Halo: Forerunner - Section 2 Ch 31-32
Posted By: Joshua M. Uda<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 2 December 2010, 11:58 pm
"You're plan is NOT WORKING!" screamed Bayano as he dodged another blast of orange light.
"Hold still!" shouted Nado. "You keep moving too soon!"
"I keep moving
," Bayano shouted back angrily as he dove to another pillar for cover and took aim with his sidearm, "because I do not want to DIE!"
With that, he fired off a deafening salvo from the weapon, obliterating the pursuing sentinel with a hailstorm of metal shards.
"STOP destroying them!" Nado hollered across the chamber. "We need to capture one!"
Nado hopped down from his hiding place in the small catwalk hidden between buttresses in the angular ceiling and ran over to Bayano who was doubled over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
"How am I supposed to catch one if you keep blowing them up?!" Nado asked exacerbated.
Bayano looked up and pointed the shot blaster at Nado, more as an expressive gesture than a threat. His face almost seemed angry, but the rage was difficult to see through the sagging lines of exhaustion.
"It's not like there is a shortage of them, in case you haven't noticed!"
Just as Bayano spoke those words, a zipping hum of acceleration echoed from one of the portholes that were inset at the top of each pillar in the room. They both knew that sound well, and they looked to each other uneasily. It would only be a few moments before the hatch over the hole slid open, and in a blaze of white light, another replacement sentinel would emerge. Bayano held the weapon out closer to Nado.
"Perhaps YOU would like to be the bait for a while! No? Then stop your complaining and do your job! Catch one before it kills me!"
The port slid open revealing a furnace of white light, dissipating energy from the sub-atomic, rapid fabrication process. Another dark alloy sentinel shot out of the porthole and immediately began to scan the room with a lattice of red light beaming out of its single eye. Nado quickly jumped back up into the dark shadows of the hidden walkway and nodded to Bayano. Without hesitation, Bayano bolted from his cover and sprinted across the open chamber.
The sentinel targeted the fast-moving humanoid with blazing speed. Its energy weapon lowered from the undercarriage and hissed with a static crackle as it fired a bright beam toward Bayano. The chieftain was fast and agile, but he was beginning to run slower now after so many attempts, just slightly, but it was enough.
This time, the energy beam struck the ground too close to his feet. The skin on his calves instantly bubbled up with heat blisters, but the old warrior didn't miss a pace. He dove laterally, recovered just in time to evade another blast, and then accelerated in a desperate sprint back across the chamber with the sentinel closing in.
Bayano didn't look back, but he knew he was out of time. He waited until the walls began to glow from the blast, then he slammed his foot sideways into the floor plate, stopping his motion in an instant. His chest collapsed down against his knee as his momentum carried him forward, but he had anticipated the sentinels' response correctly. After missing the first few shots, it had adjusted its aim to lead the target. The blast burned through the air over his head as he ducked and struck the ground just in front of him.
He felt a crushing pain in his ankle as he began to push off from his coiled position, but he fought through the agony and sprung away from the beam as it traced back toward him. Finally, the sentinel did just what they were hoping for. It seemed to be learning and adapting, and it had calculated the necessity to close distance on the target. With a steady hum, it dropped from its lofty position near the ceiling until it hovered just above the ground and accelerated rapidly toward Bayano. It was going to shoot him at point-blank range.
A surge of adrenaline shot through his body as the fight-or-flight response took hold, and he darted for the corner where Nado was hiding up in the walkway. It would only take a moment for the sentinel's weapon to recharge, but Bayano was sure he could lead the sentinel beneath Nado's perch before it fired. He only hoped Nado would be ready. He couldn't risk shouting or looking up to check. The sentinel might notice, and the trap would be revealed too soon.
Bayano grunted as he pushed with his last remaining strength, pulling for more speed against the growing weight of his legs. The walls began to glow around him as he crossed under the shadow of the buttress, and just before he closed his eyes, in the corner of his peripheral vision, he thought he saw a dark figure drop from the ceiling.
Intense heat seared into his back, and he instantly lost feeling in his legs. He could sense his body dropping toward the ground, and he opened his mouth to scream in pain, but no sound came from his lungs, just a blast of superheated steam and boiling blood. He choked and shuddered as his body tumbled across the floor, and the world began to fade into darkness, but a slight smile curled at the edge of his lips as he remembered the dark figure dropping from the walkway. It was a perfect setup. Surely, Nado had done his part. Bayano Aman had done his.
