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Ascension: Chapter 7
Posted By: Dragonclaws<nogard@gmail.com>
Date: 16 July 2010, 8:18 am

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The Arbiter led the Unggoy to the leaders' chambers, feeling apprehensive about his actions. Had he made the correct decision? Protecting the Humans is one thing, but forgiving a traitor? "Now, Unggoy, you are not to repeat anything you hear," he ordered him. "Everything discussed in this room is classified." He slid his hand down a strip of light projected at the side of the threshold, causing the door to slide open.

"Greetings, Arbiter," Commander 'Setfethee bade as he entered. "Are you well rested?"

"Well enough," he answered. "However, my armor could not be fully mended."

"Such I have heard," High Councilor 'Lafatee said with a trace of amusement. "Nearly our entire workforce has been tasked to craft you a new suit, one which appears to be recycled from that of a Special Operations officer."

"I apologize for diverting the unit's resources," he began, only to have the Councilor cut him off.

"Not at all," he said. "If it were not for the Arbiter, we would all be dead now."

Feeling appreciative of the praise received, he turned his attention to the upcoming battle. "Have we achieved the necessary means to engage the Jiralhanae? The Brutes?" he asked, switching to the Human term for their race.

"Yes, Arbiter," 'Setfethee answered. "Commander Keezz has been most helpful; she has provided us with code we may use to disguise our ships."

He noticed the alien shift her balance – what he believed to be a sign of discomfort. Perhaps she dislikes praise, he reasoned. "Promptly after our equipment is prepared, we shall move," he decided. "What is our force comprised of?"

"6 Seraphs, 7 Phantoms, 2 Apparitions," 'Setfethee stated. "Approximately 250 Elites and Grunts, 6 Hunters, and two Humans," he glanced over at them. "I know not what has become of our deployed skirmishers."

Unfortunate numbers, he thought. As for the Humans… "Perhaps it would be wise for Commander Keezz to remain here during the battle," he suggested, looking at her for approval. "Because no true treaty yet exists between our races, it would be most regrettable should the first Human leader to consent fall in battle."

Keezz sighed. "Agreed." She looked at her companion, "Jahnsen, you up for it?"

He straightened, pulling his rifle to his side. "Yes, ma'am." He looked at the hologram depicting their target, before turning to him and asking, "So why can't you call up your buddies and ask for back up?"

"High Charity began polluting the battlenet not long after our struggle began, corrupting our transmissions," 'Setfethee answered for him. "Presumably, no radio signal outside this complex will be received. The Prophets have granted the Brutes many gifts…"

Is that so? The apparent lack of communication between the various Sangheili units he had encountered became clear. Remembering 'Opskitee, he spoke, "Commanders, I believe warrior 'Opskitee to be a vulnerability. Repeatedly has he spoken against me, against the truth. Just now, he came to me claiming this Grunt traitor was a result of my alliance with the Humans." At his side, the Unggoy shifted uncomfortably.

"Officer 'Opskitee is the sole survivor of my elite Special Operations unit," 'Setfethee said, his expression darkening. "Despite his unfaltering obedience to the Oath, he has proved his worth. I will not cast out a loyal warrior simply because he has shown grief after we abandoned our teachings in favor of that which the Oracle has preached."

"Very well," he agreed after a tense moment. "I believe you would understand him better than I."

"Indeed," answered 'Setfethee calmly, but with an intense look in his eyes as he stared at the Arbiter. After a moment he sighed, closing his eyes. "Do inform the Arbiter of the Prophet, High Councilor," he requested, reopening his eyes when he had regained control of his temper.

"Very well," 'Lafatee muttered, obviously annoyed at being ordered by a Ship Master. "The Brutes in control of the Apparition that attacked your Phantom were guardians of the Prophet High Councilor of Justice. In the last four cycles, the Prophet has steadily grown in power and influence. When the High Prophet of Regret was killed, it is probable that Justice sought a place in the Hierarchy. In what was likely an attempt to gain the High Prophet of Truth's favor, Justice presented his Brutes with artifacts forbidden to races outside the Union, specifically the body shield and sword."

