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Ascension: Chapter 1
Posted By: Dragonclaws<nogard@gmail.com>
Date: 7 September 2006, 4:38 am

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"Rrrah!" Tartarus swung his massive battle hammer at him, missing by mere inches. The Arbiter ran backwards, shooting with both of the crimson plasma rifles he had taken from Jiralhanae corpses. The effort seemed futile, for the deadly plasma simply flowed harmlessly off his enemy's enhanced body shield. Overheating, the rifles spilled out plasma, and the Sangheili franticly held them away from his body to allow the plasma to drop to the ground.

Tartarus, seizing his chance, smashed his hammer into the Arbiter's chest. The hammer blew through his body shield and crushed the ancient armor. Tartarus laughed as the Sangheili cried out in pain, his fearsome eyes glowing wickedly in the shadow produced by his own bulk. "So here ends the mighty Arbiter!"

He watched the traitor raise his hammer for the killing blow, preparing for death's claw to rake him in… when a violet particle beam struck his killer's head. The beam, instead of bouncing off the Jiralhanae's shield as the other weapons did, caused Tartarus to jerk in pain. A second shot made him lower his hammer. The third shot completely took out his shield! The Arbiter raised both rifles and shot plasma into the wretched creature. Tartarus roared as the plasma burned through his chest and, with one last cry, he fell.

Without wasting any time, the Human Commander took action, leaping from platform to platform to finally land on the main level. She ran past him to the beam of energy, removing the Icon. The energy beam intensified, and then fired up through the ceiling. After a few seconds, the beam faded away and all was quiet. Did she stop it? The Arbiter rose, ignoring the intense pain in his chest, to approach the Human Commander. He stopped, however, as the console shifted image, becoming a cloud of geometric shapes. The Human Commander studied it as the Oracle floated down to her, carrying the darker Human, the one who wielded the particle beam rifle.

"What's that?" the Human Commander questioned the Oracle.

"A beacon," the Oracle answered simply. The darker Human dropped off onto the platform and joined his Commander.

"What's it doing?" she asked.

"Communicating," answered the Oracle, "At super-luminal speeds, with a frequency of-"

"Communicating with what?" the Human interrupted impatiently.

"The… other installations," the Oracle replied, as though surprised that the Human did not know.

"Show me," the Human commanded.

The Oracle turned to the hologram, interfacing with it. From a storm of geometric shapes, emerged the seven Sacred Rings. He moved in closer, noting that a small red note was attached to one of the Halos, likely noting it was destroyed by the Demon. The Oracle then spoke, breaking the Sangheili out of his thoughts.

"Fail-safe protocol. In the event of unexpected shut-down, the entire system will move to standby status. All remaining platforms are now ready for remote activation."

"Remote activation?" repeated the Human. "From here?"

"Don't be ridiculous," the Oracle said in a patronizing tone. The darker Human moved in angrily.

"Listen, Tinkerbelle," the Human started, moving forward aggresively. "Don't make me…"

The Human Commander grabbed his shoulder and quickly cut him off with a question to the Oracle, "Then where? Where would someone go to activate the other Rings?"

The Oracle looked at them both, apparently baffled at the question. "Why… the Ark… of course," the Oracle finally answered.

"And where, Oracle, is that?" he asked, stepping into the group. The Humans stared up at him, perhaps astonished that he had left them alive.

"Scanning," the Oracle intoned as it turned back to the console. The hologram soon changed into a depiction of the galaxy. "Ark detected," announced the Oracle. The holographic galaxy rose, and a holographic star system took its place. "On the third planet of a planetary system approximately 6,100 light-years from our position."

"My god," the Human Commander said in a quiet voice. "That's…"

"Earth," finished the other Human.

Earth? The Human planet attacked by the High Prophet of Regret? "Oracle," the Arbiter began, "Can the Ark be disabled from here?"

"Certainly not," the Oracle stated, "My creators specifically created the Ark to control the installations. Should there ever be a circumstance where the countdown sequence is disrupted, the Reclaimers would override such infraction from the Ark."

"What are Reclaimers?" the Human Commander asked, making the Oracle turn to stare at her. After a long moment, the Oracle spoke.

"Why… the Reclaimers…" The Oracle indicated the Humans. "You are the Reclaimers," the Oracle said, utterly bewildered.

"Say what?!" cried the dark Human. Jahnsen, was it?

The Oracle looked between the two of them, concerned. "Are you two perhaps… ill?"

"We're fine," the Human Commander began to say, but stopped as a party of Sangheili reinforcements entered the chamber.