Nado struggled to inhale as he clung tightly to the sides of the sentinel. The jointed boom that housed the construct's eye had looked up and had extended backwards just in time to catch him in the gut as he landed on top of the drone. All of the air had been knocked out of his lungs, but once the drone's head slammed into his belly, it was blind and disoriented just long enough for Nado to get a solid grip on its beveled edges. He felt the metallic head, pressed between his stomach and the flat back of the drone. It began to push against him, trying to reorient itself. It was surprisingly weaker than he expected, but it was still able to lift him enough that he began to lose his balance.
The wind rushed passed Nado as the sentinel accelerated in a wild flurry of motion. Its mantis-like arms reached back awkwardly to grab him, but the range of motion on its joints was just limited enough to keep him out of reach. Nado quickly looked around, examining the housing of the construct, desperately searching for some type of access panel, but the entire surface of the drone seemed to be air tight.
The sentinel began to hum and rose rapidly toward the ceiling, but it stalled midway and fell back to the ground, scraping against the floor plates as it accelerated again. A shower of sparks lit the darkness, and Nado caught a glimpse of Bayano's body lying nearby in a smoldering heap. He felt a pang of remorse and a sickening pit in his stomach, but he had no time for emotion. He was in a fight for his own life, and he was determined to make sure that the Chieftain's sacrifice was not in vain.
The head continued to wriggle beneath him, and its sharp corners dug uncomfortably into his ribs. Still, it was unable to free itself. The head was apparently the weakest part of the construct. Suddenly, Nado's eyes widened, in a moment of epiphany.
"Hold still! You blasted contraption!" he shouted. "I'll rip your head off!"
He brought his legs up beneath him and carefully released his grip with one hand. He took a deep breath, and then in one smooth motion, he raised his chest, grabbed the sentinel's long neck, and planted his feet firmly on the flat surface of its back.
The sentinel's head snapped forward, and a bright light beamed from its eye, illuminating the chamber ahead. It then snapped back and scanned Nado's terrified face. He released his other hand from the side of the sentinel and took a firm grip around its neck with both hands. He was now standing crouched on the drone's back, and he pulled on the drone's neck with all his strength to maintain his balance. The sentinel's eye flashed from a bright blue to a crimson red, and it made an agitated series of chirps and buzzes.
"Same to you!" shouted Nado. "I've got you now!"
Suddenly, it began to swerve and buck violently to cast off its unwanted payload, but Nado held fast and was beginning to adapt to the sentinel's motions, shifting his weight and moving in sync with the flailing drone. It scanned the area ahead again and accelerated toward a narrow porthole set high in one of the walls. Nado knew he was out of time. They would never make it through the small entry together.
In one last desperate attempt to subdue the drone, he loosed his grip, slid his hands quickly up the boom, and grabbed the head of the sentinel. With a loud grunt, he wrenched it around with all his remaining strength. He pulled back hard and stomped down onto the drone's back. There was a loud snap and a flash of light, and Nado's heart surged with adrenaline. He felt himself tumble backwards into a free fall, as the sentinel broke away, but as he looked down, he saw its head was still firmly in his grip.
The hard floor plates slammed into his back and a sharp pain shot through his head. He fought through the darkness and managed not to lose consciousness, but the sentinel's head jarred loose from his hands and tumbled away into a dark corner. The body of the drone crashed into the wall just below the port hole and exploded in a flash of light. Heat seared Nado's face and arms, but he had fallen far enough away to survive the blast.
He sat up groggily and looked around for the head of the sentinel. He had to find it before another replacement emerged from the pillars. Even if he could learn something about it, anything, he might still have a chance to capture one and reprogram it.
"Nado! What is going on here?"
Nado jumped, startled by the unexpected voice. He looked back and saw the other two chieftains stepping cautiously into the room. They scanned the room nervously, apparently aware of the danger.
"Where is Bayano?" one of them asked as he helped Nado to his feet.
Nado bowed his head to the corner where Bayano lay dead.
"Over there," he said quietly. "We haven't much time."
"I know," said the chief. "We must go
now! This is hopeless, son. We waited as long as we could, but there is another attack on the surface
and something worse now."
"What could be worse?" asked Nado in shock.
"We are not sure, but from the reports we are getting, it seems there is something much worse now. We must go back."
