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Pharaoh by OpeningAct

Pharaoh, Part One
Date: 31 August 2006, 4:10 pm

Pharaoh, Part One


      Desolate, dry and above all hot. Deserts cover about three quarters of it's illustrious borders, the searing heat a constant burden to any creature foolish enough to venture into it's uninhabitable landscape. Rasping winds whistle across the barren expanses, forming colossal dunes of sand to rise and fall like waves in a glorious ocean. Over time, these waves gradually enveloped what was left of ancient Egypt, paving over a long forgotten past; a past in which it ruled the world. Times change however. Now, under the relentless rays of the beating sun, Egypt rots.

      Field Commander Koli 'Norozamee lent on his staff and surveyed the land before him with a cold, hardened stare. The primitive nature of the wasteland sickened him and yet, hidden in it's vast expanses was the greatest glory of them all. The golden promise which the Covenant had long searched for lay beneath his very hooves. He could feel it's raw power surging through his veins, pulsing with the incredible power of the Gods.

      He refused to believe it was a lie. He would continue to stay loyal to the Prophets. The Arbiter was a heretic, nothing more.

      Behind him, seven Jackels trailed in his tracks, trudging through the burning sand. 'Norozamee clicked his mandibles impatiently, leading the way forward up the dune, his father's staff always one step ahead. With black goggles covering his eyes and the rest of his features unmoving, the Elite showed no emotion.

      Two Banshees circled above their heads as they made their way across the sparkling sand. Several klicks south of their position a Human Frigate had been shot down into the desert. Many survivors had escaped the crash before Covenant recovery teams had arrived, and now they hid, scattered across the hazy landscape. While the two aircraft above however were merely scouting the wasteland, 'Norozamee and his team were looking for a particular survivor.

      The climb was arduous, but the group reached the top of the dune as the sun reached it's highest point in the sky. 'Norozamee paused for a moment, crouching down and inspecting the sand, leading the Jackels to believe they had earned a rest only for the Elite to continue on a second later. "This way," he said in a commanding tone, "Not far now."

      The Jackels took 'Norozamee's words lightly – two cycles ago he had said exactly the same thing. Not that they would argue with him. They had heard terrifying stories about the Field Commander. Terrifying stories. Long ago, when he had been a Shipmaster, he had apparently tortured several members of his own crew, to see if they were tough enough for his ship. Several good warriors had died needlessly and he had been stripped of his ship and rank. He was placed in the infantry with the rookies, but there he soon rose through the ranks to become Field Commander and was selected to lead the ground assault on Reach.

      There, he slew four of the Demons and became a legend among the Covenant – an 'Instrument' of the Prophets. But dark stories soon arose from Reach as well. Apparently he had used many of his own troops as a distraction to the Demons, leading them into a trap where 'Norozamee had killed them all - at the cost of every warrior within his command. It was clear to see the mission came first to him, but it was also clear to see that he was a coward.

      The group travelled on, at least twice over the horizon before 'Norozamee stopped once again, dropping down onto the sand. Over the next dune wisps of black smoke rose into the mid-afternoon sky. "Get down," he growled to the Jackels. They immediately complied, diving down into the sand and deactivating their luminous shields. Many units passed before 'Norozamee turned to speak to the lead Jackel. "Take this and be careful," he said passing him his staff, and pulling him in close. "One scratch, and I rip out your throat."

      With the threat still fresh in the air, 'Norozamee carefully slid down the slope of sand before stealthily climbing the next, the billions of granites hardly shifting under his mighty hooves. He reached the top of the dune and lay down on his front, zooming his goggles in on the valley below. The cause of the black smoke was immediately obvious.

      At the end of the valley, a Pelican dropship lay deathly still, it's nose buried deep into the sand. Thick smoke rose from the crash site and a bright orange glow came from within the troop compartment, leading 'Norozamee to believe the innards of the dropship were still burning. The ships crew lay sprawled out in the sand covering the surrounding land with blood, mangled wrecks of their former selves. They were all dead, 'Norozamee was sure of that, but it was one particular crew member which caught his eye, as he was the very human that the Elite had spent the last few cycles tracking - but this wasn't exactly how he'd expected to find him. There, lying face down in the sand, was the Demon.

      He turned and beckoned to the Jackels to move forward to his position, which they did, scurrying across the sand. The lead Jackel offered 'Norozamee back his staff as he stood up and the Elite snatched it back into his arms. "Come," he whispered, brushing himself off.

      Slowly, 'Norozamee made his way down into the valley, the Jackels following nervously in his wake. Steadying himself with his staff, he trudged through the sand towards the burning ship. The whole scene had an eerie feeling – there was something off about it, but what 'Norozamee could not tell.