Five Special Operations Sangheili in shining white armor, led by a gold-armored Zealot Commander leapt down to the platform one by one, and ran toward the Arbiter. He rubbed his chest where Tartarus's hammer had struck, wincing at the pain. It will be good to get back to the healers. As the team neared, he realized they would see the Humans as hostile, and moved to intercept them.

"Do not harm the Humans," the Arbiter commanded. The Commander raised a hand to stop his subordinates, and then stepped forward himself. The Arbiter realized that this was Gerka 'Setfethee, Ship Master of the Eternally Faithful. Through exceptional battlefield skills, this Sangheili had achieved significant prestige.

'Setfethee bowed his head respectfully and spoke with a bold, clear voice. "Yes, Arbiter, I have heard of your alliance with the Humans." Despite the Commander's carefully neutral tone, he could still hear a disgusted inflection on 'Humans'. "I see you have killed Tartarus. If you have no further business here, I suggest we make our way to our fortification." He disengaged his sword and strapped it to his hip.

The Arbiter began to agree, when he realized he had no true authority over the Humans; their alliance had been a thing of pure necessity. Tartarus would have activated the Sacred Rings and ended all life—they had to ally. Now that Tartarus was dead and the countdown stopped, did that mean they were enemies once more? …Not necessarily, for it was the Prophets who had declared war on the Humans; the Sangheili race should have no quarrel with them.

The Arbiter turned to the Human Commander. "Commander," he began, feeling the eyes of the other Sangheili on him. "I thank you for your assistance. Now I ask you to aid us once more, if you are willing. If we can prevail over the Brutes, I will personally ensure that no Elite will ever harm another Human in the name of the Prophets."

The Arbiter felt the eyes of his fellow Sangheili boring into him. He was not exceptionally skilled at interpreting Human expressions, but he could tell that the Human Commander was equally stunned by his words.

"I'm very glad that you have seen benefits of such collaboration. Thank you for making this choice," the Commander finally said, "I will take any steps towards a peace between our species."

"Heh. You got that right," Jahnsen said.

"Surely this is in jest," one of the SpecOps soldiers snarled in outrage. "For it would be no less than heresy to ally ourselves with the Humans."

"Silence, 'Opskitee!" The Zealot turned to admonish the Sangheili. "This is the Arbiter, the hand of the Prophets; if there is any we can depend on in these violent times, it is him. While I am…" the Commander paused, searching for a proper phrasing, "Surprised by the Arbiter's decision, I will follow his command until death."

The offender was wise enough to know when to stop fighting. He lowered his head in submission. "My apologies, Commander."

The Arbiter felt a burst of pride fill him that almost made him forget his injuries; despite his colossal violation of the Oath, he was being defended by a Ship Master. Of course, it is foolish to place value on such things, he chided himself. Was he not a warrior? The Oracle looked between them, apparently fascinated by the discussion.

"Now then," 'Setfethee said, slipping into a rough English for the Humans' coprehension. "We have wasted enough time here; I suggest we return to the Phantom before the Jiralhanae decide to attack."

Unable to argue with the Commander's logic, the Human Commander ordered the Oracle to return the platform to its original position. Before leaving, the Arbiter lifted Tartarus' battle hammer; he would keep it as a trophy of his victory. They made their way through the debris caused by Jahnsen's Scarab and emerged to the sight of the Scarab itself, stretched out on the control room's front. Its back legs supported it on the ground while its front legs were placed up on the building. While it was an undignified position, he saw no other way for Jahnsen to have entered. Balanced on the Scarab's cannon, Commander 'Setfethee's Phantom waited for their return.

He noticed that the cruiser which once hovered nearby had departed. He hoped Commander 'Vadumee had managed to retake it as he had set out to do. The Sangheili paused on the ledge and took a moment to admire the Forerunners' profound work. He flexed his mandibles, breathing in the cool air, as he gazed at the brilliant landscape before him.

The last few units had been very tough for the Sangheili. After watching the Demon destroy the Sacred Ring, an object he revered beyond all others, he had been declared a heretic and sentenced to public disgrace. He had been tortured for half a unit before being given the Mark of Shame, which would bind his soul to the Shadow World, unable to ascend. When the High Prophet of Truth had offered him the position of Arbiter, how was he to refuse? Death on the battlefield was far preferable to death by execution, and all the better if he would do the work of the Prophets. Additionally, he would receive the honor of having his corpse preserved in the Mausoleum. If he could not go on the Great Journey, then at least he'd have a small piece of immortality.

