Posted By: Dagorath<email@example.com>
Date: 12 July 2005, 2:43 am
The Spec Ops Commander Half-Jaw stared at the Prophet of Truth, juggling his plasma rifles nervously.
"I don't know what's happening, Prophet, but you had a hand in this. The Brutes have never been outright violent against the Elites, but now the Council members have been murdered, and I think I know who did it. It all started when you replaced the Elites with the Brutes as your Honour Guards.
"The Elites have broken away from the Covenant, Truth. You Prophets have lorded it over us for long enough. We're making our own way into the world, and we shall not pay the humans heed any longer. They fought bravely. We bear them no grudge."
"You can't get away with this," said Truth, wringing his hands. "I," and suddenly he stopped wringing, his withered face taking on a more sinister expression, "would like to settle this with you the Elite way, the way of," he said the word as if he had never said it before, "honour".
"Not against me, of course," he said with a smile on his gnarled lips, watching Half-Jaw's eyes glow.
He turned to his Brute Honour Guards. "Lieutenant Interitus," he said, then gestured towards Half-Jaw.
An enormous Brute, towering over Half-Jaw, strode forward. "Yes, Almighty Prophet of Truth, I will remove this threat to the Great Journey and salvation. I am honoured that you have chosen me."
Truth waved his hand dismissively, and then turned back to Half-Jaw. "The Elite way of honour? Single combat?" He laughed. "If Interitus wins, the Elites, Grunts and Hunters are to be re-absorbed into the Covenant, though stripped of their ranks, of course." He smiled. "The Brutes follow the religion properly, and they obey their Prophets. They shall be our escort on the Great Journey."
Half-Jaw stared impenetrably at Truth. "I don't believe in the Great Journey anymore, Prophet. But I will fight willingly, to show that the Elites are still the strongest race."
The Brute Interitus leveled his Brute Shot. The bayonet blade glinted dangerously. Half-Jaw could see something disturbing in the Brute's eyes.
Under the cover of night, the Arbiter, Miranda Keyes and Sergeant Johnson had crept through an opening in the roof into the chamber. Ten metres above the contestants' heads, they watched the proceedings from a ledge on the wall.
"This doesn't look pretty, old man," Johnson whispered.
"It does not matter who wins," muttered the Arbiter. "The two sides will fall upon each other once one of the contestants is defeated of if they sense foul play. The gods know there will be a lot of that today."
"What two sides? I see only Brutes!"
"Half-Jaw no doubt has his Spec Ops Elites hidden somewhere." The Arbiter stared at the humans. "I shall go down and stop this madness."
"You sure you'll make it?" asked Miranda worriedly. "It looks like a long way to fall."
"I am the Arbiter. What can't I do?"
With those cryptic words, the Arbiter jumped down onto the stone floor below.
He smashed onto the stone floor from above, cracking it and surprising both Half-Jaw and Interitus. Within one second, he had rolled several times on the floor and sprung to his feet, appearing behind and to the side of Interitus. A small crater marked where he had hit the ground, but due to his many years of training with the Elite martial art of Nenjitsu, the Arbiter was completely unhurt.
Half-Jaw recovered from his shock at the Arbiter's dramatic entrance first, and gave an almost imperceptible nod toward him, turning his head so very slightly towards Interitus. The meaning was clear. Stab him in the back.
The Arbiter baulked. How could the Spec Ops Commander even consider being so dishonourable?
He stepped forward, warding off each contestant with a hand.
"Halt! Stop this madness! Stop, I say!"
The Prophet of Truth smiled slightly and nodded. "The Arbiter returns," he said mockingly. "You are the instrument of the Prophets. Kill your errant brethren." He pointed at Half-Jaw.
The Arbiter stared at Truth. 'This charade has gone on long enough, Prophet. Activating the Rings will not bring the Great Journey, only death, and an eternity of regret. You have your own reasons for this, Truth."
Half-Jaw gasped. "That is impossible, Arbiter! Surely the Sacred Rings are the only way to the Divine Beyond!"
"No, my brother. We have been cheated; our desire for the Great Journey has overwhelmed our common sense and allowed us to fall for the Prophets' lies."
