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The Iron Hands of the Prophets (Finale): Two Betrayals
Posted By: MadJackal
Date: 4 April 2004, 9:18 AM

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      Soka Summakee sat on the alter of the shrine deep inside of Fortress Dark Horizon. After his troops had retreated into the safety of the fortress, the Covenant had decided not to press their attack. They must have known that in the narrow entrances, they would have been perfect targets. Instead, they waited for the rest of their forces to land so that they would have support. There was no way to tell exactly how many soldiers that the Covenant had on Eden to destroy the Iron Hand rebels, but Soka estimated that they had probably come with close to one hundred thousand. The Prophets would have realized the threat of a resurrected Iron Hand rebellion, and he was sure that they had spared nothing in the way of troops for the second siege of Eden.
      Soka looked at the corpse to his right. It was an empty suit of armor, filled only with the skeleton of the Elite that had worn it in his last stand in the shrine. The armor was black, like the armor that Soka himself wore. The battered suit of armor next to him belonged to Sritha Summakee, the legendary leader of the Iron Hands. Now Soka Summakee, Sritha's only living descendent, was in the same situation his ancestor had been in.
      A gust of wind found its way into the shrine, rustling the tattered and stained Iron Hand banner that lay pinned beneath Sritha's armor. He had died on top of the symbol that he had cherished. Soka knew that there was no way they could hope to repulse the Covenant assault. Soka had more troops than Sritha's Iron Hands, but none of them were as skilled as the Iron Hands had been. It was only a matter of time before the Prophets erased his rebels from the face of the Universe. He looked at his two Prophet hostages, who were sitting in the shrine in a corner. He didn't know if he had the heart to kill them anymore. It was as if he had broken inside.
      Soka stood up, shrugging off his exhaustion, and moved to the entrance of the shrine. There was a battle to fight and he was getting impatient.

      Jukka, the leader of the dark caste soldiers under Soka's command, admired his new armor. While most of the dark caste had merely gotten their armor repaired, Jukka had gotten brand new black armor, sporting the symbol of the Iron Hands on its right chest plate. He was honored, not simply because the armor had come from one of the spares for Soka's Special Ops Strike Team, but because Soka had judged him to be a skilled enough warrior to warrant the symbol of the Iron Hands on his armor. Now Jukka really was one of the famed rebels.
      Jukka slid a fresh needler crystal into his needler, loading it. Glowing spikes protruded from the top of the weapon; these were the projectiles that it would fire. Jukka walked towards the entrance, nodding to the members of the dark caste that were arrayed in defensive positions all around the entrance. The dark caste had been given specific orders to hold this entrance at all costs, and they would gladly do that. It was a chance to regain their long lost honor.
      Jukka neared the entrance and saw that sunlight filtered down from the surface above. So the dawn had come. Suddenly, the sunlight was blocked by something moving at the top of the ramp. Jukka heard the clank of armor. He started backing away from the entrance and yelled, "We've got company!"
      His dark caste brethren, though disdained because of the disgraces in their past, were all very experienced troops. Their lifestyle, which was nothing more than being hunted wherever they went, had turned them into troops just as effective as the best of the Covenant frontline units. And when dark caste members were desperate, they fought like cornered lions.