As the Arbiter, he had killed those who perverted their faith and fought his way through numerous waves of the Parasite, released by the heretics as a weapon. Before he was free of that struggle, he had faced the heretic leader, revealed to be holding the Oracle. The heretic had used a defiled version of holodrones that could cause damage to the Arbiter, while his own attacks did nothing. The Arbiter had managed to corner the heretic and kill him using an Unggoy fuel rod cannon, then dropped the heretics' fortified Forerunner mine into the crushing depths of the gas-planet.

It had been less than a unit before it was announced that another Sacred Ring had been found, but that the High Prophet of Regret had been murdered by the Humans… specifically the Demon. Despite the rage that had filled him, he had remained focused on his task to retrieve the Sacred Icon. He had fought his way through legions of Flood and Enforcers, only to find the Icon locked in a sheath, hovering over a great shaft. If two Humans – the same Humans he now fought with – were not there to retrieve the Icon for him, he knew not what he would have done. After he had secured the Icon, it was taken by Tartarus, who, acting on the orders of the High Prophets, had cast him into the shaft.

His intense descent through the Library made him lapse into sleep. When he awoke, both he and the Demon were in the grasp of the Parasite leader: a massive, tentacled creature. The creature spoke of the Prophets leading them to their deaths; the same words spoken by the Humans and the heretics. He would have disregarded the Parasite's words had he not been betrayed by the Prophets only moments before. The creature then told them that there was time to stop the key from turning, but first they had to find it.

"Fate had us meet as foes, but this ring will make us brothers!" The Parasite had declared, before bending the very fabric of space and sending the Arbiter to a stretch of land not far from the Sacred Ring's control room. As he made his way toward it, the Arbiter had learned that the Jiralhanae race, along with the Kig-Yar and Yanme'e, had begun murdering the Sangheili, Lekgolo and Unggoy of the Covenant, and made up his mind to stop the Hierarchs from finding the path. When Jahnsen commandeered the Scarab and demanded a truce, he had immediately agreed.

Together, they made their way into the control room. There, they had all listened to the truth told by the Oracle. The Arbiter, despite his sorrow, was able to accept the Prophets' betrayal. Tartarus did not, and attempted to have them walk the path to destruction. With the help of the Humans, the Arbiter was able to slay him and stop the Great Journey weapon. Yes, it had been a very long, difficult unit. But now, with the truth known and a new alliance, the Sangheili felt better than he had felt in a long time.

"Arbiter!" beckoned Ship Master 'Setfethee. The Arbiter came to his senses and led the Humans into the Phantom.

Three Sangheili veterans greeted them as they entered. They stared in awe at the Oracle, who hovered around the cabin, commenting on its design. After a moment had gone by, they turned their gazes from the Oracle and looked curiously at the Humans, particularly Jahnsen's particle beam rifle and his Commander holding the Sacred Icon. "Prisoners, Arbiter?" one questioned.

"Allies," the Arbiter said firmly. "I will explain it all when we reach our fortification."

The Sangheili looked as though they wanted to question further, but refrained for politeness. They did trade each other meaningful glances, however.

"Arbiter? Might I speak with you, Arbiter?"

The Arbiter turned to see 'Setfethee standing at the far end of the craft. Excusing himself from the red-armored warriors, he placed his trophy in a weapons compartment and joined the Ship Master.

"Arbiter," the Commander began in a low voice, "Your decision to ally our noble race with the likes of the Humans is not only a breach of the Oath we all swore, but is a true insult to us and our ancestors. Earlier, I supported your words merely to punish the insolent 'Opskitee, but I see it as a blatant attack on everything for which the Covenant stands. I was truthful when I spoke of following you until my death; however, I must warn you that others will not share my viewpoint…" he broke off to look to his left. The Arbiter followed his gaze. The two Humans spoke to each other quietly, while the Sangheili warriors glared at them with hate.

"It could end here," the Ship Master spoke up in a soft yet frantic voice. "The Humans are contained and outmatched. They are armed with merely a Kig-Yar's rifle in a crowded Phantom; they have no prospect of survival. Tartarus is dead, we have the Oracle and the Sacred Icon; there is no longer a need for an alliance. Arbiter, I bid you, let it end here!"

During 'Setfethee's speech, the Arbiter felt all his new sense of pride drain away. "No," he said simply. "The Humans are not our enemies. My decision cannot be swayed." He shared a hard look with the Ship Master.

"Commander 'Setfethee, a word?" buzzed the internal radio. It was the pilot.

'Setfethee glanced toward the cockpit but continued addressing the Arbiter. "Very well, Arbiter. But know the time will come that you will regret your choice." He turned and entered the cockpit.

The Arbiter sighed. So much for my good feeling...