrow the tyrannical government once and for all.

"Shall we rid ourselves of these worthless fools?" he rumbled to his mate, Etowo Nonu Shichi, lightly jerking his mass head at the brainwashed Sangheili around them in the crowded Phantom.

"Do not be quick to rid ourselves of potential tools, Akiso," Etowo answered craftily. "These warriors may be enemies of our greater goal, but we are all enemies of the Jiralhanae. Let us wait for an opportune moment to present itself before we shake lose our misguided escorts."

"Such is wise," he agreed. As their Phantom flew on, his mind filled with wonderful imagery. Perhaps after realizing we were all deceived, the enslaved races will join together to help create a new world where we shall all be the same. For the first time since civil war broke out, he let out the odor of happiness. Such a wonderful dream.

However, he could tell his mate did not hold such grand thoughts. Her singulars, he smelled, were tightened with stress. He felt sadness on her behalf, but could not properly comfort her in warrior form.

In an attempt to induce her sense of patriotism, he let out a soft rumble echoing the seventh verse of the Eternal Song: "Ever divided, yet awashed with unity, the Lekgolojiri flows free. We are always, with both sorrow and glee, and this We always shall be."

The Arbiter opened the door to the launch bay, and hurried inside. The Jiralhanae that were inside could very well choose to fire on the apparently empty hallway, and he wished to clear the doorway before they did. However, there were only two Kig-Yar nearby, relaxing without their shields. They looked up startled, and the Arbiter quickly crushed their skulls before they could raise an alarm.

Under camouflage, his warriors silently spread out through the bay. It was nearly empty on the bottom level, there were only two Jiralhanae nearby a banshee on the far side of the bay, but there were several others on the second level. Understanding the need for stealth, two Sangheili slipped behind the two Jiralhanae.

"Understandable, brother," one of the beasts was saying. "However, you must put aside your feelings, and trust the Hier…" An energy garrote struck its throat, cutting off the sentence. Its partner was similarly detained, and both soon slumped down to the floor, their necks lightly smoking.

As his warriors carefully propped the corpses against the separating wall in a simulation of life, he realized there was no energy lift in the chamber. Through what was no doubt a misuse of political power, the cruiser design had not been updated for nearly an Age. Without the efficiency the lifts would provide, their task would be extended more than should be necessary, possibly risking their lives. He made a mental note to propose to 'Lafatee they redesign the cruisers at the next available opportunity.

They quietly entered the corridor to take them to the second level, to find it contained three Kig-Yar at its far corner. One noticed the door closing, and held up its shield defensively while speaking to its partners in its harsh language.

The Arbiter hurried across the hall to strike them with the Fist of Rukt. He was able to strike two at once while they huddled together behind their shields, but the last was far enough away to let out a screeching cry, one which echoed in his ears even after he slew its maker.

He aimed the hammer up the hall in preparation for enemy reinforcements, and activated his radio. "Phantom Noble Message," he called softly, "Prepare to deposit the second lance in the aft-port launch bay." No response came. "Noble Message, this is the Arbiter," he tried again.

A Jiralhanae appeared at the end of the hall. "Bloody mercenaries," it muttered before seeing the dead Kig-Yar. As it stopped walking, the Arbiter fired a blast, smashing it against the inter-deck junction column.

"Thanatos!" The Jiralhanae's partner cried out, as it rushed over to the corpse and into the Arbiter's line of fire. Unfortunately, the hammer required a slight pause to regain power, giving the Jiralhanae time to react.

"He was my brother! Filthy rebels!" it screamed as it began to fire its crimson rifle at the same time as the Arbiter fired his hammer. The gravity distortion blast sent it to join its partner, while a stray bolt caught the Arbiter's left arm.

Instead of the mere zap of his body shield, the red plasma burned into the armor directly. "Arg!" he let out as his active camouflage failed. Through the pain, he saw his new armor smoking as it would in direct contact with plasma. Excellent, he thought sarcastically. Once more, I have no shields!

"Arbiter, are you alright?" asked one of his still camouflaged warriors.

"I believe so," he answered. The armor seemed to have done its job even without shielding, although he found the heat quite painful. "My body shield has failed." My fault for accepting untested technology.

"Fear not, Arbiter," the warrior said. "We shall protect you until the Noble Message arrives. That is, I assume you will wish to leave the combat zone while unprotected?"

"I think not," he replied. "My orders are to seize this vessel, and thus I must accompany the unit involved." He gestured at the black column with the two corpses spread around it, "That is an inter-deck junction column, used by Huragok to pass between levels. We must secure one to repair my armor."

He barely had time to finish his order, when two Jiralhanae pairs made their way around the corner. The blurry forms of his warriors sprang in front of him to protect him from the torrent of plasma that soon erupted. He realized he could no longer fire the hammer for fear of catching his fellow Sangheili in its discharge. He could do nothing without closing the distance, and did not dare to emerge into the plasma barrage. Instead, he stepped behind the corner, out of the way and trusting his warriors to finish the battle.