"I refuse to believe it!"
The Arbiter looked at Half-Jaw sadly. "It is the truth. Take it or go."
Suddenly, he stiffened. Spinning around, he thrust out with his energy sword, which he had ignited in a sudden movement. Interitus had crept up behind him with his Brute Shot while the exchange had taken place. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Truth smile. He had known all along.
"Coward!" he cried. "You attack from behind! The gods' wrath upon you, Brute!"
Interitus only smiled.
Half-Jaw seemed not to have noticed the confrontation. His eyes had a look of bewilderment. "Arbiter, how could they lie so much to us?" he asked in a soft voice. "The Prophets have manipulated the Brutes, but not us, surely?"
The Arbiter stopped, and turned back to Half-Jaw. If he could help Half-Jaw see the truth, he would have a chance of saving the Elite race. "They have, Commander. You are a fool not to believe me."
The Spec Ops Commander's demeanour changed instantly. Before, he was confused and bewildered. Fast as lightning, he was now completely still, his eyes narrowed. He looked as if the Arbiter had just slapped him with the back of his hand.
"What did you call me?" he hissed. His fists tightened on his weapons.
"I called you a fool, Commander!" the Arbiter shouted in a fit of passion. "Why do you refuse to believe me? Come, my brother, there is much work to be done. These heretics can keep walking on their way to eternal damnation." He turned towards the ledge where he had watched the proceedings with the humans, but Miranda and Johnson were nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, Half-Jaw seemed to have forgotten about the Brute Honour Guards, Interitus, and Truth. He seemed only to remember what the Arbiter had called him. His plasma rifles were raised and his face had taken on a raptor's look. He snarled, "You called me a fool, so you must die!"
The Arbiter opened his mandibles, closed them, then opened them again and spoke. As a stark contrast to his earlier fit of passion, his voice was even. "Very well. The Elites can do without such an obstinate fool as you, Half-Jaw."
The Arbiter faced the Spec Ops Commander, energy sword out. The other raised his plasma rifles and bowed low. The Arbiter reciprocated. Both were masters of Nenjitsu, and it was only before mortal combat that they bowed this low. He closed his eyes briefly, asking forgiveness from the gods for having to do away with his mislead comrade.
Before he had finished straightening, however, the Arbiter threw himself to one side, rolling backwards and springing to his feet. The bayonet blade on Interitus's Brute Shot had swept through the air where his back had been moments ago.
"Filthy knave!" he screamed, and slashed madly at Interitus.
The Arbiter calmed down and lowered his blade, moving backwards, to put equal distance between him, Half-Jaw and Interitus. He did not allow his back to face any one of them, for honour might have deserted even the Spec Ops Commander, after telling the Arbiter to stab Interitus in the back at the beginning of this fateful encounter.
Carefully, the Arbiter reached into his belt and drew out the handle of another energy sword. He ignited it and held it in his left hand, pointing it towards Half-Jaw, while the one in his right hand he pointed towards Interitus. His body had gotten into the Nenjitsu fighting pose automatically: one foot forwards, one foot back, arms out, eyes sweeping for any movement.
The Spec Ops Commander's eyes glinted. "So it ends here, Arbiter." There was a touch of sadness in his voice, but all his reason seemed to have been wiped out in his affront at the insult. "I thought you were my friend, or at least my ally. It turns out that you are neither."
The Arbiter made no reply. It was Interitus who broke the electric silence with a harsh laugh, and the Brute Honour Guards jeered with him. Even the Prophet of Truth smiled with delight at seeing the division between the two most important Elites, now that the Council was gone.
Meanwhile, the Arbiter was blocking all distractions from his mind, though out of the corner of his eye, he saw Johnson and Miranda had somehow crept from the ledge onto the floor. He ignored them. With one last look at the night sky through an opening in the roof (so far away, and yet so beautiful), he dropped his gaze back down and prepared to face his destiny.
Overhead, the stars twinkled; forever lovely, forever untouchable.
Author's Note: "Tartarus" means "Hell" and is where Zeus imprisoned the Titans after defeating them. "Interitus" means "danger" in Latin.