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Temperance and Fury
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 28 November 2005, 4:00 am

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       The biting wind swept his cloak back harshly, exposing his heavy armor to the cold. It frosted immediately, sending a searing pain across his body. He quickly pulled his heated cloak to him once more, carefully wrapping it around him and holding it fast with his gloved hands. He was used to the equatorial tropics to the south where he was born, and where the City of Glory gleamed like a sparkling jewel. This place, nearly at the northern pole of Divine Sera, was dark, forever frozen, and without a doubt the holiest place in the universe.

       At last the temple was within sight, set ominously into the cliff face, ice and snow blurring the lines between metal and rock. A single brilliant beam of blue light extended the length of the massive entrance and well above it, illuminating the top of the canyon and the clouds above. It had been this light that had attracted his ancestors north to this desolate tundra to discover this divine bounty and begin the unification… and the Great Journey.

       He walked up the Sacred Steps, careful to walk between the sets of glowing glyphs that marked his path to the massive doors of the chamber. He climbed with his head bent reverently, and braved the freezing wind for use of his hand which he placed on his forehead as the custom sign of respect. Walking on that which his Forefathers had built was a humbling experience, one that he took seriously, and he made every effort to show he was unworthy.

       When he reached the top the doors opened, parting at the middle with a great rumble, showing the glaring white light within. As he held his hands up the cover his eyes he felt a wave of comforting religious fervor that eased his soul, warmed his cold skin, and cast doubt in his already troubled mind over why he had even come here.

       He strode resolutely through the doors and down the cavernous Chamber of the Gods, passing as he went the fourteen Agnar, the Honor Guard of the Chamber. They stood, seven of either side of him, with their heads bowed and ceremonial spears upright as was proper in a holy place. Their eyes were hidden from the shadows cast by their crimson helmets, though he felt their gaze penetrate his heart, he knew they saw the heresy that had driven him to this measure. But he could no longer keep his feelings within himself, for he knew in all that he was that his dreams were not the normal trappings of an idle mind, but a prophecy from the Gods.

       As he approached the platform at the end of the hall, he began to discern a figure outlined in the great light on the rear wall. It seemed tiny in its setting, hovering just above the floor, over the center of a steeply raised platform. He looked past it for the briefest moment, at the light that brightened the temple, which at first had seemed merely a source of illumination but now revealed itself to be the glowing forms of the Seven Rings. It was a spectacular sight to behold, all the more in knowing that they had shone with the same divine ferocity for one hundred thousand years.

       "You have come before me this day with a burden on your heart, High Priest Salon," the figure on the platform spoke. His voice was deep and encompassing, and echoed in the vastness of the hall, and at the sound of it the visitor immediately came to his knees and bowed his head. "We welcome you to the Chamber of the Gods."

       "I am not worthy, great Prophet of Temperance," Salon said without looking up. "I seek your wise counsel, for I believe that I have been the vessel of the gravest of prophecies."

       "We shall come to that in time, but for now I would have you look at me," the Prophet said generously.

       Salon looked up, and could now clearly see the figure he had traveled to see. He wore the ceremonial blue robes of his status and bore the symbolic Ring on his crown that showed him a High Prophet of the Covenant. His throne was in itself an insignia, for it was made of the metal of the Forerunner and inscribed with their holy articles.

       "You have traveled long and hard to come to me," the Prophet continued, "for as you know any pilgrimage to this place must be done in the manner of our ancestors."

       "I would never think to do otherwise, my liege," Salon responded, affronted by the implied accusation. "I followed in the footsteps of our custom. To do otherwise would sully my message."

       The Prophet held up a hand. "I meant no disrespect, I assure you. I merely wished to convey the gravity of your condition to undertake such a journey, especially now."

       "Indeed, Holy One, I do not come unwarranted, for what I have said I hold true: upon me has been placed the burden of prescient dreams."

       "It is not for the Sangheili to have such visions," Temperance said sternly, his voice having lost some of its detachment. "You tread now on the responsibility of my creed."

       "I mean no disrespect to the Prophets, nor do I claim myself to be one," Salon said slowly, gesturing goodwill. "However, the lucidness and persistence of my dreams compelled me to come here for your edification. I would ask that you hear what they entailed, for I suspect you will find your interest soon aroused."

       "Very well, you may speak," the Prophet said tersely, though his stance had much changed; presently he sat upright in his throne, bent slightly forward, intent on hearing every word. "It is not my prerogative to deny you my audience, though my counsel is another matter."

       Salon bore the warning with a flinch, but continued regardless. "I should say before I begin that my dreams began only after the third quarter revolution of Divine Sera; that is to say they began only when the Holy Ring was destroyed. It is unusual, yes, though I feel it only adds weight to their importance and authenticity of truth."

       "Is that so?" Temperance interrupted, his voice now dangerous and hard. "Take care of what you say, High Priest."