      The clank of armor grew louder. Jukka raised his needler and prepared to kill whatever came through that entrance. Suddenly, a Hunter came into view. Immediately, a storm of plasma and needles blasted into it, making it stagger backwards. It lowered its stance and raised its shield in front of it and charged through the weapons fire. Behind it came another Hunter, and another, and another one. "Grenades, Iron Hands! Grenades!" Jukka yelled.
      He and the other dark caste troops by the entrance activated plasma grenades and threw them. They stuck to the lead Hunter just as he was about to clear the entranceway. He managed a few more steps into the room before all of the grenades exploded and he was torn apart in a blinding flash. But another Hunter charged through. More grenades fell. The Hunter moved away from the entrance, making room for the next Hunter. The grenades exploded, killing the second Hunter and wounding the third. But the third Hunter moved away from the entrance, firing his fuel rod cannon. Brilliant green projectiles passed over Jukka's head.
      He heard the screams of some of his men as they were torn apart form the impact of the deadly cannons. Priming another grenade, Jukka continued the fight. An almost constant rain of grenades fell on the entrance. The explosions of four grenades killed the third Hunter. The entrance was charred black from the explosions and covered with the bright orange blood of the Hunters. A fourth Hunter charged through, was met by three plasma grenades, but kept going. He was followed by two more Hunters.
      They couldn't kill the mighty Covenant warriors quick enough. The fourth Hunter was sent to his knees by more grenades and was finished off by a storm of plasma. The other two Hunters seemed to wither away under the storm of weapons fire as they moved to the sides of the entrance, firing their fuel rod cannons as they went. Four Brutes barreled into the room. The first Brute was killed in a few quick seconds by the sheer magnitude of the dark caste's weapons fire.
      The two surviving Hunters finally fell to some well-placed grenades, but it was too late. The Covenant troops had already established a presence in the hall. More Brutes streamed into the room, followed by Elites, Grunts, and Jackals. The rain of plasma grenades managed to keep their numbers down, but their supply would not last forever. Once they ran out of grenades, they were doomed.
      Jukka fired his needler at a Brute, emptying an entire magazine. The monster howled in rage as the projectiles embedded themselves in its flesh. It charged straight for Jukka, raising its weapon as it went. Then, the needles exploded, ripping the Brute apart in a spray of dark blood.
      More grenades went off, and the Brutes were finally put down. A gold armored Elite with a plasma sword charged through the grenade explosions, straight at Jukka. Jukka backed up, sliding a fresh needler crystal into his weapon. Now that the weapon was fully loaded, Jukka stood his ground. Plasma blasts from his men struck the oncoming Elite from all sides, making its shields flare up. Jukka opened up with his needler. The Elite kept coming, right into the hail of needles.
      The Elite ran up to him, needles protruding from his armor at odd angles, and raised his sword. Jukka's needler clicked empty. The Elite stabbed Jukka in the chest, penetrating Jukka's shields and his armor. Gasping, Jukka dropped his weapon and collapsed to his knees. At that same moment, all of the needles that were sticking out of the Elite exploded. The chain reaction ripped the Elite's body apart and thousands of slivers of microshrapnel blew through its armor and flesh. But Jukka was too close to the Elite. The microshrapnel tore through him as well. Jukka fell onto his back, mortally wounded by the Elite's sword, and then finished off by his own microshrapnel.
      Jukka stared at the ceiling and watched as plasma fire and needles broke the view with their harsh light. As the life drained from him, Jukka knew that he had regained his honor. And that was all that mattered to him. In the end, it was all that mattered.

