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Ascension: Chapter 8
Posted By: Dragonclaws<nogard@gmail.com>
Date: 18 July 2010, 9:05 am

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"Board the Exalted Courier, Jitji," the Arbiter said, nodding over at the Phantom they would use. They stood at the bottom of an entry shaft, preparing for their imminent battle. Unlike the time of their arrival, the surrounding area was brightly lit with several dozen light markers.

"Jahnsen," he began as the Unggoy walked off, "Are you satisfied with your particle beam rifle? We have a good supply of weapons," he added, perhaps inaccurate in his claim, for truly he knew not the store accumulated by these Sangheili.

"I'm good," the Human answered. "All's the same, I'd rather take these Brutes on from a good distance."

He nodded his head in acknowledgement. "At barest, allow us to recharge your rifle to its full capacity," he ordered, carefully dressing his command in the guise of a request. It would not do to anger the brash Human; however, it was necessary to ensure all equipment was fit before engagement. "Tell the Unggoy to power your weapon, and then proceed to board the Phantom," he directed Jahnsen to a cluster of orange-armored Minor Unggoy gathering supplies.

After making sure Jahnsen would indeed follow his instructions, he re-entered the complex to search the armory. Brushing aside the Minor Unggoy praising his presence, he opened the storage crates. Good, he thought, finding the object of his perusal. He crossed back into the shaft and, taking a short gaze around the shaft, strode toward the transport.

"Arbiter?" a voice called from behind.

He stopped, turning to see Major 'Pirztikee, the veteran who had delivered a message from 'Opskitee, holding Tartarus' gravity hammer. "Your hammer, Excellency," he said, holding it out to him.

"No, no," he said, shaking his hand in a refusal. "This hammer is but a prize…" But then it occurred to him the value of such a weapon. This was the Fist of Rukt, a name referencing a Sangheili of legend, one of the first Arbiters, who slew the Quelni. This had been given to Tartarus by the Hierarchs themselves, and it had shown itself to be of considerable strength. He felt his muscles tense as he remembered being struck by the hammer. In my hands, this could be considerably useful. "Thank you, Major," he reconsidered, accepting the weapon.

"I am quite glad to assist, Arbiter," 'Pirztikee said with a bow. "If there is any more I may do to serve you, you need only speak."

He was about to simply dismiss him, when a thought struck him. "Actually, I do require a sniper spotter. Are you qualified?" The question was purely a formality, for all Sangheili higher than Minor were trained to accept any position with ease.

"Indeed, Excellency," the Major replied eagerly.

"Good," he said. "You will join the Human Jahnsen."

For an instant 'Pirztikee's face lapsed into a quick series of emotions, including disgust and outrage, but then it vanished into the carefully controlled expression of a subordinate. "Yes, Excellency," he said with little enthusiasm.

"I shall see you on our Phantom, Exalted Courier," he said as a dismissal. Turning away from 'Pirztikee, he stepped toward the vessel. He ran his hands lightly over the handle, feeling for the thin grooves which would control the hammer's gravity functions. His fingers tingled as he passed a particularly potent line, and he made a mental note to include that path in his strokes. The power of Rukt in the hands of a new Arbiter, he thought with the beginnings of a smile.

Johnson, finally managing to communicate with the timid Grunts, watched as they hooked the alien sniper rifle up to a machine. Is that how they do it?

As far as he knew, the UNSC had not been able to determine how the battery cells of Covenant weapons were recharged or replaced. He hoped his helmet recorder was working, but had no way to check with Covies all around. Alliance or not, he was going to take every opportunity to gather Intel while he could.

"Gun ready, Excellency," a trembling Grunt squeaked in its broken English. Barely able to carry it, two of them offered the particle beam rifle.

Grunting a thanks, he accepted the rifle, and walked over to the dropship indicated by the Arbiter. He hesitated before stepping beneath the Phantom's gravity lift. I don't think I'll ever get used to this alliance, he thought as he rose into its troop bay. Inside was only a white Grunt, standing alert inside a dark strip which spanned the center. From its unsurprised behavior at his presence he assumed it was the traitor, who he had met earlier.

