The Arbiter Perspective: Chapter 1
Posted By: Dagorath<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 30 October 2005, 4:27 am
Author's Note: I started this because I thought that using the Arbiter in first person could let me have room to expand his character a lot more. From now on, Halo 2: Defense and Offense will chronicle the Chief's actions and The Arbiter Perspective the Arbiter's.
I felt desolate when they took me down to the antechamber. All my hopes had been destroyed. I had failed my Prophets. I had failed my Covenant.
It was a regular waiting room, designed to make the soon-to-be-interrogated nervous. It was just like any other room, with sliding doors at either end and some seats, all in purple. This might be a room inside someone’s house, or perhaps part of an office.
But I knew better, as did everyone else who sat in this room. This was no waiting room outside the boss’s office. This was the last stop before the Sanctum of the Hierarchs.
My heart beat faster. Try as I might, I could not keep back the sweat now pouring off my head, dripping onto my mandibles. My failure would not be forgiven. There would be no tomorrow. Ever.
In all my years as Ship Master, I had never felt so afraid. Before, whenever I felt danger, and, believe me, I’ve felt it many times, I had always had something to defend myself with, be it an energy sword in my hand, my shield, or fellow Elites. Even in the back-stabbing arena of High Charity’s military, I could subtly hint threats or call on favours. In the Sanctum of the Hierarchs, there is no defense against anything the Prophets can throw at you.
At long last, the door hissed open. Two Honour Guards stepped in. They wore ornate orange armour and wielded two plasma rifles, an energy sword and a long, ceremonial spear. I had always thought their armour foolish-looking.
They pointed their spears at me and waved towards the far door. With heavy feet, I walked through.
The waiting room, in fact one of many, opened onto a wide corridor. On each end was a door, one leading to the Sanctum, the other leading to the rest of the building. As I walked down the corridor, I could see my reflection dimly on the sides. I looked tired and crushed, my golden armour gleaming dully. My head was bowed, as if for combat.
We went through the further door. The Sanctum of the Hierarchs I had been to a few times, either for receiving my orders or as a spectator on the sides. The central dais was familiar to me, as was the further dais, where the Hierarchs sat. More Honour Guards lined the sides, standing completely straight.
A little way from the bottom of the steps to the Prophets’ dais, I could see the Brute Chieftain Tartarus. I had never liked him. Not only because he was not one of the noble Sangheili, but also because he had somehow gained the confidence of the Prophets, especially the Prophet of Truth. How they could trust such an obviously dangerous and treacherous creature I have no idea. He now stood grinning slightly, his silver skin ugly.
Holding my head high, I stepped onto the dais. Before and above me, I could see three Prophets: the Prophet of Mercy on one side and the Prophet of Regret, who was currently on the humans’ homeworld with the uncouth name of “Earth”, as a hologram on the other. I could see the Prophet of Truth’s headdress glinting slightly in the shadows behind them.
“Hail, Ship Master,” said the Prophet of Mercy. His voice was high and mocking.
I knelt and bowed my head. The Hierarchs let me stay like that for a minute, relishing in their power, before saying, “Rise.”
I rose, and they interrogated me on all my doings, from my early campaigns against the rebel Jackals to my command of one of the cruisers that attacked the humans’ planet “Harvest”. Everything was brisk, short, and to the point. I knew very well what event they were working up to, and my heart beat even faster.
“Ship Master,” Regret finally said ominously, with a smile on his withered lips, “recite the true aims of our Covenant.”
“To learn all that we could of the ancients, to purge the Universe of the unbelievers and heretics, and to prove ourselves worthy of the Great Journey,” I chanted tonelessly. We had learnt this at a very early age. I had kept it in my heart, but it suddenly sounded idealistic, weak, frail.
“That is right,” Regret replied. “I believe that you have not upheld these ideals very well. Tell me,” he said, leaning closer, “how many human ships had there been at the Sacred Ring? Twenty? Thirty? A hundred?”
