Posted By: Cthulhu117<email@example.com>
Date: 1 March 2007, 8:50 pm
Ninth Age of Reclamation
Covenant Prophet-Year 97201
Compromised Quarantine Zone
The High Commander sat still, trying to gain control of the situation. The Jiralhanae had betrayed him. A pity, but the Sangheili could deal with it. The Lekgolo would still be on their side. So would everyone else, for that matter. Unless the Jiralhanae had managed to gain some support, but that seemed unlikely.
That left two problems. How was he going to get back to High Charity? And what exactly was the Arbiter doing?
At least the Arbiter would be back soon. Then, he would take control of the situation, and it would be his problem.
No, he realized suddenly, that Phantom will be the Arbiter's problem. A Phantom could hold nearly two dozen Jiralhanae, not to mention Tartarus. The Arbiter might be able to fight Tartarus, alone, but that many Jiralhanae was suicide for anyone. Half-Jaw privately doubted that even a Lekgolo pair could win in the face of those odds, although it wouldn't do to say that to the Lekgolo.
He opened a channel to the Arbiter, hoping to hear the warrior's voice.
For a second, the sound of the Arbiter's speech did come over the channel. The transmission was unclear, but it seemed that the Arbiter was talking to someone out of his radio's range, saying something like "They will take your head." The transmission broke up, and then cleared to silence. As the High Commander listened, a heavy thump of distortion sounded painfully in his ear.
And then there was nothing.
He frowned. The distortion sounded surprisingly familiar to him. He felt quite sure he had heard it before. He shut his eyes tight and tried to remember the sound. The Fist of Rukt firing a pulse, maybe? If so, that was bad news. The pulse could disorient, and the hammer could certainly finish off a disoriented enemy.
Much as he hoped he was wrong, he had to assume that the Arbiter was either dead or captured.
With a hiss, Tartarus's Phantom swooped low overhead and came about. He snapped into action. If he wanted to take on Tartarus, now was the time to do it. He activated his camouflage, and held still.
The Phantom settled over the snow, setting up a miniature blizzard. For a few seconds, it hung there, then a Jiralhanae Minor dropped out of the gravity lift. It looked over at the corpse of its fellow, and shouted back into the Phantom, "Chieftain, Arthrus is dead! We must search for-"
The knife of Azo 'Sangheilee embedded itself in his left eye before he could finish speaking.
The High Commander was already running as fast as he could, his boots crunching on the packed snow. The Phantom pilot had apparently realized what was happening; the Phantom rotated slowly, and its engines charged. Half-Jaw barely had time to pull the knife free from the Jiralhanae's corpse before he had to leap for the ship's gravity lift.
Miraculously, the lift had not yet disengaged. His leap was aborted by the sudden upsurge of the air beneath him.
He landed gracefully in the middle of about a dozen extremely surprised Jiralhanae.
There was a tremendous amount of noise as the warriors placed grenades into the magazines of their eponymous grenade launchers. However, they hesitated to fire for fear of hitting themselves with ricocheting grenades in the confined space.
The High Commander was under no such obligation. He whipped the knife up and across, slashing a gaping wound across the throat of the Jiralhanae directly in front of him. With a deft flick, he spun the knife around and rapped a second of the apes between the eyes with the pommel, poleaxing it. Dropping to a crouch, he scythed his leg around, trying to knock down as many of the Jiralhanae as he could.
That proved to be a mistake. A Captain slammed its meaty fist down on the base of his skull, nearly stunning him. He spun and snapped a kick into the beast's face, crushing its blunt snout, but the Jiralhanae had made their decision.
In a fraction of a second, the inside of the Phantom was filled by grenades. Explosions deafened Half-Jaw; his shields sparked and faded from the concussive force and shrapnel. The bellows of his enemies, however, assured him that they were no better off.
Something hard and smooth struck him in the face. He grabbed at it, and found it to be one of the modified plasma rifles that the Jiralhanae used. Holding on tightly to the weapon, he fired it wildly. There was no need to aim; wherever he hit, a Jiralhanae was in the way.
The weapon overheated, and foul-smelling, gaseous iron sulfate drifted from under its battery covers. Coughing, the High Commander waved the mephitic vapor away from his face, and waited for the weapon to cool.
As soon as the flow of the gas slowed, he started to fire again. As he did so, however, a powerful hand tore the rifle from his grasp and smashed it into the back of his head. He crumpled, barely conscious, and rolled over to see Tartarus drop the rifle to the deck. The Chieftain seemed to be smiling at him.