"-biter, …location…" hissed his radio amidst harsh static.

Anxious, he spoke into the radio even as a fierce battle took place mere units away, "Noble Message, repeat your words."

"Ar… we… please… not… us," he managed to hear through the interference.

He tried several more times to communicate, and eventually understood that they were requesting his location. "Aft-port launch bay," he repeated several times until the Phantom pilot appeared to understand.

A Sangheili let out a scream nearby, and the Arbiter tightly gripped the hammer, preparing to use it. Unfortunately, the plasma shot hit the active camouflage controls, leaving him visible to all enemies. He waited behind the corner, ready for whomever that would approach him, be they ally or enemy. He did not have to wait very long, for a blurred section of air soon moved in front of him.

"Arbiter," the Sangheili said, "We have lost three warriors. I am the last of my unit. But fear not," he said again, "We will complete our mission."

It crushed him to think that all three lives had been spent, never to be once more again. But he nodded in affirmation, "The Noble Message is already on its way. We will receive reinforcements, secure a Huragok, and then take this ship into our possession." But he paused before continuing, "Warrior, what is your name?"

"Usbi 'Cutasee, Arbiter," he answered.

"Commander 'Cutasee, know that should you fall in battle today, I will personally ensure your name is recorded in the Ministry of Glory's tapestry," he swore, resting the hammer on the ground so he could lay a hand upon his throat.

"Many thanks, Arbiter," 'Cutasee said. "It has been an honor to serve you."

As one, they began moving up the hall to complete their missions.


Gedeg blinked as he sprang awake. He was amazed at how refreshed he felt from his mere nap; it was as though he had not slept in a lifetime. Remembering his commander, he turned to face Major 'Bepolee, "Yes, Excellency?"

"Unggoy," the mechanic said patronizingly slow, "Watch my Huragok, and make certain it does not leave the room until it completes its duties. Understand?"

Annoyed, he was careful to keep his emotions in check to answer, "Yes, Excellency."

"Good," the Major affirmed, striding outside to leave him with the savant.

He stood alert until the door slid shut, and then moved to inspect the Huragok. It was a fascinating creature, its many tentacles spread over pieces of Lekgolo armor, reworking its structure on minute levels. He wondered what the augmentations were, what could give solid armor an energy shield. He also wondered why he had never thought about that before. Just too tired, I suppose…

He felt strongly within him that it was a sign from the Forerunners that he should wake so clear-headed on the unit in which an Unggoy was blessed. In his youth, his mother had told him all sorts of grand stories of an Unggoy becoming a great warrior, open to the gods in a way no other Unggoy ever could be. When he had heard Jitji's words, telling him of the Arbiter's forgiveness, his mind had gone to the stories. Not just stories, he knew now.

He felt the Forerunners speak to him in their silent voices, and he knew within him that the story was a prophecy. Jitji was now the Arbiter's own aide, just as the character Rajar became the aide of an Honor Guard. He remembered how Rajar then raised an army of Kig-Yar to assault the Quelni leaders, killing a great enemy of the Covenant. He was sure Jitji would soon lead an Unggoy army against the Humans, and his own alertness was good evidence.

For instance, he found it interesting that the Huragok began its work on the top of the Lekgolo armor, when it had earlier begun work from the bottom of the Arbiter's armor. Why would it do that? he wondered, tilting his head.

After examining it for a moment, he realized it was a different Huragok than the first. This one was a slightly darker shade of pink, and had a different pattern of spots on its gas bladders. That explains it.

He continued to watch the Huragok work. Shielded Lekgolo pairs… That sounded incredibly efficient, and he wondered why none had thought to produce such armor before. Surely not from distrust? While there was clear animosity between the races of Lekgolo and Sangheili, there had been no war for over an Age. Surely the Ministry of Glory would not be so stubborn?

He turned as he heard Major 'Bepolee enter, "Greetings, Excellency."

The Major, of course, refrained from returning a greeting, "I see you managed to follow orders this time, and without falling asleep. I suppose I have that to thank the Forerunners… This Huragok is valuable, Unggoy, for it alone knows how to convert armor. If you had let this savant free, it may have become gravely injured. If it did, I would have to punish you, Unggoy. Not all Unggoy are spared, I assure you…"

Not all blessed… "But what of first Huragok, Excellency?" he interrupted the Major's rant. Realizing how the Sangheili would likely react, he cursed his tongue and took a step back.

However, 'Bepolee paused for a heartbeat, before saying in a firm yet less hostile tone, "Stupid Unggoy! Certainly that is the same Huragok. Why would I trust such a precious secret to two?"

"Me no know, Excellency," he said quickly, hoping to avoid his wrath. "Me think it darker, but me stupid…"

"Quite so," the Major snapped. "Leave me, Unggoy. I have no use for a servant that sees things nonexistent."

