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Halo: Forerunner - Section 2 Ch 28
Posted By: Joshua M. Uda<imagine@uvtag.com>
Date: 12 November 2010, 7:33 am

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Section 2


Chapter Twenty-Eight
      A single, weightless strand of silk stretched across the divide, shimmering occasionally as sunlight broke through the lush, green canopy above. The silken bridge was pulled taut above a languid stream, secured on one end to the soft gray bark of a twisting tree root, and held tightly on the other by tiny clawed spinnerets, working busily on the colorful abdomen of an exotic spider.
      The small arachnid had made a daring leap across the water, and was now poised to complete the base line for a new web. It was a perfect location, just above the stream, sure to catch lots of water-born flies in the cool hours of the evening. The spider crawled carefully over a large vine with the anchored line in tow. All eight of its hollow eyes searched the green surface for a good place to secure the silk thread.
      Somewhere far below, the gentle sounds of the brook seemed to distort abruptly. The spider paused, sensing something. It waited and watched, but there was nothing. Satisfied that there were no hungry birds ready to swoop in for an easy meal, the creature returned to its task.
      A swift breeze tugged at the thread, and the spider braced itself, waiting for the wind to die down, but the pulling continued. The line began to distort, bulging in irregular curves before jerking forward. The spider clung desperately to the tether, but was yanked from the vine and began to plummet toward the perilous water below.
      Suddenly the line pulled taut, suspended in midair, seemingly rooted to some invisible anchor point. Eight long legs spread wide as the spider's trajectory altered abruptly, sending the startled creature swinging back beneath the invisible anchor.
      The air hissed with static, and the chitinous arachnid slammed into an invisible plane. Instinctively, it latched its clawed legs to the surface and plunged its fangs downward. The sharp fangs struck something smooth and vanished into a field of distorted air, sinking deeply to deliver potent venom.
      A monstrous groan erupted from nowhere, followed by a loud smack. The spider vanished for a moment and then reappeared, a mess of splattered guts and mangled appendages, twitching erratically in the last throes of death… suspended in the air.
       "Did you see that?" Torun whispered to his brother.
      Halseth did see it, but he didn't answer. He reached over slowly and pushed Torun's head back into the shadowy crevice beneath the large granite boulder that had become their last refuge. Torun's small shoulders started to shake uncontrollably. Tears rolled down his face, but he was careful not to make a sound. He was remarkably brave for a child, but bravery would not be enough, not this time.


      Halseth leaned back against the cold rock wall and pinched at the bridge of his nose. He rubbed his tear glands, trying to wet his eyes, but the blurriness would not fade away. His eyes were dry and overstrained from hours of vigilant watching… searching, but not seeing. There was nothing to see; still, he watched, watched for any telltale signs, watched for ghosts.
      His heart fluttered. He was so tired… how long had it been since he had slept? He couldn't remember. It all seemed like a dream now. He wished he could fall asleep, sleep like Torun. But he had to protect his little brother. Torun was all he had now.
      Halseth looked out from the crevice and scanned the jungle near the stream. The smashed spider had floated off into the trees earlier that morning. At least that ghost was gone. But there were always others, so many more. There was no way to know for sure. It was too hard to see anything now. The sun had dimmed hours ago, fading from white to dark violet. The only other light came from the luminous edges of the horizon that tapered up into the sky and stretched across the darkness, just a narrow band of glimmering silver, reflecting the purple hues of the night sun.
      Halseth turned his weary eyes from the dark shadows and looked to the small body of his little brother, curled up at the bottom of the crevice. Halseth wished he had something warm to put on the boy. Torun's ebony skin was textured with small bumps from the cold night air, and was covered with scratches and abrasions from their panicked flight through the rough foliage of the jungle. Despite his visible discomfort, the boy still slept. "Better to sleep," thought Halseth.
      If he was going to be killed, he would rather die in his sleep, dreaming of something good… but what? He tried to think of something; he closed his eyes and tried to remember a happy memory. He couldn't remember… he knew he had good memories, but all he could think about was the last three days. There was nothing else now. Everything else was a dream. This was his reality now, and he hoped it would end soon.


      Halseth lurched against the rock wall, and slammed his head into the overhanging edge of the crevice. His heart raced, and he struggled to remember where he was. Staccato explosions continued to echo through the tight cavern. The crevice… Ghosts! The disorientation faded, and Halseth looked immediately to the ground. To his relief, Torun was still there, awake, but curled up against the wall with his arms wrapped around his knees. There was terror in his eyes, and he seemed paralyzed. Halseth crawled quickly to his brother's side and pulled him close, holding the boy tightly in his arms.
       "It's going to be alright, Torun," he reassured. "Don't be afraid."
      Another blast rocked the boulder, and dust rained down on the two boys. They coughed and blinked away the sting of sediment in their eyes. One more explosion shook the cavern again. The blast was deafening, followed by a high-pitched ringing that persisted for a moment before fading steadily.
      Little Torun's eyes opened wide, and all of his pent-up fear and emotion erupted in a horrific scream. Halseth tried in vain to silence his brother. The boy clung tightly to his older brother's chest and screamed in terror over and over again, sobbing and crying for his mother. Halseth was overwhelmed and started to cry with his brother. He knew the ghosts would find them now. They would kill him and his brother, just like all the rest.
      He looked to the crevice. It was still night, but he could see the air begin to distort. He screamed louder, overcome with fear. Torun saw it too. He closed his eyes and buried his face in his brother's chest, sobbing and pleading with Halseth to save him. But Halseth knew there was nothing more he could do. It was over.
      The edges of the crevice crumbled and cracked as the distortion expanded into the small cave. Halseth wanted to close his eyes, to look away, but he had no control over his body. He could hear it now, breathing, growling, ready to strike…
      Everything vanished in a blinding flash of light. The cavern resonated with an anguished roar, and then a tremendous weight collapsed on the cowering boys. Halseth felt the wind crushed from his lungs, and he struggled for breath. Everything went dark.