As he steeled himself for the blow of the hammer, however, two of the Jiralhanae grabbed him roughly by the arms and hauled him upright.
"What should we do with him, Chieftain?" asked a voice from somewhere behind him.
Half-Jaw looked hard at Tartarus's face. This time, the smile was easily recognizable.
"We continue on upwards, into the upper atmosphere of the ring," the Chieftain said. The dropship's pilot tapped in a couple of commands and barked affirmatively.
"And then?" another voice asked.
"And then," Tartarus said with a faint chuckle, "we open the gravity lift and throw him out."
The High Commander snarled, and managed to burst free of his captors with a draining effort. He lunged for Tartarus's throat, but this time it was the Fist of Rukt that struck him. As he sank into unconsciousness, he heard Tartarus say, "Give him back the dagger. He may as well have something to look at while he falls."
Half-Jaw woke as the cold air began to rush past his face, and immediately cursed. This was the upper atmosphere, all right. It was a long way down; probably, he wouldn't hit the ground for nearly a minute. At least there was nothing to bounce off of.
Or was there? Below him, he saw flashes of purple; Banshees, perhaps? They were tagged as Jiralhanae on his battlenet uplink. He briefly considered the possibility of trying to climb aboard one, and then discarded the idea. Even if he did hit one, he was going fast enough that he'd probably just smash right through-
He stopped dead in midair with an impact that drained his shields completely, crushed some ribs, and very nearly knocked him unconscious again.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, it seemed that he had hit a Banshee square-on. He had landed on the pilot's canopy, crushing it to unrecognizability. The pilot was most likely dead.
With that thought in mind, he ripped the canopy open. It tore clean off its supports and was instantly whipped away by the wind.
The Jiralhanae inside was clearly dead, its spine penetrating the fur in some places, and he tossed it out of the Banshee without a second thought. Now for the hard part: getting the Banshee's anti-gravity drives to start up again. Such an impact had probably knocked some critical objects out of alignment. And if the Banshee couldn't fly, then he was still just falling, only with a higher terminal velocity.
He grabbed the control handles and wrenched at them, trying to stop the Banshee's headlong descent. Nothing happened. He swore again, and hit the engine overcharge. It, too, was offline. He slammed his fist into the control surface, but only sparks greeted him.
Enraged, he grabbed the knife and stabbed it into the control surface of the Banshee.
Without warning, his vision turned bright violet. There was a deafening howling noise emanating from the Banshee's drives, and the control surfaces were shining so brightly that he had to avert his eyes. The light was brightest around the knife, which was producing so much heat he was afraid to remove it. He swung the control handles up, and the Banshee very nearly performed a back-flip. He was going to have to be careful.
It took him several minutes to get the Banshee under control. It was responding with ten times its natural control sensitivity, traveling at near the speed of sound, and seemed to be on the edge of falling apart spontaneously. He managed, eventually, to aim it upspin, towards the control center of Halo: the Shrine of the Consecrations, where the Icon was to be brought to begin the Great Journey. The Sangheili Councilors would be there; he had to warn them about the treachery of the Jiralhanae.
And to do that, he had to cross miles and miles of terrain at a pace normally reserved for Seraph fighter craft. Then he had to fight off the Jiralhanae who impeded his progress, enter the shrine, warn the councilors and find some way out of this mess. Maybe he could appeal to Truth? Exchanging his life for help against the Brutes?
No. There had to be a better way. The Arbiter was gone. He wasn't going to join him.
He was the last surviving child of Dava 'Vansamee.
And if he had to die, he was going to die like one.
He was going to die a hero.
Funny, a voice said in the back of his mind, that's unusually megalomaniacal for you.
"Azathoth?" said the High Commander, so quietly that the Banshee's hum drowned out his words.
Of course not, idiot, the voice berated him. Do you honestly think I'd stick around when you're this close to death?
Half-Jaw blinked twice in quick succession. This was perhaps the most confusing statement he had ever heard.
"So what are you, then?" he said to himself.
Funny you should ask, the voice answered him. I'm you. I'm your clone. I'm your brother. I'm whoever you think I am, because that's the way that my—Azathoth's—creator made me.
"Your creator?" the High Commander asked.
High above him, standing in High Charity's central computer core, a wraith in the dark, untouched chambers, the artificial intelligence shook his head and whispered softly to himself.
Don't blame yourself. I understand.
Then he turned his back on Eraa 'Gamsamee.
They never spoke again.