He bowed his head in shame, "Yes, Excellency." He quickly left the mechanic's room, and headed toward his pit.

It's not fair, he thought. I was sure it was different… But of course, why would he trust the secret to two Huragok? He wouldn't.

The upgrade was likely critical to their victory over the insurgents. And the Arbiter wears it now, perhaps prompting them to search for its source. He had a brief image of Jiralhanae invading their complex, easily defeating the few guards left behind, and shuddered.

He decided to direct his thoughts to something less troubling, and thought instead about Jitji. He could scarcely believe he had once trusted the rumors that Jitji had been possessed by the Humans' evil, but he started wondering if there really was a threat. Could the Humans take over someone's mind, and make them commit treason? If so, would the person possessed realize it? If not, did that mean that one could do evil while believing they were doing good?

He shivered. Somehow, this line of thought was scarier than the thought of a massacre. He started to focus his thoughts elsewhere, but paused. To run from an enemy is cowardly, and may threaten the whole unit. Perhaps if I turn from this terrifying idea, I may likewise threaten everyone around the Humans. He stopped walking in the center of the corridor, and blinked in an attempt to regain his focus.

There could be one evil who believes he is good… How to recognize such a person? He had no idea. He thought back to the rumor, which claimed that the Humans had exuded an evil wind, one which poisoned the minds of those around them, making them as wicked as they are. He blinked, trying to remember if he had ever heard such a story before.

A Major Sangheili strode into the corridor, and he jumped. Fearing a painful scolding, he quickly began walking once more. Sangheili, yes, the rumor was spread by a Sangheili.

He remembered the proud Special Operations Commander speaking to everyone who would listen to him, bristling with criticism of the Arbiter's choice to keep the Humans as servants. The Arbiter…

He gasped within his mask, and the Sangheili gave him a glance before continuing on his way. Gedeg, however, was too preoccupied to give the matter much thought. The Special Operations Sangheili thought the Arbiter had been possessed! He thought… Gedeg shook his head. This was a chance to figure it out.

Okay, what has the Arbiter done? He brought in two Humans, insisting they be left unharmed; he spared Jitji after he had been declared a traitor… He shook his head again. Jitji's statement that he had done what he did in an attempt to feed all Unggoy at the base had been basically confirmed by the last Unggoy he spoke to before beginning his act of treason, and the Arbiter was able to see his innocence. No, he strongly doubted they were evil.

He paused. Maybe I'm looking at this wrong. If I assume the Arbiter is protecting the Humans for a good reason, perhaps binding them somehow, then… Perhaps it was the one who spread the rumor who was possessed. It made sense that the Humans, unable to touch the Arbiter, would hope to inspire insurrection.

Dizzy, he leaned against the wall. He wondered whether to report his findings to 'Bepolee, but decided against it. I don't really know anything, I merely have theories. Besides, he got mad when I claimed to see a different Huragok, maybe this will drive him to striking me. He winced at the thought.

However, now that he thought about it, he did remember the Sangheili actually calm slightly when he brought it up. Yes, I had interrupted the Major's rant, and then he paused and became calmer before responding. He smiled a bit. Maybe he's kinder than he first appeared! But his more rational side thought, Or maybe he was merely confused.

Or maybe it was the Humans' evil powers? He chuckled at the thought. Now I'm getting silly. Why would the Humans possess Major 'Bepolee?

And then it came to him. The Major had given the Arbiter a new suit of armor with a new type of shielding; were he to have succumbed to the evil wind, he may have well placed a bomb within the armor. Should any question it, he could say it was simply part of the new shielding systems. And after the Arbiter dies, they would question the Huragok that put together the armor, so he… He got rid of the Huragok and replaced it with a darker one.

The pieces were all there, and they made sense. Well then… He was fairly amazed he had actually uncovered a conspiracy, for despite his internal debate the thought of his Commander being a traitor seemed quite alien to him.

I must report this, he thought finally. He slowly began walking toward the nearest shaft, hoping to find Major 'Neporee there.

"The Arbiter has called for us," the Phantom pilot informed its troops. "Be ready to serve."

Akiso Nonu Saba tightened his grip on his shield out of reflex. Yes, of course, combat will soon follow. He had nearly forgotten it, so was he caught in fantasy. Equality was a fine dream, but it was not something to be brought forth from mere discourse. No, any great change required blood to be spilled, for the Jiralhanae surely would not listen to reason.

Sensing his discomfort, his mate whispered to him a Covenant battle hymn. He appreciated the gesture, but would have preferred a Lekgolomila chant. All the same, he willed his singulars to calm as he followed the beat of the song.