Those foul traitors… "The High Prophet of Truth gifted Tartarus with a powerful body shield, one only Jahnsen's particle beam could penetrate," he noted. "Do you suspect our enemies at the Zealous Missionary possess such tools?"

"We simply do not know," 'Lafatee answered. "However, it is, of course, best to be alert."

"Do you not realize?" asked 'Setfethee in a rather condescending tone. "The crimson rifles carried by the Brutes are no doubt the product of the Prophets' influence. Did it simply not strike either of you as unusual that the beasts could create such weapons so soon after the conflict began?"

He looked down at his own rifles, attached magnetically to his hips. He had not even stopped to wonder. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the Unggoy, Jitji, also examining them with the infamous fatigue suffered by all his kind. There is no doubt that his failed task intensified such fatigue. "Jitji," he spoke to the Unggoy, who swiftly looked up at him. "Return to your pit and rest. You can do nothing for me now."

"Yes, Excellency," returned the Unggoy. He wasted no time following his order.

Heading for the pit, Jitji resisted the urge to drop and walk on four legs as was natural for him. I answer to the Arbiter now. I must remain respectable.

He grinned to himself. What a glorious event it had been! He sat waiting for his execution, only to receive mercy. Not only had his life been spared, he had been given a great duty, one he was sure no Unggoy had ever been given.

And his brethren, freed from the bond of food-drink? He would surely have laughed in delight, were it not for the fatigue which clouded his thoughts. He had been more active for longer than he had ever been, and the effects pulled at him.

He paused as his radio spoke up with the Arbiter's voice, "Attention: I have forgiven the Unggoy traitor. He is now my personal servant; treat him with respect." How glorious!

He hurried to pit-1. The Sangheili guard scowled at him as he entered the airlock; clearly he did not appreciate the Arbiter's mercy. He triggered the airlock and smiled as he breathed in the fresh methane. Never had it smelled so sweet. Removing his air-tank, he entered the pit.

What first caught his eye was the missing food-nipple; in its place stood a meat container. He sniffed the air excitedly, breathing in the smell of the roasted flesh. How wonderful, he thought, approaching.

As he moved in, all other Unggoy flinched away from him. He stopped. "Why you hide?"

No one spoke.

"Why?" he asked again. Confusion filled him, alongside despair. Do they still fear me?

After a moment, a Major approached him cautiously. "We hear you bad," he said bluntly. "We hear Humans bring bad spirits, turn you traitor."

"Me not traitor," he denied. "Me work for all Unggoy. Me work to feed us." He gestured at the meat. "Me forgiven by Arbiter. You think Arbiter bad?"

"…Arbiter not bad," the Major decided. "You good." The Unggoy around him relaxed.

"Me Jitji," he introduced himself.

"Me Gedeg," the Major returned. He gestured at the container, "Hungry?"

He smiled and walked over to the container. He picked up a piece and examined it. After turning it over a few times, he realized it was a Kig-Yar forearm. Careful, he placed his mouth over the limb and attempted to use his teeth to scrape the cooked flesh off the bone. Unfortunately, much of it ended up on the ground.

"You learn how," Gedeg comforted him. "Just act like Kig-Yar."

He scooped up the meat. Putting it in his mouth, he carefully ground it with his teeth, and then swallowed. The texture felt strange and the taste was strong, but it was far better than food-drink had ever been. He kept repeating the process, somewhat easier each time, until his hunger was sated. "Thanks, Gedeg," he said. "Me rest now."

"Rest well, Jitji," the Major bade.

He entered his quarters and yawned. It far too long day, he thought, curling up to sleep. Truly, most Unggoy would never spend so long without sleeping even a few moments. He drifted off, thinking of the Arbiter's mercy.

"Behold, Arbiter," 'Bepolee said, unveiling his new armor on a gravity display. Each piece was held aloft so it could be examined from every angle. "Does it meet your Excellency's approval?"