"No!" Nado protested as he pulled away from the man. He staggered and fell to the ground, realizing that his injuries were worse than he thought.
"Come with us, man! Don't be a fool! You want to end up like him?" asked the chief as he pointed to Bayano.
Nado looked again at Bayano's lifeless body. He felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. This had all been his idea, and now Bayano was dead. Perhaps he was a fool, but he remembered the corpses in the fortress. The alternative seemed even more hopeless. At least here there was some chance.
His thoughts were interrupted by a low-pitched hum. All three men looked up to the pillar where the sound was originating. Time was up.
"Now, Nado!" said the chief as he backed toward the doorway.
Nado looked to Bayano again and nodded. He turned to follow the other two men, but stopped suddenly and looked back. He squinted and crouched slightly.
"What are you doing, man! Let's go!"
"Wait!" said Nado, as he looked again near Bayano. His eyes narrowed, and he burst into a sprint, running as fast as he could toward the dead chieftain.
"Leave him!" shouted the other chief, "he's lost his mind! Let's go!"
"Go!" shouted Nado, "I'll be right behind you! Go!"
One of the chiefs grabbed the other's arm and pulled him through the doorway. A flash of white light filled the room, and another sentry burst out of the porthole in the pillar and immediately fired a blast of energy at Nado. He dove through the air and slid across the smooth floor plates, slamming into Bayano's body. He reached around and grabbed the head of the destroyed sentinel that had landed against Bayano's leg. Its eye was still glowing with a pale blue light. He jumped up and ran toward the exit. Another blast lit the chamber as Nado ducked behind a pillar for cover. He looked to the door. It was just close enough; he could make it. Without hesitation, he bolted for the exit, holding the sentinel's head close to his chest. He could hear the other sentinel closing in behind him.
The doors were closed, but he knew they would slide open just as he approached. He was almost there
within touching distance... but
the doors were still shut! The green, illuminated panels had switched to red.
Nado reached out and slammed into the doors, whirling around to face his doom. He held out his arms instinctively to shield his eyes from the blast
but there was nothing
just the sound of his heart pounding in his ears and his lungs gasping for air. He lowered his hands, one still holding the sentinel's head.
Just in front of him, the other sentinel hovered motionless. Its eye scanned the head in Nado's arm, and it began to back away slowly. Nado was shocked, puzzled
but he didn't care why the sentinel had stopped. He was just grateful it had. Its energy weapon retracted back up into its undercarriage, and its eye faded from red back to blue light.
Nado looked down at the head in his hands. He held it out to the sentinel, but it did not respond. Was it confused? Did it actually care that Nado had the still functional head in his hands? He held it out again like a hostage.
"That's right!" he taunted, still filled with aggression from his surge of adrenaline. "You see that?! I have your friend's head!" He walked toward the sentinel, and it began to back away. Nado laughed. "Ha! You like that?! That's right! Back off, yeah! I got him
I'll get you too if you
"You can drop that now," came a soft voice from behind him.
Nado jumped with a start and spun around in surprise, holding out the head like a weapon or a shield. Standing behind him was a woman, but not like any other woman he'd ever seen. Her skin was ghostly white as if she was dead, yet she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, like an angel. His mouth hung open, and he eased away carefully. He did drop the head, involuntarily.
"That won't help you," she laughed, "but I will."
Nyatsimba Mutota stopped for a moment to catch his breath. A wave of nausea surged up his chest and into his head, and he staggered back, leaning against the cold alloy wall for balance.
"We have to keep moving, man!" shouted Matope.
Mutota sucked the hot and humid air in through his parched mouth and began to dry heave. He slumped to the ground and forced a cough to recover. Matope looked nervously back down the long corridor, which led to the chamber where they had abandoned Nado. There were no signs of pursuing sentinels, but he had no intention of waiting around. He reached down and grabbed the belt of ammunition that was looped around Mutota's shoulder and jerked him up from the ground with a grunt.
"Let's go!" he said again.
Mutota wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes and blinked to clear away his blurred vision. He had been running for his life for days now, and their last sprint down the long corridor had pushed him to his limits.
"Where is that useless floating ball?" he grumbled. "At least it could transport us out of this place. We could be here for days!"
"I don't know!" snapped Matope. "It left as soon as we received reports of the new attack on the surface. It hardly matters now! We need to get far away from those sentries! Besides, I think I know where there is a lift that could take us to the surface. It's not far from here. We have to keep moving!"