However, he felt himself tense once more when the Phantom slowed to a stop. But while one Sangheili stepped over to the storage compartments, the others stood still. It seemed combat was not upon them just yet. Just then, a sudden stench assaulted his senses, and he pulled back his mass head in an attempt to rid himself of such an unpleasant odor. He felt his mate behind him stiffen.

"Mate, do you smell that caustic scent?" she asked rather bluntly, something he could understand given the most uncomfortable circumstance.

"Indeed, Etowo, I do," he replied unnecessarily. He twisted his singulars, hoping to bury the scent within him.

"Akiso, I believe these Sangheili may be greater risks than I first believed," she rumbled worriedly.

The Phantom began to move forward. "Warriors, prepare for combat," the pilot declared.

The Sangheili surged toward the gravity lift, and Etowo whispered her concerns to him. His singulars shivered involuntarily as he felt disturbed by her insights. Yes, even as he would gladly chant to the great pool, he felt an envy that his mate had understood the implications on her own. It was times like this that made him wish he were still female.

Ascension: Chapter 11
Date: 29 August 2010, 8:29 pm

Kiga 'Oimomee eyed the female Human commander across the room with a glimmer of awe. It was a very odd thing, to have a Human present and treated as though it were a member of the Covenant. Not simply a member, but as high in class as the Sangheili themselves. An odd thing, yes, but not necessarily a bad thing.

He looked away from the Human, as he began his routinely check of the holo-pedestal to see if they could contact the battlenet. Not yet.

He stood up and watched the Human once more. This was a creature from nightmares: an unholy menace that could outwit and destroy Covenant fleets and Forerunner relics. Yet now, it was loyal to them. The strange power of Humanity was on their side, but certainly not without their own wicked desires he was sure…

"High Councilor?" the Human asked in its lovely alien tongue, drawing the Sangheili's attention away from his discussion with Ship Master 'Setfethee.

A beautiful creature, he was surprised to find himself think. It bore the smooth, elegant features of a prize female, yet this was contrasted by her shockingly pale skin—the color of death—and flat simian face. Strangely fascinating…

"Yes, what is it, Commander?" the High Councilor responded in a poor attempt at capturing the grace of her speech.

"I wish to speak to the Monitor," she replied authoritatively. Even surrounded by Sangheili, the Human retained a sense of control. "I have some more questions for it."

That she could question the holy Oracle…

"Very well," the High Councilor answered with a simple nod. "You may enter my chambers." Upon hearing cherished information from the Oracle, the High Councilor had bound it to his personal chambers to prevent it from passing into the hands of the enemy.

"Thank you," she acknowledged, stepping through the doorway with all the tempered grace of an Honor Guard. Her escort, a Major Sangheili from the Eternally Faithful, strode swiftly behind her.

Kiga greatly wished he had been assigned that position. To be able to gaze upon a creature of such eerie beauty for subunits at time would be an incredible privilege. In fact… "High Councilor?" he said nervously. "Perhaps you would allow me to accompany them? Two of us would be more secure than–"

"Go," High Councilor 'Lafatee interrupted dismissively.

"Many thanks, Excellency," he said eagerly, moving to join them. Perhaps he could even convince the guard of her elegance…

Commander Miranda Keyes walked through the doorway, her guard trailing behind her. She emerged to see a small room, which was apparently the High Councilor's sleeping quarters, for it contained a large cot. In the center stood what appeared to be a small gravity generator, containing the Monitor in its beam; she stepped over to it.

"Oh, hello," it said, acknowledging her presence.

Is this AI self-aware? she wondered. Might it take offense if I'm not polite? "Hello," she said to be safe. "Tell me about the Ark."

"What would you like to know?" it queried, its center pulsing with blue light.

She paused, thinking about what to ask. "Why is it on Earth?"

"I would assume Earth is the name of the planet it rests upon?" the Monitor asked, and she nodded. "The Ark was sent by the Forerunners to find a planet with sufficient conditions to support the Reclaimers. Upon arriving at its destination, the Ark integrated itself fully into the planet's surface to provide a continuing source of food and shelter to the Reclaimers. Would you be interested in the construction history? It has quite a past."

As the AI spoke, she heard another Elite step into the room and speak to her guard in their own language. While she had led the aliens to believe she could understand none of their language, her implants provided her with an incomplete translation of their discussion. "Marvelous beasts, these humans," the newcomer said.

"No… humans are nothing but filth," her guard said. "Do not let their… grip your mind, and ensnare your eyes… Nothing but sin lies within them."

While she was interested in their conversation, she continued speaking to the Monitor to keep up the façade. "No. Thank you," she added as an afterthought. "What does the term 'Reclaimer' mean?" she asked.

"…It would be mad to even contemplate…" the guard went on as she spoke.

The Monitor simply stared at her for several seconds. Ages longer than any dumb AI would pause. It is self-aware, she decided. Finally, it answered.