The Arbiter approached the display to appraise it. Although 'Lafatee had indicated it to be altered Special Operations armor, this was not obvious. While the Covenant Special Forces were known for their dresses of shining white or glittering black, this suit was a strong magenta reminiscent of Prophet blood – or at least depictions of it; the Arbiter had never seen such a thing for himself.

Following the second Age of Doubt, all created military armors had the Abiri, symbol of the Great Journey, inscribed between the shoulders with a glowing texture to imitate the cleansing flame of the Sacred Rings. 'Bepolee perhaps did not have such techniques at his disposal, for while the back plate bore the customary Abiri, various other holy symbols had been crudely carved into its visage: the sword along the arms, the seven Sacred Rings (three on each shoulder, one upon the forehead). Yet, what caught his eye was the Kama, the symbol of Union, etched on the chest plate. It was fitting, for he was to create a bold new union in which Sangheili and Humans would join as one. Yes, he thought with a mental smile, this shall serve me well.

"Indeed it does, Major 'Bepolee," he acknowledged. "I shall whisper your name into the ears of leaders." He began to disrobe, first removing his helmet.

"One thing more, Arbiter," the mechanic halted him. He spread his arms to regard the suit with an act of glorification. "I have made some modifications to the shielding, enhancing its durability. Even the strike of a fully charged pistol shall not bring it down!"

"How did a simple mechanic come to learn such crafts?" the Arbiter asked skeptically, wondering if such a thing was even possible.

Abruptly 'Bepolee's demeanor changed; he dropped his arms and gazed at the floor with shame. "Forgive your servant, Excellency. I instructed a Huragok to enrich the body shield with the protective materials given to it by the Prophets. I beg you to consider sparing this unworthy one."

Upon reflex the Arbiter looked upon his display with contempt. To think I would forgive an act so sacrilegious… But of course it was not so.

For the Prophets are the enemy, he reminded himself. With that knowledge, the mechanic's act was most loyal. "Yes," he said, seeing the glorious potential this offered. "I shall indeed spare you. Tell me, Major, can your Huragok apply this enhancement to the shielding of others?"

'Bepolee easily ascended from his groveling state, and looked the Arbiter in the eye. "Yes, holy one. The Huragok can recreate anything they have seen but once."

"Then have your Huragok swiftly see to the shields of the greatest number of warriors, starting with the leaders," he instructed. "While the Huragok works, I wish for you to design body shields for the races of Lekgolo, Unggoy, and Human."

Visibly surprised, the mechanic dipped his head in a bow as he took his leave. "Yes, Arbiter."

Kigu 'Bepolee laughed to himself in delight as he strode towards his workstation. The rumors were indeed true: the Arbiter sought to wage war against the Prophets! Why else would he defy law and Oath so blatantly? Foolish one, he thought. The prophecies held within the Writ of Union make it clear that should the Prophets and Sangheili do battle, none shall be victorious. However, the Arbiter's folly gave him opportunity.

He had installed a device inside the armor that would, upon receiving a seven tone signal he would broadcast, shut down the shields. By their great strength, the Jiralhanae would surely see to the Arbiter's demise. When the true leaders take power, I shall tell them how I deceived the traitor, he thought. I may yet become a Ship Master.

Of course, he would not build any more of the Huragok body shields; he was no heretic. He would merely attempt to design the lawful body shields for the rest of their forces, albeit slowly.

However, I shall not design shields to conform to the structure of the Human filth, he thought vehemently. As for the Huragok he had used to copy the technology? A small computer error would ensure the savant's name be misplaced, allowing it to disappear amongst its brethren.

I am brilliant, he chuckled to himself.

Jitji woke from his most enchanting slumber as he felt an Unggoy shake him. He opened his eyes to see Gedeg.

"Arbiter want you," he was informed. "Soon time to fight."

He lifted himself off the small cot, feeling very refreshed. He turned to dress himself in his subordinate orange armor, only to see it replaced by the gleaming white dress of a Special Operations Unggoy.