He surveyed the many circles lining the walls, unsure of the Covenant troop placement custom. Because of the obvious anti-human bias, he knew he would likely be placed alongside the Arbiter, and he decided to stand in a circle close to the front. The Grunt stared over at him. "How you doing?" he snapped at it.

The Grunt blinked. "Me well," it squeaked, apparently mistaking his comment for a real question. It continued to stare.

"What, never seen a human before?" he asked, trying to get it to stop. Idiot Grunt.

"Me no…" it paused, apparently trying to find the right words. "No… see human when not fight," it got out.

He made a mental note to avoid using sarcasm when speaking to Grunts – they just can't get it. "Well, let me tell you a little bit about human culture," he said, trying unsuccessfully to not get frustrated. "It's rude to stare at people."

Understanding finally, the Grunt chose to stare down at the floor. About time, he thought. Hearing the grav lift, he turned to see a red-armored veteran Elite rise into the bay. It glared over at him and slowly approached, bowing its head in what he took to be a greeting.

"Johnson," it said in slow, brutal tones. "I am Major…" The Elite said something that sounded to his ears somewhat like 'Omen Peer Sticky.' "I have been assigned to you as a sniper spotter."

No way I'm going to remember that name, he thought, slightly intimidated. He grunted in acknowledgement, "Hm. Well, welcome aboard, 'Sticky.'" That fixes that.

The Elite scowled at having his name mangled, but thankfully said nothing more. It stepped into the adjacent circle, letting out a snort of contempt.

Well, this is fun, he thought sarcastically. No Marine would ever get this uptight after a small joke.

And me, a spotter? He was not a professional sniper. The instructors at the Reach Naval Academy had trained him to be very versatile, able to use whatever weapon he had available, but he did not have the necessary training to be an accomplished sniper. On the other hand, he theorized, perhaps the Arbiter just wants me out of harm's way until a proper treaty can be written. With that in mind, he decided to hold off from objecting.

He turned again as two Hunters rose up the grav lift, and moved to stand in the center with the Grunt. Wrinkling his nose at the smell produced by the big cans of worms, he was grateful to see the Arbiter, along with six Elites, enter the craft. There's been enough awkward conversation.

The Arbiter, hefting the white Brute's immense battle hammer, walked across the length of the Phantom to stand in the circle across from him. "Johnson, Peer Sticky," he nodded to them in turn. "I trust you have become acquainted?"

"Yeah," he started to say, only to be cut off be a terse "Yes, Arbiter," from Sticky. He scowled; clearly the Elite no more liked the notion of their partnership than he did.

"Good," the Arbiter said. "I was unable to convince the High Councilor to produce a body shield for you, Johnson; however, please accept this as a token of my gratitude." He temporarily set down the hammer, and reached a hand over his shoulder to remove an object from his armor, and held it out to him. It was a short, thin strap with a white metal disk protruding from its middle – a Jackal's shield generator.

For a moment he was unable speak his excitement at such an opportunity. How many times had he been driven to great annoyance by the buzzards' shields? How many men had they lost due to their own lack of shields? Eagerly accepting the gift, he strapped it to his forearm as he had seen Jackals wear them.

Curious to see it in action, he jerked his arm, causing the five-foot wide golden shield to abruptly spring out from the disk. He sharply exhaled as he compensated for the new weight, barely managing to hold onto the rifle. "Should come in handy," he remarked, grinning for the first time since the Flood attacked the In Amber Clad.

Aboard the Phantom Noble Message, Eito 'Opskitee stood at attention along with twelve other Special Operations Sangheili, and two Lekgolo relaxing in the center strip. Unlike he with his shining white armor, however, the Sangheili around him wore the lesser black suits of a mere stalking unit. Due to his own superior abilities, he had been assigned control of this unit by the Arbiter. Perhaps he wishes to keep me from educating the mightiest warriors? It matters not, for this wicked spell shall soon be undone.

He shifted his weight as the Noble Message began its ascent, and raised his hand so the others could see. When he was certain all paid heed, he made a gesture to turn off their radio transmitters. Nearly all obeyed his command at once, stroking their helmets to disable the devices. Two simply stared at him perplexed, but, perhaps out of curiosity rather than obedience, eventually relented. The Lekgolo ignored their exchange as their kind always did.