"The term 'Reclaimer' is used to describe a host species that has been imbued with the necessary capabilities to perform as successors to the Forerunner legacy." The automation paused before hesitantly asking, "Might I be so bold as to conjecture that the Reclaimers have forgotten their origins?"

"…Within my depths, I feel a longing…" the newcomer was saying.

"You might say that," she answered, her mind reeling as she tried to understand both conversations. Humanity has been altered by a Forerunner ship? "What was it the Ark did to us?"

"Even this pale female bears…" the newcomer was saying rather approvingly.

"Why, it releases minuscule automations designed to seek out suitable hosts. The automations will then redistribute the host species' brain functions to provide efficient means to receive the generational data necessary to achieve Reclaimer status. Would you like to hear about the conversion methods?"

"Sin descends…" the guard hissed.

"No," she shook her head, trying to understand what the AI was saying while still listening to the Elites. "What is this 'generational data'?"

"The generational data contains the neural processes of the Last Pioneers, a group of seven Forerunners holding high administrative positions," the AI said cheerfully. "In order to preserve their existence, the Last Pioneers recorded their memories using an experimental method developed from studying the Flood parasite. If you are indeed without their memories, it appears their attempt has failed."

"…I understand, yet…" the newcomer argued, seemingly in favor of the future alliance.

"What troubles you? Nothing!" the guard snapped.

Miranda paused to absorb this revelation, deciding to focus entirely on her conversation from now on. Forerunner memories implanted among humanity… But, why would I have their memories?

She had not heard of any kind of Forerunner ship reaching Earth, leading her to suspect it had landed in ancient times. Not even ONI could cover up something like that. "When, approximately, did the Ark reach Earth?"

The AI hummed some ancient tune as it thought, "Well, I have managed to look over some of the data I copied from the dirty spacecraft… Hm, Pillar of Autumn, yes. I would speculate that you would prefer the data delivered in the format of the UNSCDF military calendar?" At her acknowledgement, he went on, "I would then speculate that the Ark arrived on your planet in approximately 100,000 BCE."

Yes, quite ancient… she thought. That was upon the dawn of humanity itself. So why…? "If the Ark landed so long ago, why would I have their memories? The average human lifespan is only 113 years, something you should know from the Autumn's data."

"Well, I have not had time to go over the data properly," the AI objected, sounding offended. "The destruction of Installation 04 left me with only secondary power, and I have been since caught up in the relentless politics of these meddlers…" It flashed its light angrily in the direction of the two Elites behind her, still arguing.

"Alright," she said hastily. "I apologize for my rudeness." She had read a transcript of a conversation between the Monitor and Cortana, in which it had reacted very negatively at Cortana's taunts and insults, and it eventually called a group of Sentinels to kill the Spartan with whom Cortana traveled. While the circumstances were quite different, Miranda could see value in not letting the Monitor becoming emotional.

"Hmm, well," the AI said, calming down. "The generational data was not intended for merely its initial host. Indeed, it was designed to transfer through genetic code to be received by all further descendants. It appears that the memories of my creators failed to transfer… Ho hum." It turned slowly to the side, and appeared to stare off into space.

"You speak of racial memory," she recalled the term from her teachings. "A crude scientific theory from the early 1800s suggesting that an animal hardwires knowledge and experiences into its offspring without need for any actual contact or communication. It has been considered erroneous since Darwinian Theory was accepted by the scientific community in 1859."

"Hmm," the AI acknowledged. "Well, genetic memory may well be absent from your biology, but I do assure you it exists in the biology of the Flood. It is in fact that feature that made them so deadly to the Forerunners."

Amazing, she thought, the impact of this discovery finally settling. This certainly explained odd phrases from the transcript that seemed to imply the Monitor believed SPARTAN-117 was a Forerunner with whom it had spoken to earlier. She had once dismissed the phrases as insane ramblings of a Rampant AI near the end of its life, but now she realized it was likely just confused.

100,000 years ago, she thought while trying hard to focus as the Elites' argument grew louder. Near the dawn of humanity, that was when the Ark had landed.

It's not possible…? she began to wonder with a sense of both awe and fear. The dawn of humanity… "Monitor," she began slowly, "Could it be possible that… that the Ark had something to do with the rise of our species?"

"Quite possible," the AI said cheerfully, entirely unaware of the distress this news had to her. "I would estimate, based on the known factors, a 96% chance that…" the AI stopped in mid-sentence, turning to look behind her.

A slight buzz sliced through the air, warning her of an activated energy sword. She turned around, barely in time to see the red Elite charging toward her with a glowing blade. Certain that her time had come, she thanked God for allowing her to witness as much as she had, to have heard the Monitor tell her all this wondrous information…

What God? she then thought hopelessly. The Monitor just said the Forerunners' Ark was responsible for Humanity.

So instead, her thoughts went to her parents. In her mind's eye, she could see her mother and father, alive once more, reading her to sleep. She could hear her father reading Shakespeare, pointing out all the parts with her namesake. And I had really thought we could make this alliance work, she thought sadly, waiting for the end.