       "In here! Hurry!"
       "Stop! Moriea, come back!"
       "Let go of me! I heard them! They're in here! Nado, let me go!"
       "Just wait! Let me…"
       "No! Nado!"
       "Ahh! Moriea! Stop!"
       "Halseth! Torun! I'm coming! I'm coming!"


      Moriea froze and stared in horror. A single leg protruded from the rock crevice. Purple and blue patterns marked the smooth skin of the limb. It was dead. She stepped cautiously forward, and then began to run as she remembered hearing the terrified screams coming from the crevice. She knew she had heard it; she knew with the certainty that only a mother could have. Those familiar voices could not be mistaken.
       "Moriea! Wait!"


      Lithiel stepped forward instinctively, no longer able to fight her compassion, but a firm hand grasped her shoulder and held her back.
       "No, princess!" whispered Alexandria. "We cannot intervene."
      Lithiel turned to her mentor with anguish in her eyes.
       "I can't, Alexandria," she cried, "I can't… they're children!"
      Alexandria pulled Lithiel to her bosom and held her tightly as the young apprentice sobbed.
       "I know, my dear… I know," she said comfortingly, "but you can. I know you can. We must see it through to the end, or it will all be for nothing."
      Lithiel pulled away and looked to her mentor with disdain.
       "We've learned enough! Forty days! We know how long it takes! Why do we need to let them all die? The test is over, Alexandria…"
       "No, Lithiel," said Alexandria sternly. "No. It is not over. We must see if they can survive. They might still have a chance. You don't know this species like I do. They are surprisingly resilient and resourceful."
      Lithiel looked over to the small group of survivors as they approached the dead Sangheili. They spoke to each other cautiously in rich musical tones accented by clicks and pops as they coordinated their approach. They were a beautiful species, fit and agile, tall and strong, much like any other humanoid species except for their dark skin and their naturally high muscle density, but it wasn't for their physical form that they were selected. It was for their keen intellect, for their creative minds, for their ability to imagine and to invent, to adapt and overcome through the use of tools and the environment. Still, even with all of their advanced technology, with all of their weapons and resources, they had not yet found a way to defeat an invisible enemy.
       "But what if they can't?" pleaded Lithiel.
      Alexandria's face was cold and somber. She looked to the crevice and watched as the woman pulled her small child from the rock. She sobbed with joy and relief, embracing the small boy who was also crying as he clung tightly to his mother. The man finally caught up to her and helped the older boy from the crevice. Alexandria couldn't help but notice the blank expression on the boy's face. The trauma was too much. They tried to speak to him, but he just stared and remained silent. Alexandria took a deep breath and looked back to her young prodigy.
       "They are mortals, princess," she whispered. "Don't you see? They are already dead. If they can't survive, then the Sangheili may never be reseeded… unless… unless you can deprive them of their most remarkable attribute."
      Lithiel looked to the purple and blue corpse of the dead Sangheili, lying near the crevice. Its luminescent blue blood, rich with nitrate, shimmered in streams that trickled through the rocks and grass. The survivors had fled now and were gone. But the air around the corpse began to distort, and Lithiel knew it would not take long for the predators to track their prey. She turned to Alexandria with a look of fierce determination in her eyes.
       "I'll do it!' she said, "but you must end this now!"
      Alexandria smiled.
       "I know you'll do it, Lithiel," she said, "but I won't have you do it if it isn't necessary. We've already made them weaker and slower; we've taken their venom, deprived them of natural weapons, even curbed their aggression as much as possible, but I won't take this from them. It is singularly unique. It is the one thing that defines them among all other life in the galaxy. We will see this through, Lithiel. We must know if the test race can survive."
      Lithiel hadn't listened to a single word. She folded her arms, squinted her eyes, and sent a seething look of disdain burning through Alexandria.
       "It took them four thousand years to populate this entire installation," she said slowly, "eight thousand years to advance to Tier 5! It took forty days!" she shouted, "forty days for the Sangheili to circumnavigate the ring from initiation point, and they have eradicated every major population center along the way! They don't have a chance!"
      Alexandria opened the portal and gestured calmly for Lithiel to follow her out of the sphere.
       "As I said, Lithiel, you don't know them like I do."