The Arbiter Perspective: Chapter 2
Posted By: Dagorath<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 5 November 2005, 3:08 am
New layout :D
They lead me through many passages, a few elevators and out onto a high platform on the building. The wide road was flanked on one half by more Honour Guards. The rest was surrounded by all the races of the Covenant, from jeering Grunts to squawking Jackals to tall, sneering Brutes. I could hear the chants of “Heretic! Heretic!”
There was a shallow depression at the end of the platform. I could see two energy rings hovering above it. As they clamped me to them, I could see many tiers below me, all thronged with more people come to laugh at my failure. But I knew that none of them deserved the right.
I pulled on the rings. Perhaps Tartarus was incompetent enough to leave them loose. Sadly, he was not.
“You’ve drawn quite a crowd,” Tartarus growled at me. I stared resolutely back into his dark eyes.
“If they have come to hear me beg, they shall be disappointed,” I said.
“Are you sure?” he challenged.
Suddenly, I winced. Looking to my hand, I saw that a small flame had ignited near it. The heat started to cook the flesh. Suddenly, the flame burst into a gigantic gout stretching from my sternum to the tips of my fingers. Another one erupted on my other arm.
The flames seared into my flesh. I had never experienced such horrific pain. I gave off a rather pleasant aroma of cooking meat. It sickened me.
As I writhed, I could see Tartarus’s grinning face. And all I could think of was, I must not cry out. I must not cry out.
They left the fire on for a remarkably short time, just long enough to char my armour black. This filled me with apprehension.
My fears were confirmed a while later. While two Brutes stripped me of my armour with relish, running their eyes over the charred metal, Tartarus reached to his right and picked up a long, metal instrument. It was made of some rusted metal. One end was a long, sharp spike, probably to be used to kill me when the torture was over. The other end was an enormous brand, traced with an intricate design. I had seen that design several times before. It was the Mark of Shame. And the brand was glowing red hot.
I watched it with terror. Indeed, there was no defense against the Prophets. I watched as the filthy Brute drove it onto my chest.
Compared to the brand, the flames on my arms before were nothing. The sheer heat of the metal was enough to ignite my skin. It was as though the wrath of the gods had fallen upon me with fire.
I could hold it in no longer. Before the leering Tartarus, I let out a low, mournful wail.
I slipped in and out of consciousness afterwards, for how long I have no idea. All I was aware of was the constant, excruciating pain. It increased rather than decreased as time crawled on. I could feel the slight trembling of Tartarus’s arm as he drove it into me.
Brief snatches of images flashed past my tortured eyes, amid my haze of tears. I saw Tartarus’s face again, then a few Grunts gawking, but most vividly of all, the deep blue eyes of a Prophet.
I fell back into evil dreams….
A human soldier screamed as I sliced his arm off. A hard kick sent him tumbling over the edge of the precipice. But there were more coming. They ran up, headless of their wounds as I fired into their midst. When they came up close, a beheaded them with my energy sword.
I was growing weary. Then, against all hope, a Phantom came flying over. It fired with its plasma cannons, blowing the humans apart. One stray bolt smashed into my chest –
“You are hereby promoted to the rank of Ship Master, after your excellent record on the field,” said Somar ‘Rofadee, member of the Council. He was tall and wrinkled. Walking forwards, he formally presented me with the control globe of one of the cruisers.
I stared at the globe in awe. It pulsed a beautiful blue, like a gentle heart beating. This was the artifact that would allow me to command my ship and crush the heathens.
I did the only thing I could do. Bowing to the ground, I said, “Thank you, Excellency.” And tears gushed from my eyes.
I fairly bounced to the exit. At the moment of my triumph, I was ambushed by two other Elites who had not fitted the criteria. Their energy swords burrowed into my chest, coming out the other side –
I waved the control globe. Five plasma cannons powered up and fired upon the humans’ planet. The entire surface liquefied under the intense heat, then hardened. I knew that if I stood on the surface now, I would be able to see my reflected face on the floor.
Gradually, my eyes opened once more as my mind struggled to thrust aside the veil of darkness. The broad back of Tartarus, hefting his hammer, was striding in front. My feet were not touching the ground, yet I was moving.
I looked to either side. Each of my arms were draped on the shoulders of a Brute. My chest burned like fire. Sweat trickled into the hollow of my chest, where the Mark of Shame could clearly be seen.