       "Of course, Holy One," he continued resolvedly. He had waited too long to be discouraged by the ego of the Prophet. "My dreams begin in always the same way. I see a blinding light, so intense that my head aches and I am lifted from the reverie that accompanies dreams and so recognize it as one; regardless, I do not wake up. On the contrary, I become more aware, and I see the events not as though part of them as is usual, but as if I am being shown them." He noticed at this point his Prophet shift slightly in his chair, and he knew he had struck a chord. "The light abates, and I see Divine Sera, the Holy City a ruin of its magnificent glory, and the battered corpse of a single Sangheili I do not recognize. I see the wreckage of High Charity, the debris of which swirls in the vacuum of space with the shattered remains of the Great Fleet. I see even the Home World of the humans, untold numbers of their corpses littering the scorched landscape of a planet utterly destroyed."

       "You saw the human Home World?" the Prophet asked curiously. "What makes you say so?"

       "Forgive me, my grace, I spoke in haste. I saw nothing to suggest anything of the sort, and in any case it distracts from the true message of my vision, as you will soon see.

       "The focus of my dream shifts abruptly at this point to Installation 04, and the explosion of the human ship that brought about its ruin, and the rending of the ring thereafter. Here again my perspective changes, and I see once more the aforementioned scenes, though in this reality all three places are unscathed and I see merely the daily business in their respective ways. At this point my dream ends, and I feel… comforted."

       "Comforted in what manner?" Temperance asked questioningly. When Salon remained silent, he asked again, this time harshly. "What instilled in you this feeling of solace, High Priest Salon?"

       Salon breathed heavily and averted his gaze, unable to hold his eyes as he spoke his mind. "I feel relieved in knowing the assured destruction of Halo, Holy One."

       The Agnar's heads snapped up at this, and they all simultaneously rammed the butts of the their spears on the hard metal floor seven times, the harsh clanging echoing foully in the chamber. This task completed, they lowered their heads once more and returned to their accustomed silence.

       Temperance appeared livid when Salon had the courage to look upon him again. "What you say is heresy!" he hissed furiously, his throne hovering slowly towards him. "The Agnar are right to condemn you, Salon. I shall have you cast down from the priesthood, stripped of your status, and branded a Heretic!"

       "That is of course what you must do," Salon said slowly. He had known this to be an inevitability, though it still weighed heavily on his heart and turned his insides to ice. "But this is what I must do. It is within your power, indeed it is your duty, to have me cast from the order, but I have made the pilgrimage and shown all due respect to our ancestors and your order. You are obligated to listen to what I have to say."

       "I have heard it!" the Prophet said angrily, some of his composure having returned. He went back to the height of the podium, apparently finished with his admonishment. "And I have just as soon dismissed it. Such thoughts are not worth entertaining beyond what is required by the Law of our Lords."

       "You would so quickly reject what could not be more clearly a prophecy of the devastation of this galaxy and all who dwell in it? Prove it a fallacy, then, if only for your own sake, for surely these dire times have us all in need of reassurance."

       "I need prove nothing to myself," the Prophet said in fury, slamming his fist onto the armrest of his throne, "and it is a matter of faith that has been established these past millennia. If you would cast all that down for a few inane dreams then you are a fool and entirely worthy of the brand which will soon haunt you to your death."

       "Perhaps, and the validity of your decision is not for me to question. I say only that my visions commenced in correlation with the destruction of Halo, and thus in my mind can not be so easily overlooked. We have neglected too many signs not foretold by our lords, not mentioned in the tablets, and now a sacred ring lies in ruin."

       "Enough!" Temperance shouted, his voice overtaking Salon's. "You will say no more!"

       "No, but I will," Salon countered, knowing he was within full rights to say whatever he pleased, especially now that the threat of banishment had already been appointed. "First we find this new species, akin to our own, whose territory nearly encompasses the first of the Sacred Rings. Of course we had to annihilate them before they discovered Halo without proper enlightenment, though their very existence is a thing not to be taken lightly, for however easy they were to defeat their presence was indicated no where in the texts despite their endangerment of the Great Journey."

       Temperance again gestured him to stop, but Salon was relentless, the thoughts that had tortured him for many nights now spilling forth in a great deluge of heresy. "Then there came the unleashing of the parasite when we were finally able to grace ourselves upon the Sacred Ring once the human fastness fell. Indeed, much of the Halo's design seemed to suggest its greatest purpose was in containing the Flood. Why then were they not mentioned, nor even hinted at, when it is clear the Forerunner were in full knowledge of their existence?"

       "It is neither your place nor mine to question the ways of our Lords," Temperance said enigmatically. "You are wrong, besides. They were indeed suggested in the texts, for did not the Forerunner say many trials must be endured before the cleansing could begin?"