"What is it you wish, Excellency?" one of the officers asked him after it was certain none would hear beyond the troop bay.

"To follow my Oath," he answered diligently. "To assist the Prophets in any way, to ensure one day we will walk the path to godhood together. Does any one of you disagree?"

"Certainly we do not, Excellency," the officer said, puzzled. "Is that not the wish of every member of the Covenant?"

"Tragically, some of us have been deceived by foul spirits," he informed them sorrowfully. "The Arbiter, the blade of the Prophets, has allowed the filthy Humans to whisper in his ear. Our once hero, the embodiment of the Prophets' wishes, has fallen from his grand height and descended into the depths of sin. For the Arbiter does not merely wish to cease our eradication of the Human menace, he indeed intends on committing an unthinkable crime no civilized being would even contemplate: war on the Prophets!"

Every warrior instantly became alert, even the Lekgolo turned in his direction. The worm colonies rarely, if ever, showed any interest into matters outside their own species, and to have these two listening to the truth was surely the sign of a higher being. The Forerunners are on my side, he thought.

Jitji stood silently beside the Lekgolo, waiting for the attack to begin with a hint of nervousness. He had been trained to kill Humans, not Jiralhanae. Before he fled to the Forerunner complex, he had watched a single Jiralhanae kill two Major Sangheili within the span of forty heartbeats. He felt his own heart speed up as he thought about it, and willed himself to relax. I will do the Arbiter no good if I cannot function.

He uncomfortably shifted the fuel rod cannon balanced on his shoulder. While he was glad he had been given perhaps the only weapon effective against such creatures, did it have to be so heavy?

"Hey, Arbiter!" the Human, Jahnsen called out.

He shivered. It was not right keeping a Human aboard, having it behaving like a real person. What is going on? Has the Arbiter really been corrupted by their evil? His first instinct was no, the Sangheili seemed far too calm to be possessed by spirits. Then why does he bring Humans here? he continued to wonder.

"Yes, Jahnsen?" the Arbiter answered, turning his head to regard the creature.

"What's that you said earlier about this Halo's Monitor being held by the Flood?" the Human asked.

Flood, he thought with another shiver. According to the stories swapped by feeding Unggoy, which admittedly tended to stray from the original history, no force had damaged Covenant forces as great as the Parasites at the now lost Halo. Or was that the Demon? The Heretic? He closed his eyes, trying to remember the details.

Regardless, the Parasites were certainly a fierce and plentiful race. Their very presence upon this Halo had been enough to throw the Covenant into chaos. He reopened his eyes as he heard the Arbiter reply.

"Soon after I retrieved the Icon," the mighty Sangheili paused for perhaps ten heartbeats before continuing, "Tartarus took it from me, and then cast me into the great shaft. When I awoke, I was held in the grasp of the Parasite leader, along with the crimson Oracle, the Demon, and the High Prophet of Regret."

"Hold on," Jahnsen interrupted him, "The Flood have a leader?"

Jitji's head spun at the wealth of knowledge the conversation contained. Tartarus betrayed the Arbiter? From what he was told, the Sangheili-Jiralhanae conflict arose when the Jiralhanae, already given the role of honor guard, chose to take control of the High Council, but Tartarus was the High Prophets' own servant. How could a person granted more power than even an Arbiter be capable of committing such a terrible crime? He hastened to listen as the Arbiter responded.

"So it appears," he said. "The creature consisted of massive tentacles, one of which had been reconstructed for use as a mouth. The Parasite spoke to me and the Demon, urging us to stop the Prophets from animating the Sacred Rings, lest we suffer the fate of the Forerunners."

A Parasite leader? he registered the thought with horror. The creatures were terrible enough if they were mindless animals, but a thinking army of Parasites made them far greater than he could have imagined. The creature even sought to inspire heresy in the Arbiter? A true creature of evil. Yet, a part of him wondered if there perhaps was some downside to the Great Journey; he quelled that thought at once.

"Huh," the Human grunted. "What's a Demon?"