Mutota sneered and sucked in a deep breath though his wide nose. He couldn't give up now. There were few survivors of his tribe, but he was still their leader, and he would do whatever he could to save them
until the end.
"Go then!" he said, "I will follow."
Moriea took a deep breath and felt as if a great burden had been lifted from her chest. She shifted her weight against the hard ground beneath her and the stone wall against her back, being careful not to wake her children. Torun was sitting beside her with his back against the wall and his head on her shoulder; Halseth was lying in her arms. Both were sleeping peacefully, knowing they were safe now
now that they were with their mother.
She looked down at the soft contours of Halseth's face. The silhouette of his cheeks and the round curves of his rising and falling shoulders were traced gently by the fading light of dusk, a silver lining against the dark ebony tones of his bare skin. She smiled for the first time in days, and closed her eyes as warm tears of gratitude streamed down her face. She didn't know how much longer they would be together, but she would savor every moment.
Nado had been gone for hours, but she was not worried. She knew he would be safe. He would do whatever he could to save them. He could find a way. The noise had died down in the fortress. There were still intermittent sounds of bodies moving about in the darkness and the weak cries and moans of the wounded. It was an ambiance of spent anxiety. The night was upon them, but no one would sleep, only the dying and the naïve.
Moriea looked up into the night sky as the sun faded until it was nearly extinguished, and she marveled at the long arch of the ring that appeared in contrast against the darkness. It had been so long since she had taken the time to look up to the heavens to follow the horizon into the distant sky. She had been so busy with the petty cares of her life, but now she wondered again as she did as a child how such a world could come to be. Where were the gods that built it? How could they allow so much death and destruction?
Her heart swelled with sorrow, and she felt the black depths of despair well up inside her, choking her joy and her hope, pulling her into a pit of darkness. She closed her eyes as her face contorted with grief, and she sobbed uncontrollably, her shoulders heaving as she fought to hold back her emotions, but it was too much.
She felt Halseth stir in her arms, and she looked down to see his worried eyes staring up at her. She tried to hide her face, but it was too late. He sat up in her lap and put his arms around her neck in a firm embrace.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered. "Torun and I will protect you. I promise."
Moriea wrapped her arms around him and sobbed even harder.
"Thank you, son," she managed to say through her tears. "I am sure you will. You are so very brave, just like your father."
Suddenly the ground shook beneath them, and a shower of dust and debris rained down from the crumbling wall. A bright light flashed against the sky, and a thunderous boom pounded through their chests and rolled off into the distance.
Halseth instinctively burrowed into his mother's bosom, and Torun leapt to his feet. Men began to shout near the gate, and sounds of panic filled the air. Moriea stood up with Halseth in one arm and turned slowly to look over the wall through the battlements. Her eyes opened wide, and for a moment, her hopes soared.
In the darkness, she could make out the outlines of dozens of tanks and light combat vehicles. How could so many have survived? Where had they come from? Then, a shrill scream rang out from somewhere else along the wall, and a blaze of tracer fire lit up the darkness, pouring from the fortress walls into the columns of vehicles.
Moriea was only confused for a moment, until she saw the blasts of return fire, streaking toward the fortress from thousands of weapons suspended in the air a few feet above the ground.
She closed her eyes and let the whole world slow around her. In that moment, she looked deep inside her soul and found that last glimmer of hope before it vanished, and she grabbed hold of it with all her might. She held it tightly and refused to let it go. It was all she had left, and nothing would take it from her.
A great peace settled over her, and she opened her eyes again, looking out calmly at the chaos before her. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, fiery explosions, and bodies flying gracefully through the air. She couldn't hear a sound, only the gentle breeze blowing past her ears. She held Halseth tightly in her arm, and put her other hand on Torun's shoulder. They both looked to her for reassurance, but her gentle smile seemed to be enough, and together they leaned their heads against their mother and watched the bright display of fire and lights as it continued. Moriea's heart was free of fear, and she felt nothing but overwhelming peace and love.
"What is it?" asked Matope desperately. "What do you see?"
"Stay there," Mutota whispered down into the shaft, his voice shaking. "There is no need for both of us to see this."
"Tell me, man!" insisted Matope, "or get out of the way, so I can come up and see for myself!"
Mutota put his hand down to gesture for Matope to stop climbing, but he could see it was no use.
