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The Iron Hands of the Prophets (Part 4): Dark Horizons
Posted By: MadJackal
Date: 21 March 2004, 2:00 AM

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      "I sense something, commander. I don't know what it is, but it's got me on edge," one of the Special Ops Elites under Soka Summakee's command told him.
      Suddenly, a hail of plasma struck Soka full in the chest, making him stumble backwards. Plasma and needle fire erupted from all around them, tearing into the exposed Special Ops troops. Soka saw an Elite in battered blue armor charging straight at him, his weapon blazing. The Elite next to Soka jumped in front of him and took some of the hits, allowing Soka's shields enough time to recharge.
      Once they were fully charged again, Soka charged around his loyal soldier, plasma sword raised for a killing blow. Seeing him charging at the blue armored Elite, none of Soka's troops fired on the Elite, respecting Soka's right to the kill. The Elite screamed, his rage echoing off the mountainside as he fired his plasma rifle close to its overheating point. Soka heard the insistent beeping of his armor's warning of low shields. Ignoring it, he charged up to the Elite and slashed. The blade cut through the Elite's armor and bit into its flesh. The Elite spun around from the force of the blow, a spray of dark purple blood following him.
      Soka was surprised. He had expected the Elite's shields to absorb the impact of the blow, but this Elite did not have energy shields. He must have been one of the members of the dark caste. They had no steady source of new equipment and were forced to use old, worn out, and battered equipment. What they did have, they usually got from dead Covenant troops that they managed to ambush from time to time.
      The Elite was lying face down on the ground. He raised himself up on one arm and pulled out a plasma grenade. Before the Elite could activate it, Soka rammed his sword through the Elite's back. It went completely through the Elite. With a last gasp, the Elite collapsed and died.
      "We've got movement and enemy contacts all around our position, commander!" one of the Elites frantically yelled over the battlenet.
      "Keep calm. Just get them off of us so that we can explain our reason for being here," Soka said.
      Soka saw a plasma grenade fly through the air over his head. It landed on one of his Grunts. The Grunt let out a yelp and tried in vain to get the glowing grenade off of him. The grenade exploded, vaporizing the Grunt in a blinding flash of light. Soka looked around and saw his troops putting out a wall of fire, suppressing the dark caste ambushers. But even with the deadly accuracy of Soka's Special Ops soldiers, the dark caste members still braved the fire just to get off a few shots. Soka saw that at least three of his Grunts were down, lying in pools of their blood.
      The others were taking cover behind rocks. Soka wished he had brought a plasma rifle or a needler with him so that he could have something to fire back at the dark caste members, but there was nothing that he could do about that now.
      Suddenly, they stopped firing. Just as quickly as they had appeared, the dark caste disappeared. "Sir, the dark caste members are pulling back," an Elite reported.
      Why? Sure, they had taken significant casualties, as evidenced by the sprawled corpses of seven of their Elites, but the dark caste never passed up an opportunity to kill Covenant soldiers. It was a mystery, but Soka would gladly take the respite.
      The dark caste knew the area very well, a fact demonstrated by their sudden appearance and their sudden disappearance. It was very possible that they had found the ancient fortress of the Iron Hands. They could lead him to it. But to do that, he had to show them that he was not a Covenant hunter team sent to kill them. Opening a free channel, he sent out a message.

      The dark caste members ran, keeping low. One of the secret entrances to the Fortress Dark Horizon was up ahead. Their leader had just called them to retreat into the fortress because preparations for defense had been completed. They had bought enough time for the other caste members to set up traps and ambushes. Now, they had to get inside so that they could mount a defense against the superior warriors of the enemy Special Ops Strike Team.
      A message came over one of the free channels. The voice was unfamiliar. It was one of the hated Covenant soldiers, their commander. He was asking for a cease fire and a parlay with their leader. He kept repeating that they were not Covenant troops, but rebels.
      The dark caste soldiers slipped through the entrance and disappeared into the mountain. They passed others who were guarding the entrance and ran into their commander, who was striding towards the entrance.