The blue Elite jumped in front of her at the last moment, taking most of the blow. However, as the great blade sliced her protector in two, the tips of the sword cut into her chest. And as she fell to the ground screaming in pain, she could think only of the quote: O brave new world that hast such people in it.

Her namesake had been foolish in assuming most foreign people were good-willed, but she had to believe that here there were enough to truly make a difference…

When the Human's scream pierced the air, Gerka 'Setfethee was swift to respond. He entered the High Councilor's quarters to find the assigned guard with a drawn sword, the Minor's body severed in two, and Keezz motionless on the ground with red blood pooling around her form.

"It was not my fault, Ship Master," the traitor stammered. "The pilot fool simply leaped in front of me!"

Assessing the situation, 'Setfethee drew his sword and, without a thought, swiftly severed the traitor's arms. He kicked it to the ground, and removed its hooves to prevent it from running. 'Lafatee then strode in, gaping with astonishment at the gory scene.

The once guard glared at them and ironically screamed, "Traitors!"

"What filth attacked that which was under the protection of a High Councilor?" 'Lafatee asked rhetorically.

"You have violated the sacred laws," the traitor responded. "The Forerunners shall banish your souls to the Shadow World for all time!"

Ignoring the banter, 'Setfethee examined Keezz. Thankfully, she still seemed to be breathing. He activated his local radio, "This is 'Setfethee. I require a medical team in here now!"

"The patient has been fully healed," 'Coduree translated for the Huragok. "…I believe that is what it said."

Unusual that the Huragok do not place greater value on people than machinery in their language, the Arbiter thought, examining the newly repaired armor. Noble 'Cutasee had sacrificed his life to help him contact Noble Message, although he never realized the true value of what he was giving up. The Phantom arrived at a crucial moment, when the Arbiter had been surrounded by enemies.

The second lance, made up of thirteen Special Operations Sangheili, including Commander 'Opskitee, and a Lekgolo pair, swiftly slew the Jiralhanae that had threatened him. With their help, they had secured many corridors (with only two deaths), and captured a Huragok as it travelled between levels.

Fortunately, one of the Sangheili under 'Opskitee had some experience speaking to their kind, and had ordered it to repair his armor. "Fire one shot upon me," the Arbiter ordered. "Aim for a non-critical section." It certainly would not do to go into battle without testing the shields.

"Yes, Excellency," 'Coduree said, raising his rifle.

Soon, a bolt of plasma leaped from the rifle to impact against a body shield one subunit away from the Arbiter's arm. He checked his shield status, and saw its current strength was far greater than his usual armor after being shot. A pink glimmer briefly spread around his body, indicating that it was recharging. "Excellent."

They were merely two corridors away from the bridge. They would seize it, kill the alpha Jiralhanae, and then lock down every entrance on the cruiser to simplify their extermination of the vermin. He reached down and grabbed the mighty hammer from where it lay beside him, and raised it into a battle position. "We advance," he ordered.

"A thought, Excellency?" 'Opskitee interrupted. Without waiting for a response, he continued, "A mere Sangheili-Unggoy pairing is hardly the force necessary to repel a team of Jiralhanae. I propose we task several of our warriors to guarding the gravity lift, for if the Jiralhanae advance at our rear, we may soon become overwhelmed."

"You raise a valid point," he admitted. Despite his dislike for the warrior, he did speak with insight. "However, if our party suffers a major split, we may also be overwhelmed." He turned to the warrior 'Naxasee, "You will enter the launch bay and send out a signal, summoning reinforcements. When these forces arrive, instruct them to provide support to the guards as needed."

"Yes, Excellency," 'Naxasee said with a deep bow, quite eager to serve. The warrior left almost at once, lightly bowing his head as he passed his commander.

Is he eager to serve, or to evade death? he wondered suddenly. Cowardice was a sin, reserved for the lesser races alone. However, if there was only one life to be lived, was seeking to preserve it truly sinful? But if there are no gods, does sin in fact exist? he then countered himself.

Yes, he decided after a moment. Whether or not there was divine punishment, there were some things that would violate morality, such as theft and murder…

And yet you spared Jitji, a voice inside his head sneered. The Unggoy killed several people outside of duty and yet you spared him. Was it a wrong choice? Should he have upheld Council law?

"Arbiter, is something wrong?" 'Coduree asked.

"No, nothing," he replied, shaking his head. I must focus on the task at hand. He tightened his grip on the hammer. "We shall now advance."

Officer 'Gnaulee entered a code into his handheld pad, and the door soon opened to reveal the hall adjacent to the bridge. Inside was a line of seven Kig-Yar crouched behind their shields, followed by a line of four Jiralhanae, their weapons at the ready. Unlike the Jiralhanae pair on the left, one of these pairs wore not a dress he recognized, but a sleek suit of blue armor reminiscent of a that of a Sangheili.