A horrible monster that could slaughter hundreds of Covenant warriors without sustaining injury, Jitji thought with a shudder. By that definition, does that mean the Parasites as a race are Demons? he wondered.

I suppose so, he decided. However, I will not refer to them as such before the Council declares them so.

"The Demon is the greatest of your warriors," the Arbiter explained. "I believe his name to be Master Chief."

"'Master Chief' is his rank," the Human corrected him. "The man's designation is Spartan-117. What did the Flood thing want?"

Master Chief Spartan-117… The name seemed to echo through his head. This was the one true danger the Humans presented, a creature perhaps only slayable by a Prophet-blessed warrior.

Maybe this is why the Human is here, he thought, to give valued information. But then, why keep it alongside warriors and not chained in a cell? Maybe if it believes us to be allies, it would give information more readily than if it knew we are enemies? he answered himself. That must be it.

"The Parasite spoke to us of the Prophets' treachery, of leading us to our deaths," the Arbiter continued. "It pronounced us allies and sent us each to a location it believed may have held the Sacred Icon. I was sent to the Control Room; I know not where it sent the Demon. The Master Chief," he corrected himself.

So the Parasite believed it could do greater harm not by killing the Arbiter, but by corrupting his values and sending him against the Covenant… How unusual, and interesting.

"High Charity," said the Major Sangheili standing beside the Human. "Forgive me for listening, Arbiter. In one of the last transmissions sent by the High Prophet of Truth, he is seen attacked by the Demon. However, in the next, there is not even a passing mention of him." He turned to regard the Human, "Sergeant, your warrior was undoubtedly slain by the honor guards."

The Demon slain? Finally this conversation began to seem uplifting. However, something about it bothered him. He pushed the thought aside to figure out later, so he could pay attention to the conversation.

"Maybe so," the Human admitted. "But if he's still alive, we're not leaving without him."

Before any could respond, their radios crackled with the pilot's voice, filled with static yet understandable, "Arbiter, we are approaching the Zealous Missionary."

Patroclus growled at the uplink crate. It had been nearly a unit since the Sangheili uprising had begun, yet there was still no way to access the Covenant battlenet. The Jiralhanae reached for the controls and once more entered the destination code, only to have the machine let out an error beep. Anger filled him, and he grabbed the crate's sides, slamming the four-unit tall uplink crate into the rock wall three units away, careful not to send it over the nearby cliff.

"Be calm," snapped Bracchus. "It will do no good to damage equipment."

The crates have never broken before under such treatment, he thought, but held his tongue. Instead, he ran his claws lightly against his skin, cursing the biting insects which inhabited the Sacred Ring. Only gods are to know what purpose they have. He looked over at Bracchus, who looked as bored as he felt.

They stood upon a small plateau overlooking a canyon, in which the gravity lift of the cruiser Zealous Missionary was placed, with nothing more than an uplink and a storage crate. Due to the supposed threat of Sangheili insurrectionists, they had been posted as guard over the lift's base. Not that there was any point as far as he was concerned, for no dropship could land before being destroyed by the Seraph fighters patrolling the island. Truly, their job was a simple formality, nothing more.

Trying to avoid thoughts of his brothers feasting on Sangheili meat, he turned back to the computer resting inside the purple storage crate, and began to type a command. If he could not contact his brethren for discussion, perhaps he could listen to the last broadcasts downloaded from the local battlenet upon arrival to the system. He grunted with satisfaction as the crate began to play a sermon from the late High Prophet of Regret. May his spirit live in the Divine Beyond, he prayed.

"The Forerunners, our most exalted lords, used the seven Sacred Rings to flee a doomed existence…" the High Prophet's voice played smoothly, undisturbed by the abrasive static which currently plagued communications.

"Patroclus, you lazy fool," Bracchus insulted him. "An Unggoy could be more patient than you!"

"Nonsense, an Unggoy would fall asleep at once or wander off in search of its nipple," he retorted. "Whereas I, as weary as you are, have the decency to activate a sermon so that we may together listen to the holy words of the Prophets."

"Curse your tongue," Bracchus growled. "With it you spin sin into virtue!"