      The Elite grimaced as he passed the mangled crew, their crippled bodies covered in sand, as the glorious ocean began to envelop them. As he approached the dropship, a rush of heat washed over him, like a blast from a furnace. His black goggles kept his eyes safe from the blaze but the Jackels had to use their forearms to block out the tremendous light. Finally, 'Norozamee stood before the Demon's body.

      Hatred washed over the Elite. This was the Demon. The beast that had delayed the Great Journey, that had destroyed the holy ring. 'Norozamee wondered how a creature so insignificant, could do so much damage. The Prophet's were desperate for his body to be brought before their counsel, but the Elite was tempted to throw him to the fire, such was his rage. He would vent his frustration and tell the Prophet's his body had been crippled on impact. He lifted his hoof above the Demon's visor.

      It was then that he noticed what was wrong.

      While the rest of the dead crew were covered in sand and dust, not a single granite lay upon the shining green armor of the Demon. The crew must have been laying there for hours while the Demon could not have been there for more than five minutes…

      A blur of motion. The Demon came to life, grabbing 'Norozamee's hoof with both hands and twisting his leg until a sickening crunch was heard, sending the Elite sprawling to the ground.

      SPARTAN-104, Frederic, rose from the sand like a deity awakening from a thousand-year slumber, his immense frame casting a massive shadow across the valley as he stood before the burning Pelican.

      The group of Jackels stepped back in unison, fear getting the best of them until the lead Jackel barked his orders. Nervously, they activated their shields and rose their plasma pistols, still backing away. At the command of the lead Jackel, they fired.

      Fred acrobatically leapt to the side, narrowly avoiding the volley of plasma fire. With a jolt of speed he raced towards the group at a run, his legs a blur as he sped across the desert. He reached the first pair of Jackels, and unleashed a mighty roundhouse kick. The aliens closed their eyes, knowing their fate, only for the Fred's foot to miss them by an inch. Instead of striking the Jackels, it had swiped through the pair's shields, instantly deactivating them.

      The Jackels still in shock, the SPARTAN bounded forward to the next alien ripping the shield from it's claws and knocking it's plasma pistol to the floor with astonishing speed before it had a chance to fire. With his other arm, Fred grabbed the other Jackel's shield-bearing wrist, and twisted it until a satisfying crack was heard. With a yelp it collapsed into the sand, writhing in pain, it's shield flashing out of existence.

      The next two Jackels hardly had time to react before Fred barged through them at a run, sending their shields spinning into the sand, deactivating just as their predecessors had before them. Finally the SPARTAN stood before the lead Jackel. With a defiant cry, the alien lifted his plasma pistol, as Fred sped towards him, sand flying in his wake. The green orb at the pistols base grew as it charged. Fred had to move faster. At point blank, a fully charged plasma pistol could do a lot of damage.

      Just as the lead Jackel was about to fire, Fred arrived before him and unleashed a sideways kick, ploughing through shield and Jackel, sending the alien sprawling. In a flash Fred returned to his starting point, and admired the chaos before him. The Jackels all knelt or stood before him, some evidently more injured than others, each one eying him with great fear. The lead Jackel barked orders at them - Fred was amazed it could stand let alone speak after that kick. In unison they charged their plasma pistols. This time they wouldn't miss.

      Gracefully Fred dived into the sand and knelt on the dune, face down. Behind his faceplate, he smiled. "Fire," he said in a deep, baritone voice.

      Gunshots rang out from the sand, echoing across the barren desert. The now unprotected Jackels screeched in pain as the slugs struck their mark, blue blood spraying from the wounds. One by one they fell to the ground to add to the many dead that would soon be washed away by the great ocean.

      Fred surveyed the battlefield with weary eyes. He was so tired of fighting, tired of killing. Behind him, four Marines emerged from the sand in desert-camo gear and stood by Fred's side, their MA2B Rifles held loosely in their arms. Slowly, Fred turned to face them. "Good shooting," he said softly. An odd silence descended as the group watched the sun begin to set on the far horizon. "Do you think they're coming, sir?" One of the Marines asked. Fred looked the young soldier straight in the eyes. "Yes," he replied, "And we need to be ready for them." Fred brushed past them leaving the Marines to watch the sunset.

      Slowly he made his way over back towards the burning Pelican and the Elite. The Elite lay sputtering in the sand but as it saw Fred walk towards it, it struggled to stand up. Fred was too quick however, placing his foot on the alien's neck, pinning him to the floor.

      Wheezing, the Elite laughed maliciously. "You're a fool, Demon. While you wasted your time with the Kig-Yar, I called for help from the Divining Brilliance. They're already on their way." He tried to laugh again but this time little sound came out. Fred smirked behind his faceplate. "You think I'm a fool. Maybe you should of realised that's exactly what I wanted."