       "They did, my liege, though very nearly did the Flood escape Halo and were but a hair's breath from bringing ruin to the galaxy. Such a trial is unprecedented and would merit, I think, more than an allusion."

       "If the basis of your heresy springs from a lack of understanding in the motives of the Gods then you are truly lunatic indeed," the Prophet spat, and he turned his throne away dismissively.

       "That may be, though the gravest ignorance of the Prophets goes as yet unmentioned," Salon cried, and Temperance slowly and dangerously twisted back to face the Sangheili. "For the Demon that brought about the fall of that which we hold highest bears no discussion in the council!"

       "You go too far! If you have any regard for the fate of your soul you will cease this heresy!"

       "I cannot, for I have plunged ahead so far as to have left my soul long behind," Salon said, and the realization robbed his voice of much of its confidence. He carried on nonetheless. "No where in the texts does it say what should happen if one of the Sacred Rings is destroyed. Indeed the Great Journey may now be undone, and all hope lost."

       "The galaxy is a large place, and the Forerunner placed seven rings so that they could be found," Temperance explained. "The council has already decided this. To find one ring is to find them all, and a second discovery is nigh. We are not worried."

       "Forgive me if the council's accord does not rest my troubled mind," Salon said to which Temperance grumbled angrily, "but you are not the Forerunner. Any agreement you come to on the matter is mere conjecture and merits no more basis than my dreams."

       "The council represents our Lords in their absence," Temperance began, but was soon interrupted.

       "Then tell me, wise one, how it is that you have overlooked so completely the three signs I have mentioned. My visions bear a significance you refuse to acknowledge: what if the Sacred Rings are not what we have made them to be? If so much has gone without prophecy and been so misunderstood, then why not Halo's inherent purpose?"

       "As once a High Priest, you should be well versed in the Holy Texts," Temperance said, a perverse delight in reminding Salon of his banishment lightening his voice. "They said themselves that all they made which at first convinced our ancestors that they were in the presence of the trappings of Gods were but instruments of something much greater. Their ships, weapons, and structures, magnificent, without a doubt, in design, were mere contrivances, vessels for entry into the divine beyond. The material world is nothing; there is only the Great Journey."

       "You are right, I am well versed in the Holy Texts, well enough to know that the Great Journey as described by the Forerunner was not directly related to the making of the Seven Rings. Such was the connection made by our ancestors, and recent events have cast reasonable doubt on their assertions. The Forerunner were of a higher faith, certainly, but I do not believe Halo was their salvation."

       "That is your failing then!" Temperance shouted, his patience gone.

       At this moment, the doors of the temple opened and a figure walked through, brushing a light coat of snow from his own cloak. The Prophet of Temperance smiled as he saw the Sangheili approach.

       "I believe you have overstayed your welcome, Salon, and you have desecrated this holy place beyond what I should have allowed," he said, returning to his impartial tone in the face of his new visitor. "I have given your heresy audience and have judged it to be baseless and a danger to our divine cause. You will leave this place in the manner you came, for if you have any honor left in you then you will not disgrace this most basic tradition of our ancestors, and you will go to the Council of High Charity where you will submit yourself to a disciplinary hearing."

       "If that is your decision then it will be done," Salon said grudgingly, slowly standing up from his knees. "Mark my words, though, Temperance: that which you pursue will be the downfall of all, by either the parasite you refuse to acknowledge or by the cataclysm prophesized by my dreams you will not heed." With these parting words he turned swiftly around and strode away from the Prophet that had been his failing, thus passing the approaching pilgrim who also sought the counsel of Temperance.

       He did not immediately recognize the Sangheili as they passed, though when he stopped to give him the custom greeting one must impart in a holy place his heart seemed to skip a beat. It was the very same Sangheili he saw in his dreams, the single corpse that had lain, bloody and broken, in the ruins of the Holy City. He noticed with surprise and a surge of conviction that the Sangheili also doubled back, his eyes widening as if in recognition, though Salon was sure their meeting had not been in the world of reality. They stood there for a moment, neither able nor willing to speak, until Salon at last gave him the slightest nod, then quickly walked away, leaving the Sangheili standing still, stunned into inaction. Salon dared not linger to witness what was about to be said, for the sacrilege of staying after a sentence had been passed meant death at the hands of the Agnar, though he stole a look behind him just before leaving at the Sangheili striding resolutely towards the Prophet, intent upon his message.

       It was the final sign Salon needed for personal affirmation of his newly held beliefs. His dreams signified more than imagination; Halo was an instrument of destruction, not deification. He knew it now more than he had ever known anything in his life, and in fact did not even feel the loss of his old faith. On the contrary, he felt imbued with a new purpose, one that was far clearer than the conventions he had been forced to live by since his inception into the priesthood. He would fight the Prophets, shake the Covenant to its core, and shine light on the blindness that crippled them all and led them inexorably to their own self-assured annihilation.

       He walked out into the gently falling snow.