"Minor Sangheili bring in while you sleep," Gedeg explained.

Jitji let his eyes travel over the sleek metal surface, taking in every groove. Who would have thought I would ever stand by the feet of the Arbiter? Slowly, savoring the moment, he lifted the garment, and began to dress.

He giggled to himself as he strapped the cool metal to his body… and then froze. What if this was Lamal's? His thoughts went to the tough Unggoy he had sentenced to death by imprisoning him in an airtight methane pit with a Sangheili.

Did his eyes once admire this garment? Did his hands once pull these straps tight? The thought made him queasy. He tried to settle his thoughts as he felt the half-digested Kig-Yar meat threaten to leave his stomach.

"Arbiter waits," Gedeg insisted, bringing him out of his thoughts.

"Yes," he agreed, forcing himself to remain rational. He made his way to the airlock, only to stop as Gedeg called to him. He turned and was shocked to see the Major bowing to him as if he were a Sangheili. "Why you do this?" he asked in bafflement.

"Never Arbiter forgive Unggoy, never take Unggoy as aide," Gedeg explained, still gazing at the floor. "You blessed Unggoy. It honor to know you." As he spoke, all other Unggoy in the pit bowed deep.

Jitji blinked in astonishment. He, the traitor of the Covenant, blessed? It seemed an incredible concept. To be bowed to by his brethren as a delegate of the Arbiter, of the Prophets even.

What to say? 'Thank you?' No, the Arbiter never thanks his followers, he thought. If I truly am as blessed as they think, I must act accordingly… But how? "Farewell, brothers," he said at last, hoping his words were adequate.

"Farewell, Blessed One," Gedeg returned, solemn. He and the others did not cease their display until after Jitji had closed the airlock.

He blinked rapidly, trying to wake up from what was obviously a dream. An Unggoy does not rise from Minor to Blessed in the span of a single unit! But, of course, he did not wake up.

Refusing to think about such confounding things, he strapped on his tank and left the airlock. He ignored the glare from the Sangheili guard, and stepped confidently toward the leaders' quarters. Blessed or not, I am very lucky, he thought with a smile under his mask.

Sergeant Major Avery Johnson tried not to laugh when the Arbiter returned wearing bright pink armor. He knew the Covenant saw the color as fierce and powerful, and yet the sight of one of their most respected leaders emerging in such a getup put an awful strain on him as he fought hard not to giggle. Biting his lip, he turned away to look at his Commander. Her tense expression was enough to calm him down, and he turned back to the Elites with earnestness.

"I believe my new armor to be quite adequate," the Arbiter was saying, spreading his arms to display various decorations.

"It will suffice," the white Elite with the fancy helmet agreed. "It is a pity for the holy armor to have been wrecked; it has been used by the Arbiter since the first age of conversion."

"That was an Arbiter who served only the Prophets," the Arbiter answered. "That Arbiter is now dead, and I stand in his place. It is fitting that I now take on a new form, for which I may serve my race."

The Elite in the helmet (Laflity?) looked at him sharply. "Indeed," he said slowly, as though having come to a realization. "If the Prophets are our enemies… then you have no authority here. As the sole surviving member of the Elite High Council, I shall take control of our coalition. Will you submit to my command?"

The Arbiter visibly tensed and did not answer. Every Elite in the room slid a hand over the rifles attached to their sides. Johnson tightened his grip on the alien sniper rifle, ready should a fight break out. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Commander Keyes' hand move to her needler. He slipped a hand into his grenade pouch and, grasping a plasma grenade, held his finger over the primer. What side are we on, anyway?

Fortunately, no fight occurred. The Arbiter knelt on the ground and declared himself subordinate to Laflity. "Good," the Elite stated, and the room relaxed. Letting out a hissing breath through his teeth, Johnson removed his hand from his pouch. "Now," Laflity began, as the Arbiter stood. "Is there anything you have neglected to inform me?"

"…Yes, Excellency," the Arbiter answered. "The mechanic who created this armor, of his own will, placed within it the superior shielding systems used by the Engineers. I instructed him to provide every one of our warriors with such shielding, including Hunters, Grunts, and humans."