      Soka ordered his troops to establish a tight perimeter around the landing zone. He was about to try contacting the dark caste bandits again when a call came over a free channel, "I am Jukka, leader of the dark caste here on Eden. If you are not Covenant troops, then who are you?"
      Soka played his trump card, "I am a descendent of one of the Iron Hands and these soldiers are my followers. I know that you have found the underground fortress of the Iron Hands. We are not here to kill you. We will welcome you into our ranks to help carry the fight to the Prophets. We merely ask for the use of the fortress."
      "The Iron Hands? Yes, that makes sense... Then you are here because you are trying to continue their fight against the Prophets?"
      "Yes. That is correct. They are our enemy, not you," Soka answered.
      "We care not for your grudge or your cause. If we were to join you, what would we get in return?"
      "Not only would you get to keep your lives, you would get new equipment. We also have plenty of Engineers to repair the equipment that you already have."
      "I admire your bravado. I think that we could hold off your Strike Team from within this fortress. Your death threat does not scare me. But your offer of fresh equipment tempts me. You know our weakness and you exploit it well," Jukka said, chuckling.
      "So we have reached an agreement? A cease fire at least?" Soka said.
      "Yes, a cease fire until we finally settle on an agreement. If we join you, we will take you to Fortress Dark Horizon. If you displease us, we will not."
      "Fine. I am sure that you will understand our reasons for being here soon enough. Give me a chance to explain."