I was ashamed, yet there was also publicity to worry about. Right now, all of the Covenant would be watching, and laughing at my incompetence. The most I could do was improve my image just a little, before the Council had me executed.
“There was only one ship,” I said, trying to sound as emotionless as I could.
The Prophet of Truth pounced unexpectedly from the shadows. “One? Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I replied. “They called it….Pillar of Autumn.”
“Why was it not destroyed, with the rest of their fleet?” Mercy asked remorselessly.
“It fled, as we set fire to their planet,” I said. I could remember the blue fires spreading across the piece of rock they called “Reach”. It brought me pleasure to see their helpless horror, yet glassing enemies did not seem like an honourable notion to me.
“But I followed with all the ships at my command,” I added hopefully.
“When you first saw Halo, were you blinded by its majesty?” Truth asked mockingly.
I had, of course. Even the very best of the Engineers could never create such an awesome machine. It was virtually a planet, and actually worked. Even High Charity could never compare. I had stood a full unit, staring at it. Of course, there was no one to see. A Ship Master worked alone on his bridge. But I could not tell that to the Prophets, could I?
“No!” I replied resolutely.
“Yet the humans were able to evade your ships!” the Prophet of Regret scolded. “Land on the Sacred Ring, and desecrate it with their filthy footsteps!”
“Noble Hierarchs,” I said quickly, sweat beading on my forehead once more, “sure you understand that once the Parasite attacked –“
My voice was drowned out by roars of disapproval from the crowd. I could see the Council did not believe that hordes of the Parasite could keep me from purging every single human on the Sacred Ring. None of them up on the tiers had ever faced such a fearsome enemy, yet they had the cheek to shout me down for my failure. The injustice burned, but there was no way I could speak out against them.
“There will be order in this Council!” Mercy shouted.
“You were right to concentrate your attention on the Flood,” said the Prophet of Truth. He had finally emerged from the shadows. “But this Demon, this ‘Master Chief’….”
“By the time I learnt of the Demon’s intent, there was nothing I could do,” I said heavily.
The Council shouted once more. I dimly thought that the Council had been chosen not for their intelligence or leadership but merely for their large lungs. At least those they used properly.
Behind me, I heard Tartarus chuckle softly, and I briefly considered sinking my armoured fist into his fat face.
Regret leaned to Truth’s ear as the Council shouted. Perhaps he thought that his whisper would be drowned out in the Council’s cries, but Elites’ ears are far more sensitive than Prophet ones. I caught every word. “Prophet of Truth,” he whined. “This has gone on long enough. Make an example of this bungler. The Council demands it!”
Truth silenced him with his hand. The Council had quieted themselves by now. “You are one of our most treasured instruments,” he said softly. I could see that he did not mean one word of it. “Long have you lead your fleet with honour and distinction. But your inability to safeguard Halo was a colossal failure.”
“Nay, it was heresy!” a Minor Prophet on the tiers shouted, shaking his fist.
It was precisely the right thing to get them started again. Any mention of “heresy” and whoever was being interrogated was doomed. Few of these Council members ever prayed much to the gods, yet they defended them with zeal at the merest hint of heresy. The Council shouted once more.
I said the only thing I could. “I will continue my campaign against the humans,” I said loudly over the Council.
“No! You will not,” Truth cut over me. He turned his head slightly to Tartarus, who in turn nodded at two of his Brutes. Their ugly brown armour stood out amid the elegant if foolish armour of the Honour Guards. They approached to grab my arms, but I shook them off. Disgraced as I was, I was not going to let myself be manhandled by Brutes. They were no better than filth.
As I walked towards the exit, the Brutes flanking me but staying at a safe distance, I could hear the Prophet of Truth once more. “Soon the Great Journey shall begin,” he intoned. “But when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay your feet, and you shall be left behind.”
I have no idea how I felt then. From when I was small, I had been taught that the Prophets were our highest religious leaders. This trial showed, however, that they were not a direct conduit to the gods, as I thought. They were mortals, prone to all the evils of mortality. As my despair grew, so did my hate