Laflity looked over at him and Commander Keyes distastefully. "Giving humans Prophet technology? Even if we may become allies, I do not wish to freely offer such things." He called to one of the blue Elites, "Minor, do tell this mechanic to cease this foolish task at once."

"Yes, Excellency," the blue Elite said shortly, leaving quickly.

"Now, Arbiter, you will lead the attack on the Zealous Missionary. Take control of the vessel by any means necessary. When you do so, return to this complex to transfer all remaining personnel to the cruiser."

The Arbiter bowed his head respectfully, "Yes, Excellency." He began to turn away, but was halted.

"One thing more, Arbiter," Laflity called. "I will leave the Grunt alone, but do not make further decisions regarding traitors without my consent."

"Yes, Excellency," the Arbiter answered obediently.

Johnson frowned. He understood the Arbiter's desire to relieve his comrades from the unnecessary burdens placed on them by the Prophets, yet he felt the Arbiter's act of promotion given to a recognized traitor to be quite incompetent. A soldier of the UNSC wouldn't be able to commit an act of treason without finding themselves caught in a living death of perpetual comatose. Exactly what the damn bastards deserve…

Jitji waited outside the room where the leaders had gathered. Despite his new 'status,' the guard had insisted he wait for the Arbiter to emerge. He chuckled to himself. Even if I were blessed, Sangheili would never care.

He came to attention as the door slid open. From inside stepped out a Sangheili wearing an unfamiliar suit of armor, the rich pink of Prophet blood. He peered up at the Sangheili curiously. What manner of rank does this symbolize?

Noticing the Halo carved into the helmet, he lowered his eyes away from those of the clearly holy warrior. As he slid his gaze down, a pattern of scars on the Sangheili's chest caught his attention. The marks were quite clearly deliberate, for they made a glyph from the language of the Prophets. Any Sangheili who receives such an honor must surely be a grand warrior…

"Are you ready, Jitji?" asked the Arbiter; for that was, of course, who the mysterious Sangheili was.

The Arbiter has shed his ancient and holy armor? Jitji blinked in surprise. And the glyph… is the Mark of Shame! Embarrassed he was unable to recognize his new leader, he quickly answered, "Yes, Excellency. Me more awake than ever."

And he knew it was true. The small rest had greatly lessened the lingering tiredness inside him, to the point that he felt he could look upon things with a new light. The gray walls of the Forerunner complex now gleamed with hidden details; he studied the small imperfections in the rock-like material with interest.

Such a thing could be quite useful in a battle capacity. A product of the Arbiter's good will, he assumed. Is this a gift given to all who follow the Arbiter? Truly the Prophets are wondrous! …Or perhaps it is a sign I am blessed? He ignored the stray thought, deeming the whole concept ridiculous.

From behind the Arbiter, a Human holding a Kig-Yar rifle stepped forward. He yelped at the sight, and groped for a weapon, but found none attached to his new armor. Such an image was something out of his nightmares.

"Calm yourself," ordered the Arbiter. "This Human is an ally. Indeed, I have trusted Jahnsen with my life, and would do so again."

"Yeah, it's nice to meet you too," the Human mocked in its English. While it may not have fully understood their conversation, it still managed to realize it was being spoken about.

Utterly unsure how to respond, Jitji settled on: "Yes, Excellency."

Eito watched the Arbiter as he and his 'pets' strode off toward the Phantoms. Filthy vermin… It was because of them he had to slip about in secret, merely to speak the truth. It was because of them that the Arbiter, the High Councilor, and the Ship Master all sought war upon their lords.

Soon, he promised. Soon they will all come to their senses. He had already spoken to several people throughout the complex, even the lowly Unggoy, to inform them of the rampant evils brought by the damned beasts. All he had spoken to were quite receptive. Indeed, even should I fall in battle, I have faith in the knowledge that my brethren shall uphold the Prophets before all else.

Soon, the Humans would perish.