“How much further must we heft this baggage?” one of the Brutes growled. “Any cell will do!”
He looked at some grating on the ground. Jackals were jumping around and snarling at my guards. “Why not toss him in with this lot? They could use the meat.”
The other Brute grunted. “What about us? My belly aches!” He looked at me hungrily. “His flesh is seared just the way I like it,” he sneered.
“Quiet!” came the deep voice of Tartarus. “You two whimper like Grunts just off the teat! He’s not meant for the jails. The Hierarchs have something ‘special’ in mind.”
He placed his palm on a door in front, which glowed and opened. I could see a long walkway, lined with Honour Guards, which terminated in another door.
The Brutes lugged me past their silent ranks. I could see the Brutes’ jealous eyes.
We went through the second door. Before us was a single light, behind which was a large case of some kind hanging off the ceiling by a metal arm. To the right of the case were two Prophets.
“Noble Prophets of Truth and Mercy,” said Tartarus, kneeling on one knee. The two Brutes followed suit. “I have brought the incompetent.”
“You may leave, Tartarus,” came Truth’s voice.
“But, I thought –“
“And take your Brutes with you.” Truth waved lethargically.
Tartarus hesitated for a second before bowing his head in compliance and muttering, “Release the prisoner.” I flopped to the ground.
The Brutes walked past me without a backward glance. I did not get up, merely stayed on my hands and knees.
“The Council decided to have you hung by your entrails and your corpse paraded through the streets,” Truth said lightly, as though discussing this over the dinner table. “But ultimately the terms of your execution are up to me.” He smiled.
“I am already dead,” I said shamefully, holding my hand to the Mark.
“Indeed,” he replied. “Do you know where we are?”
“The Mausoleum of the Arbiter,” I said.
“Quite so. Here rest the vanguard of the Great Journey. Every Arbiter from first to last. Each one conceived and consumed in times of extraordinary crisis.”
“The Taming of the Hunters, the Grunt Rebellion,” came Mercy’s voice. “If not for the Arbiters, the Covenant would have broken up long ago!” He thumped his small, withered fist on the arm of his hovering chair.
“Even on my knees I do not belong in their presence,” I said softly.
“Halo’s destruction was your error” – here I raised my head slightly – “and you rightly bear the blame. But the Council was….overzealous. We know you are no heretic.” He smiled once more. “This is the true face of heresy.” A hologram of an Elite appeared on the left arm of Truth’s chair. “One who would subvert our faith and incite rebellion against the High Council.”
“Our Prophets are false!” the hologram shouted. “Open your eyes, my brothers! They would use the faith of our forefathers to bring ruin to us all! The Great Journey is –“
Truth deactivated the hologram. “This heretic, and those who follow him, must be silenced.”
“Their slander offends all who walk the Path!” Mercy exclaimed gleefully.
“What use am I?” I asked, my head bowed. “I can no longer command ships, lead troops into battle –“ My hand still covered the Mark.
“Not as you are,” Truth agreed softly. “But become the Arbiter…. And you shall be set loose against this heresy, with our blessing.”
I raised my head and stared in amazement. Me? Become the Arbiter? My shame at allowing myself even the slightest hope of achieving this goal crushed me to the ground, yet the spark of hope could not be quenched. I watched in astonishment as the case moved down to ground level.
The front flap of the case lowered onto the ground, and the seal within cracked open. On a backdrop of bright light, I could see an ornate set of armour, a silver helmet. Light shone through the eye holes, as though all of the previous Arbiters watched me through them. I gasped involuntarily. The majestic figure looked as though it could defy anything. It looked invincible.
“What of the Council?” I asked with a sudden thrill of fear.
“The tasks you must undertake as the Arbiter are perilous, suicidal,” said Mercy. “You will die, as each Arbiter has before you. The Council will have their corpse.”
Slowly I rose, and padded softly towards the case. I looked upwards at that mighty armour, standing upright before me, seeing the weight of all the previous Arbiters’ expectations. How could I even dare to touch any part of that sacred armour?
But what else could I do? If I did not take the offer, I would simply be executed, without pomp, without ceremony. Gone. Goodbye.
But become the Arbiter…. The Arbiter was the impossible dream of every Elite. And here was the opportunity to better even the greatest of the Arbiters’ achievements! Sheer arrogance drove me on to reach out and grasp the helmet.
I placed it on my head, and I looked towards the Prophets.
“What would you have your Arbiter do?” I asked.