Now this is much more interesting, he thought with a mental smile. He opened his mouth to further antagonize his partner, but stopped as he saw a Phantom dropship drawing close. "Look, Bracchus," he said instead, "Our brothers return." Upon learning how long the ship's repairs would take, many of the high-ranking Jiralhanae took dropships to the mainland to explore the ruins left behind by the Forerunners.

"Good," the other Jiralhanae acknowledged. "Perhaps the ship has been repaired?"

"You assume they are even capable of receiving a beckoning call," he pointed out. If my own uplink fails, why should a Phantom's fair better? Then he frowned; the Phantom, instead of landing beside the main lift, chose instead to perch its lift upon their plateau.

Feeling a trace of unease, he grabbed a grenade launcher from the crate; at his side, Bracchus took and raised a carbine. We must appear as professionals, he reassured himself as the reason for his distress. When the captains see us, we will be praised. He suddenly realized the uplink crate, continuing to replay the sermon, was detrimental to that end.

"Damn machine," he muttered under his breath. He turned to deactivate the console, and soon heard, not the laugh of Bracchus as expected, but the bark of a carbine. Forgetting the crate, he turned around abruptly to see a pair of Lekgolo descending from the lift.

Damn… He slung his grenade launcher over his shoulder, and darted to claim a carbine of his own. Against such a heavily armored foe, one needed a precision weapon.

He raised the weapon, sighted, and fired. The green bolt struck the traitor's armor and simply bounced off. The next instant, however, Bracchus' bolt passed cleanly through the 'neck' of his target. "That one was mine," he growled, as the swarm stumbled.

"Down, fool," Bracchus snapped, ducking behind the uplink crate.

Seeing a green glow fill the air, he threw himself to the ground, letting the discharge pass harmlessly over him. Gazing at the destruction caused by the plasma, he realized just how close he came to death. Even the sturdy uplink crate, all that shielded Bracchus, had taken heavy damage and was unlikely to survive another blast. Fighting these cannons is too risky.

"We'll never win at such a distance," he declared, running toward the enemies fearlessly.

"Stop, you idiot!" Bracchus shouted after him.

The Lekgolo abandoned the use of their cannons at his approach, and lowered their shields defensively. He eyed the sharp spines on their backs with caution, throwing aside the carbine in favor of the grenade launcher; its bayonet would be more useful at close range. The one Bracchus had injured swung its shield at him, and he jumped back and fired a grenade. The grenade passed under the shield, but bounced off the armor to finally detonate against the inside of the shield. He only had time to feel a glimmer of satisfaction as the swarm took a tumble, for he had the second swarm to dodge as it came at him.

He jumped behind the first swarm, and, careful to evade the spines, slammed the grenade launcher's bayonet between layers of armor and into the mass of worms. Orange blood spurted over him as the swarm fell at last. Another vile traitor dead, he thought with pride, when he felt a violent impact crash into him and throw him several units through the air. The other one! He hit the ground with a shuddering thump, feeling his bones crack.

He struggled to stand, ignoring the pain that filled him, and saw the Lekgolo was charging its cannon. He glanced around; he had his back to the cliff, no weapons, and the Lekgolo stood between him and anything useful. May my soul reach the afterlife and rest at the feet of the Prophets, he pleaded to the gods.

Waiting for the Lekgolo to send him there, he was both surprised and delighted when the swarm was hit from behind, causing it to cease charging its weapon. Bless Bracchus! Abandoning the civilized biped stance for the faster quadruped stance, he made a rush for the discarded carbine.

Under the light of the Phantom's gravity lift, the carbine was easy to spot. Grabbing the weapon, he raised it and aimed carefully at the swarm's neck. His finger began to pull the trigger, when he felt something hot land on his left shoulder. He turned his head to see a mass of pulsing blue flames: a hand grenade!

The grenade detonated, sending a shower of plasma over his body. He turned his head to protect his eyes from the blast, but the effort seemed worthless, for beneath the endless pain he found himself unable to move. He could only watch as eight Sangheili descended from the dropship, and proceeded to attack Bracchus. Thankfully he did not have to watch long, for the world around him soon grew dim.