"Kill the reb–" the leftmost Jiralhanae began to shout before the Arbiter fired a blast that sent it and two Kig-Yar flying across the hall, their shields extinguishing.

Its partner let out a bellow as it ran straight at the Arbiter. Several of his warriors fired their plasma salvos upon it, but they could not halt its charge. He swung the hammer at its skull, but the creature managed to partially evade the strike. The hammer crushed the beast's shoulder, but the Jiralhanae's momentum still allowed it to smash into him. Were it not for his enhanced armor, the shield would have been completely wiped out.

Fortunately, the Lekgolo pair, who had remained crouched behind their shields, acted swift and crushed the beast beneath their massive armor. He turned back to the door to see the two remaining Jiralhanae dodging fire while holding up Kig-Yar arm shields; the still-living Kig-Yar struggled futilely to free themselves from their grips.

He charged the hammer, aimed, and fired, killing the Kig-Yar and causing their shields to vaporize. The now vulnerable Jiralhanae dropped their crimson rifles, and unslung grenade launchers from their backs. In close quarters such as these, those weapons could slaughter his warriors. "Sangheili back!" he cried. "Lekgolo forward!"

Quickly vanishing from sight, the Arbiter moved behind the armored giants along with the other Sangheili, also in active camouflage. He whispered commands to the Lekgolo, and they crouched down low and slowly moved forward. When the Jiralhanae began their barrage, the grenades simply bounced off the Lekgolo shields to detonate against the wall, which in turn did nothing to the mighty shields. Indeed, it seemed as though the Jiralhanae had given up, for they soon ceased fire.

However, a strange sound filled the air: whoop-whoop-whoop, and something flew up over the Lekgolo to attach to the ceiling above them. The Arbiter inspected it; it appeared to be a club decorated with spikes, which had penetrated the ceiling's surface to become stuck.

Poor Jiralhanae fools, he thought. Even their club misses.

The club exploded with a barrage of metal spikes, shooting in a conical formation directly into their group. Several of his warriors screamed as they were impaled by the spikes, and the Arbiter ran backwards even as spikes bounced harmlessly off his pink body shield. Then the attack was over and he turned to survey the damage: five of his warriors slain, several more injured.

'Opskitee let out a growl as he removed a spike from his leg, allowing his shield to regenerate.

"What in the name of Prorok…?" the Arbiter swore, trailing off.

"A little gift from the Prophet of Justice," a Jiralhanae called out. "His Eminence has been most generous!"

"Allow us to share!" its partner also called out.


The Arbiter readied his hammer, and when the club rose into sight he opened fire. The gravity distortion blast struck the club, causing it to fly back the way it came to impact upon the far wall. "Hold position," he hissed to the Lekgolo. To his Sangheili warriors he called, "Fall back!"

The club let loose its barrage of spikes, not at them, but toward the Jiralhanae couple. Their screams were most satisfying to hear.

"Are they slain?" warrior 'Ipsosee asked after a moment of silence.

The two Lekgolo colonies began pulsing, and together they rumbled in one voice, more felt than heard, "That the Jiralhanae are dead is certain. No more do their hearts beat. No more do they breathe air. Their bodies now lie silent and still upon the ground."

"Well done, Arbiter," 'Ipsosee congratulated.

"Seal the corridor," he ordered. "Officers 'Ripulee, 'Uhcutee, salvage enemy weapons."

"Yes, Excellency," they said together, obeying at once. The two officers soon gathered arms full of weapons. Several Sangheili traded their drained rifles for the crimson Jiralhanae rifles, and some restocked their grenade belts. However, all chose to discard the weak pistols once carried by Kig-Yar.

"None of the spike weapons remain," 'Ripulee reported. "Both appear to have been once carried by a pair higher in rank than the other."

"It seems some of our fears have been justified," he said. "The High Councilor of Justice has equipped these Jiralhanae with greater weapons than those of other Prophets." This new spike weapon would require him to maintain absolute caution.

As the Sangheili discussed the unknown Jiralhanae grenade, the Nonu Lekgolo spoke rapidly in their subsonic whispers, inaudible to their commanders. "The Jiralhanae are not worthy of our service," Akiso said. "Not only are they brainwashed, they have never preformed M'jakazi…"

"They may be more useful tools than these Sangheili," Etowo argued. "They are greedy and power hungry, something we can use to our advantage. Unlike the Sangheili, who are bound by strict codes of honor and loyalty, Jiralhanae care only about who in their packs has the most power. If we can speak to the Ship Master, perhaps we can appeal to his desire for power."

"Nonu Lekgolo, by the order of Chieftain Cronus, delegate to the Prophet of Justice, you are to stand down. If you refrain from further assisting the Sangheili rebels, you will be spared. Continue to assist these criminals, and you will be slain," the subsonic message repeated through the walls.