"Come then," he said, "but remember that I tried to spare you this sight."
With that, Mutota climbed cautiously out of the shaft and let Matope through. Matope emerged slowly, and froze as he beheld the scene of carnage. He immediately wished he had listened to Mutota, but it was too late now. The image would be forever seared into his memory.
"What happened here?" he whispered.
"She cannot tell you
Altus jumped back from the low rumble, resonating from the air in front of him. He looked around frantically but could not see the source of the voice. Lithiel stood still, but Altus could see her shoulders tense slightly.
"Proteus," she said politely in acknowledgement.
"Proteus?" whispered Altus.
Suddenly, he felt his throat begin to collapse from some unseen force, and his body was jerked into the air. He flailed frantically and felt his hands strike something hard and rough. Fear and panic surged through his spine, and he began to feel his heart pounding in his lips and deep behind his eyes. The ground shook with a thunderous roar, and a blast of hot and humid air blew with a fury into Altus' face.
"Do NOT speak my name, mortal!"
"Release him," said Lithiel calmly.
The winds shifted and blew toward Lithiel.
"I owe no allegiance to you, Librarian," rumbled the voice defiantly. Altus closed his eyes and blacked out. His legs and arms stopped flailing and hung limp, dangling above the ground.
"The executor is following us," she said hurriedly. "He will be here soon."
Altus dropped to the ground in a heap. The impact shook him back to consciousness, and he coughed loudly, choking back the swelling in his throat. He shook his head and looked up confused. Suddenly, an enormous black creature appeared before him, not as the cloaked sentinels had before, with a shimmer of distortion in the air, but in an instant. One moment there was nothing, and then it simply appeared as if it had been there the entire time, unnoticed.
"What mischief have you been working now
princess?" spoke the creature with disdain.
Lithiel said nothing but looked to Altus with concern.
"Still so compassionate then?" mocked the creature as it turned its long, black head toward Altus.
Altus withdrew instinctively from the long, menacing teeth set beneath the smooth, rounded surface of a featureless forehead.
"After all that happened here," the creature continued, "I am astonished that you would even think to intervene on their behalf
again. After all you destroyed in your foolishness, after all you unleashed, after all I exacted from you to keep secret your iniquities, still you return again having learned
and what would your dear Alexandria say now?"
The creature laughed wickedly as it mocked Lithiel, but she stood motionless, staring blankly into space. Her chest trembled slightly, and a single tear broke from her eye and fell through the darkness to the ashes beneath their feet.
Altus stood shakily to his feet and stumbled closer to Lithiel.
"What is this creature?" he asked. "What is it talking about?"
"What creature?" asked Lithiel confused. "Are you ok, Altus?"
Altus turned and looked to Lithiel in shock. She had been in a trance it seemed, but now her eyes were wide and she looked concerned for him.
"What do you mean what creature?" Altus blurted out as he looked back to the monster
but it was gone, just as suddenly as it had appeared. He turned in circles scanning the dark chamber for any sign of the beast, but there was nothing. Lithiel grabbed his arm and tried to get his attention but his eyes continued to search everywhere.
"Altus, what did you see?" she asked again.
He turned back and looked into her eyes with disbelief.
"Lithiel! You spoke to it! It was right here! It nearly killed me!"
Lithiel thought for a moment and then squinted suspiciously. She pulled Altus closer and hushed him gently.
"No," she said. "It was an illusion."
"What! No, it couldn't be! It was
"It was just an illusion," she reassured him again.
He reached up and felt his throat. The swelling was gone. He was breathing freely. Could it really have all been an illusion? He felt as if he were going mad.
"I told you, mortal," Altus froze as the words entered directly into his mind, "she cannot tell you."
"Who are you?" Altus concentrated his thoughts.
"She remembers what I wish her to, when I wish her to."
"Who are you? Altus thought again with all the intensity he could muster.
"I? I am all things
I am nothing
I am the forgotten one."
"What was I saying?" asked Altus confused.
Lithiel reached out and took his hand.
"You were asking what happened here," she said. "Are you ok?"
Altus thought carefully.
"Yes, I just lost my focus for a moment. I must be tired. What did happen here, Lithiel?"
She looked to Altus with the deepest sorrow he had ever seen, hidden in the depths of her eyes. Her mouth opened slightly, and then she paused.
I know I knew once
but I've forgotten."