      Any amusement displayed on the Elite's face disappeared instantly. Lying in the sand, he stared up into the evening sky and gazed at it's beauty. "Demon, do not waste my time," he coughed, "Kill me now and let me die with honor."

      "I don't think so. If we're going to get out of this desert before night falls, we're going to need you alive - but fortunately for us, not conscious," Fred said, delivering a kick to the Elite's head. It lulled to the side, instantly knocking him out cold. Removing his other foot from the alien's neck, Fred turned to face the Marines, only to find two running at him.

      "Sir, an aircraft just passed our sensors. They're here, sir!" blurted the first man. Fred pondered this for a moment. They were early. "Get me a weapon and then move into position," Fred commanded. The Marines replied with a hearty, "Yes, sir," before speeding away to their duties. Fred watched as the sun simmered on the far horizon deliberating whether to take the plunge and descend beneath the curve of the Earth to initiate the beginning of night. They needed to act fast. If the Marines didn't get out of the desert before night arrived, they would all freeze to death in the sub-zero temperatures. And Fred would not accept any casualties.

      As the twilight of night began to consume the sky, a Covenant Phantom appeared over the top of the dunes, a searchlight scouting the desert ahead. Two Brutes sat in the cockpit as the aircraft shot across the barren wasteland, towards the estimated location of the emergency beacon. The Elite, 'Norozamee, had not been clear in his message. There had been a definite plea for help and a mention of the Demon but not much else. The Covenant hierarchy had decided to send the two Brutes alone to investigate the call.

      As the Phantom flew over the next dune, the pilot sighted the crashed Pelican. The Human dropship also caught the second Brute's eye, the burning flames lighting the night sky. "There. Land there," he commanded in a gruff voice.

      The Phantom's upward thrusters burst into action, pulling up on the aircraft and putting it into a hover. A small gravity lift shot out from the underside of the Phantom, the thin purple beam infusing with the sand. The pair of Brutes lowered themselves into the desert, lifting their heavy Brute Shots taut, and switching on their searchlights.

      Slowly they made their way forward towards the Pelican dropship, their mighty feet ploughing deep into the sand with every step. Suddenly they stopped. Muffled cries could be heard – and they were close. They shone their searchlights towards the source of the sound and laughed. There, bound and gagged was the Elite, 'Norozamee.

      'Norozamee began to struggle, rolling around in the sand, screaming through the gag. The Brute's rushed forward, all humor gone from the situation. They pulled the Elite to his feet and ripped the gag from his face. Immediately he screeched, "They're stealing the Phantom!"

      The Brutes swivelled round and sure enough, Humans were boarding the Covenant dropship, and there, last on board was the Demon. The apes roared, aiming their Brute Shots at the Phantom and firing. The shells did little damage though as the Humans released the dropship from it's hover, before turning awkwardly and taking to the air. With a burst of speed it shot over the next dune and out of sight.

      Fred sat alone at the Phantom's controls in the aircraft's cockpit, his eyes set on the never-ending desert before them. While the Phantom was shooting over the sand at the speed of sound, there always seemed to be one more dune on the horizon. While he was still getting used to flying the dropship, he was surprised at how simple the controls were. With a little training, a child probably could have flown it.

      "SPARTAN-104, what is your status?" a voice barked in his ear. Knocked out of his trance, Fred realised it had been a long while since he'd last contacted command. "Operation is in motion again, Sir. The Covenant were kind enough to give us a ride," Fred replied. "Good news," the other man breathed, "But there's another matter we need to discuss."

      "What's that, Sir?" Fred questioned. There was a pause and Fred could here chatter in the background. The voice that next sounded was different, his accent English. "It seems, that you have created a bit of a stir among the Covenant. Why, a mere mention of yourself in the Crusader's manifesto was enough to get it shot down into the desert. So, we've decided we are to issue you with a codename. For all further communications, you shall be referred to as Pharaoh." The voice finished with a rasp.

      "Understood, Admiral. We're close to the objective. When we reach it I'll call in and update you on our progress," Fred stated, pondering his new codename. It was an odd guise, but he'd get used to it. "Alright," the Admiral responded, "Good luck, Pharaoh."

      Field Commander Koli 'Norozamee stared up at the stars in the Earth's night sky as a second Phantom descended into the desert to pick them up. It lowered it's gravity beam and the two Brutes stepped forward into the purple chute. Immediately they flew upwards and into the dropship's passenger hold. 'Norozamee hobbled forward, supporting himself with his staff, before turning to face the desert.

      Somewhere out there was the demon. And foolishly, 'Norozamee had let him slip through his fingers. But as the Elite stepped into the gravity beam and rose into the Phantom, he realised something.

      The Demon was the real fool here. He'd let 'Norozamee live.