      And so Jukka and many of his dark caste comrades went to Soka's LZ to negotiate. After a lengthy explanation of the Iron Hands and the rebellion, Soka managed to convince Jukka and his men that their cause was a just one. Even though the dark caste had no concept of a cause to follow, they wanted one. This, combined with the fact that most of them had been put in the situations they were in now by the Prophets, made them susceptible to Soka's argument. Within an hour, not only had all of the dark caste members sworn allegiance to Soka and his Iron Hand rebellion, but arrangements had been made for the repair and refit of all of their equipment.
      Soka called on the Phantoms to go and bring down a contingent of Engineers to help with the process. As the Phantoms were leaving to return to the Invisible Truth, Jukka led Soka and his troops into Fortress Dark Horizon.
      They came upon the nearby entrance and filed in. The entrance was only wide enough for a single Hunter, so the four Hunters in Soka's strike team went in first, one by one, to secure the room in case the dark caste were planning to attack them in the narrow space. Then, Soka went in, followed by the rest of the Infidel Stompers. The entrance sloped downwards, leading deeper into the mountainside. Once they had cleared the entrance, Soka could see the first of the major hallways. It was a long, narrow hallway with a very high ceiling and offshoots to the sides. What struck Soka as strange was the fact that the inside of the fortress was made of stone, not some stronger material. But then again, it was three hundred years old.
      And littering either side of the hallway were corpses, or what was left of them. They were nothing more than empty suits of armor, empty except for the skeletons still inside. Seeing his stare, Jukka explained, "There was once a huge battle fought here. It must have been the one you told me about. We had to move the remains to the sides of all of the hallways in here so that we could move around without tripping."
      "Nobody bothered to try and bury them?" Soka said.
      "Apparently, the Covenant pulled out real quick after the battle. There must have been too many bodies for them to bury in the hurry they were in to get off of Eden. From what I hear from your tale, it makes sense. I'll show you why. I'll take you to where the defenders made their last stand inside Fortress Dark Horizon."
      "Why, what's there?" Soka asked.
      "You'll see. Maybe you can make something of it," Jukka said, and then he led them deeper into the fortress.
      They passed more corpses. He noticed some were wearing what had once been a bright silver colored armor. Looking over at Noka, he said, "Those must have been Iron Hand soldiers."
      Noka merely nodded. Soka looked around at the halls. There were scorch marks and craters and scoring on the walls and floor. They passed through a short, obliterated hallway that had been littered with bits of armor. There had obviously been a big explosion there. Behind him, his Infidel Stompers were silent.
      Ship Master Ruka, Soka's best friend, matched his pace with Soka's. "Do you believe in the restless souls of the dead?" Ruka asked.
      "No. But these halls do make me think of such things," Soka answered.
      "Yes, the corpses are a very effective form of psychological warfare, even for those who don't believe in such things," Ruka answered.
      "Do you believe?" Soka asked.
      Ruka did not answer. Jukka kept up a running commentary as they made their way deep into the fortress, "You can see the fortifications such as the sniper points above us and the alcoves in the sides that are perfect for ambushes. We have not needed to construct anything in the way of defenses here. All we need are a couple of plasma grenades, and we can hold the entrances for hours before we would have to fall back deeper into the structure."
      "And the Iron Hands managed to hold this place for twenty-one days. Incredible," Soka muttered.
      "Do you know how many the Iron Hands managed to kill? We have never been able to count all of the bodies," Jukka asked.
      "Thousands, Jukka. Thousands. I am not sure of the exact number. I'll have to look at the data disk I got from Ronu for that."
      "How many Iron Hands were there at the battle?"
      "All that were left. A few hundred, if I'm not mistaken," Soka said.
      "Damn, they must have been one hell of a unit," Jukka said.
      "They were. They were the best."
      They rounded a corner and went down a wide hallway, flanked on either side by a row of columns. It was a temple of the gods. They walked in through a huge set of doors. The room was enormous. The ceilings were high, much like a human cathedral. Columns supported the ceiling, reaching high into the air above them. Statues of the gods and of valiant forgotten heroes were set in a complex pattern, almost as if they were guarding the shrine. Geometric symbols and letters covered the stone floor and chased each other up the sides of the columns, all the way to the ceiling. It was beautiful.
      Beautiful except for the hundreds of corpses that lay strewn about. Soka left the group and strode towards the center of the room, towards the alter. It was surrounded by the bodies of dead Covenant soldiers. But on the alter were the bodies of seventeen Iron Hands. On top of the shrine was a corpse wearing black armor. That was strange. No Covenant unit at that time in history wore black armor.
      "Who among the Iron Hands wore the black armor?" Soka asked, his voice echoing and distorting in the huge chamber so that it sounded like the restless spirit of one of the corpses.
      Several of the dark caste members cringed at the sound of the voice. Noka spoke up, "Only the commander of the Iron Hands wore black armor."
      Soka turned at looked at the corpse in front of him. "Sritha Summakee? If you can hear me, I am Soka Summakee, your descendant who has come back to finish what you started."
      Jukka walked up. "Look at the inscription in the stone at his feet."
      Soka looked down and saw that Sritha's corpse lay on top of a bloodstained and tattered banner. Soka knelt and pulled the banner out. The symbol on the flag was still recognizable after three hundred years. It was a silver armored fist thrust into the air, surrounded by a ghostly silver aura. It was the symbol of the Iron Hands. Soka moved the banner and saw that words had been carved into the stone at Sritha's feet. Soka crouched lower to see them. It had been done hastily and with a crude instrument. Soka read the words aloud, "We will fight to the last soldier, and when we are dead, the gods will call upon our damned souls to rise and speak horrible curses at the enemy."
      As his words echoed eerily off of the walls and ceiling of the chamber, a gust of wind seemed to flow through the shrine, chilling all of those standing inside. Some of the dark caste members started getting nervous, their eyes darting back and forth, from shadow to shadow. Soka stood up and looked around. "This is where the Iron Hands died in the service of the gods. This is a holy place."
      Jukka nodded. No one else stirred.
      "Commander! Commander! A ship has just appeared in the system!" came a static filled transmission from the Invisible Truth in orbit.
      "Calm down, Elite. Who does the ship belong to?" Soka yelled into the comm. channel.
      "There are no symbols on it. It is a dark caste ship I think, fleeing from Covenant ships."
      "Then welcome them. We are on the same side."
      "No, wait, I'm picking up...Sir, another ship has appeared! It's a Covenant Cruiser! It reads as the Sword of Light!"
      "Damn! Do not engage either ship. If the Sword of Light asks, say that you are also here to exterminate dark caste bandits but that your Ship Master is on the surface and that you are confident that the Sword of Light can take out the ship alone."
      "Right, Commander!"
      Soka turned to Jukka. "We are going to capture the Sword of Light. We will need the firepower. It is important that they think that my ship and I are on their side until the moment that we strike."
      "Ruka! You are coming with me back to the Truth. Noka, stay here and wait for your Combined Arms Strike Team to arrive with the Engineers. Then, escort them into Fortress Dark Horizon and immediately start helping out Jukka and his troops."
      Soka then turned and looked out over his 17th SOCAST, "Infidel Stompers! You are coming with me. We are going to board the Sword of Light and we are going to capture her!"
      The Infidel Stompers let out a yell of bloodlust and one by one, everyone filed out of the shrine. Soon, it was as empty as it had been before. Empty except for the hollow pieces of armor and skeletons that lay scattered about in silent testimony to the eternal damnation of those who had fought and died there.

To Be Continued