"The Arbiter commands the only resistance force – he is essential," Akiso insisted. "They have not preformed M'jakazi. Lekgolomila revolves around the Haramia. Without Haramia, Lekgolojiri has no purpose…"

"Do not forget Kinaya, mate," Etowo reminded him. "After the Quelni were defeated, we reverted to Kinaya. Even though the Sangheili live, we must revert lest we be swallowed whole. We understood once, and we will again! Revert, mate. Revert."

Akiso paused, thinking it over. It seemed foolish to enter a state of Kinaya in combat form, but his mate was usually right. He began the conversion process.

Ship Master Aeson surveyed the display with a scowl. The filthy rebels infiltrated the cruiser and managed to lock down several corridors using high-level security codes. However, he did have a Sangheili. It had left the secured areas by way of an inter-deck junction column, purposefully seeking them out to surrender.

He turned his gaze back onto the prisoner. The Sangheili specifically requested to speak with him, so his guards had stripped it of its clothing and removed both of its arms to make sure it was safe. It now stood weakly in the corner with an escort on each side, begging for him to merely capture its group of rebels.

"What do you think, Consus?" he asked of his bloodmate. Consus had been a faithful ally to him since they were infants and had selflessly protected him through many a scuffle during their adolescence. When he became of age, rather than take a set of wives like himself, Consus chose instead to bind himself to Aeson through a ritual of blood to insure that they would never be separated.

"It gives us a unique opportunity," Consus answered, studying the Sangheili. He thoughtfully stroked the steel collar marking him as a bloodmate. "Should we allow these Sangheili to live, it could convince other rebels to surrender as well. Such things could earn us high praise from the Chieftain. However, one wonders if rank matters so much with the Great Journey so near in sight. I can certainly think of other things to do with it." With a meaningful nod, he gazed at the Sangheili with eyes filled with lust.

As tasty as the Sangheili looked, it was a point to consider. According to the rebel, this group was led by the Arbiter, a very important political figure among the Sangheili. The Arbiter's death at his hands could well inspire them to fight harder than ever, but if he could have the Arbiter announce the superiority of the Jiralhanae on the battlenet… I may become responsible for the quelling of the rebellion.

"I think I shall accept this offer," he said, thoughtfully rapping a claw against his new battle armor, red as a Prophet's blood, one of many gifts from the next Hierarch. He tilted his head to stare into one of the Sangheili's sideways facing eyes, "Tell me again, 'split-jaw,'" he quoted a popular Human insult, "Of this heresy the Arbiter commits."

"The Arbiter h-has accepted two Humans as a-allies," it began, stuttering slightly, perhaps from loss of blood. "He… They, the Humans, they convinced him, a Ship Master, and a High Councilor, that the Great Journey is a lie, and they now intend to declare war upon the Prophets themselves!"

Behind them, his warriors began laughing derisively. "Make war with the Prophets?" said one. "Any creature that has read the Writ of Union knows well that the Prophets cannot be defeated!"

"You of all creatures should know better than to laugh," the Sangheili growled bitterly. "Were it not for the High Prophet of Regret's own defeat, you vile Brutes would still be lolling in the lower districts!"

Roaring, Aeson grabbed onto the bleeding stubs that were once the prisoner's shoulders, and shook it roughly. "You should learn the value of silence!" He drew his spiker and placed the bayonets against its mandibles just lightly enough to feel its sting. "Tell me of the Arbiter's strengths and weaknesses!"

"H-he has the same body shields that Huragok possess," the prisoner mumbled, trying not to press against the blades. It failed, and purple blood dripped down his hand. "And two Lekgolo that may follow his command over my commander's," it added. "And…"

He removed the rifle from its mouth and slashed it across the chest, causing it to cry out in pain. "Yes?" he queried, letting the blood drip off the blades and onto the Sangheili's head. "What else?"

"H-he c-c-carries the F-Fist of Rukt, ah, Excellency," the trembling Sangheili got out.

All Jiralhanae on the bridge gave out a terrific snarl, and Aeson bared his teeth even though it could not be seen behind his battle helmet. Consus, however, did not have any such restriction and furiously growled, "Alpha Chieftain Tartarus has been slain!?"

"Bloody rebels!" cried Navigation Officer Neoptolemus. "Damn them all to the sea of shadow! Ship Master, end this traitor's life!"

Aeson, however, hesitated. If Tartarus was dead, then Cronus would soon become Alpha Chieftain… and making it possible that he would be selected to be the next Chieftain under Justice. If he were responsible for ending the rebellion, it would be certain.

I cannot lose this chance. "No," he said. "We will honor this agreement. If the Arbiter does indeed possess the gravity hammer, then we must fight with heavy infantry."

Understanding, Consus turned back to the Sangheili, "Tell us the names of the Lekgolo!"