      Noka ordered his troops to fall back to the adjoining hall as the Covenant forces poured through the entrance. They had almost run out of grenades. It was time to retreat. He sure hoped that the dark caste bandits were doing better at their entrance. Noka fired his plasma rifle at the oncoming horde of Elites, Grunts, and Jackals. It was not having as much effect as he would have liked.
      His team was falling apart. Their fire was scattered and uncoordinated. Enemy troops still staggered and fell, but they were not killing them fast enough. That was when Noka saw a plasma grenade arc through the air, straight towards him, from the enemy troops. He knew that he should attempt to dodge the grenade, but something deep within him snapped. Noka did not move. The grenade hit and stuck to his chest.
      Noka hoped that the gods would forgive him and allow him his chance at paradise as he ran straight at the Covenant troops. The front rank of Covenant tried to turn and run from the living bomb running at them, but the troops behind them did not know what was going on and they slammed into each other in confusion. Noka shouldered his way into their midst. The grenade exploded.

Seven hours later/
Fortress Dark Horizon, Eden

      Soka stood in the long, column-lined hall that led to the entrance of the shrine. Next to him stood his friend Ruka Ronee. Around him stood the forty-three surviving members of the 17th Special Operations Combined Arms Strike Team, the notorious Infidel Stompers. The sounds of battle throughout the fortress were dying down, and the reports of the Covenant breakthroughs and of Iron Hand defeats were becoming less frequent now.
      "I sense something..." one of the Infidel Stomper Elites said, trailing off.
      Soka looked at him, respecting the instincts of his men. An Elite to his left laid his armored hand on Soka's shoulder and whispered, "Commander, look! Look at the air!"
      Soka looked at the air in front of them at saw that it seemed to ripple like the heat waves off of the rocks on a very hot day. But Soka knew that there was no sun here to heat up the stone floor like that. No, it was something completely different. "Camouflaged Elites!" he yelled, "Fire your weapons!"
      His Infidel Stompers opened up, sending a tempest of weapons fire at the entrance. Plasma impacted all over the Elites, disrupting their active camouflage and exposing them for his Stompers to see. The plasma melted through their armor and Elites started collapsing all over the floor. Two enemy Hunters came around opposite sides of the entrance, their shields up and their weapons raised. The ends of their fuel rod cannons started to glow menacingly. Soka knew that he had to get out of the way. He hit the deck. He felt the heat of the cannon fire as it passed over him.
      Behind him, he heard agonized screams from wounded and dying Infidel Stompers. An Infidel Stomper Grunt leapt out from behind a column and fired his shoulder mounted fuel rod cannon. The horrible green blast hit one of the Hunters square in the chest, rocking it back on its feet and melting through most of its chest armor. The other Hunter quickly brought up his own cannon and blew the Grunt into the afterlife.
      The surviving camouflaged Elites opened up on the Infidel Stompers. Flashes of plasma came out of nowhere, striking the rebels. Soka primed a grenade and threw it. It exploded a few seconds later. The bodies of three camouflaged Elites materialized out of thin air as the explosion disrupted their camouflage. Deadly accurate plasma blasts from his soldiers quickly put them down.
      Soka got up and raised his plasma sword into the air, letting out a tremendous battle cry that echoed throughout the hall. Suddenly, plasma swords materialized out of nowhere in front of his troops. The other Elites had only been a distraction, allowing the real danger to creep up on them: camouflaged Elites with swords.
      The enemy Elites started hacking away, ignoring the plasma blasts that tore into them. His troops started to fall. In a few seconds, almost half of his troops lay dead or dying on the ground. Soka heard an armored foot clank against the stone behind him. He ducked just in time to avoid a swinging plasma sword. Soka spun around. He could not see the Elite, but he could guess where he was based on the position of the sword. Most Elites were right handed so that meant that his body had to be to the right side of the hovering energy blade.
      Soka swung his sword, but the Elite moved to block it. The two blades connected and for a few seconds, they were deadlocked. Soka, drawing on his immense experience with the plasma sword, feinted to the left and then attacked to the right. The trick worked. Responding to Soka's feint, the blade moved to block a blow that never came. Soka's real attack met something solid. The camouflage flickered and died as the blade cut through the Elite. Dark purple blood splashed over Soka as he pulled out the blade and kicked the Elite in the chest, sending it to the floor, dead.
      Soka turned and saw that Ruka was involved in a battle against two of the floating plasma swords, struggling to block the lightning fast blows. Soka dove in and slashed in the same motion, slicing open the back of one of the camouflaged Elites threatening Ruka. The Elite fell forwards, gasping. Another slash finished him off. Together, Soka and Ruka managed to put in a combination of slashes that the second Elite could not stop and soon, he too lay dead in a growing pool of his own blood.
      Soka looked around him. Covenant Elites, Grunts, and Jackals were swarming into the hallway, plasma weapons and needlers blazing. His Infidel Stompers were almost all dead. "Fall back to the shrine!" Soka ordered.
      Soka and Ruka ran towards the heavy stone doors of the shrine. The Infidel Stompers ran alongside them. A storm of plasma tore into their backs, and one by one, the Infidel Stompers fell. Soka and Ruka stumbled past the doors and turned to look back. Not a single Infidel Stomper had made it. "Close the doors!" Soka yelled. They pushed on the doors, and they slowly started to close. The last thing Soka saw in the hallway was one of the camouflaged sword Elites raising his sword to kill a wounded Infidel Stomper. The doors shut. As Ruka hit the locking mechanism, Soka realized that the Covenant would execute every one of the rebels that they could find. There would be no prisoners. So they killed all, even the helpless wounded soldiers still in the hallway.
      They moved deeper into the corpse littered shrine. Their Prophet hostages cowered in the far corner, all the way on the other side of the huge room. Behind them, they heard a faint pounding on the door. It wouldn't be long before the Covenant got in. It was time to kill the hostages. Soka started to move for them, but could not bring himself to do it. After all he had been through for his cause, after dragging so many others to the grave with him, he could not bring himself to complete the task. "Are you going to kill the Prophets?" Ruka asked.
      "Later. Not now. We must first decide how to best defend the shrine." Soka said, covering up his inability to bring himself to order their deaths.
      "No, Soka. I will not let you do that." Ruka said, his voice full of conviction.
      "What did you say?" Soka asked, turning to face his friend with an astonished look on his face.
      "Soka, it was I who sent the message revealing our presence here to the Prophets. I ushered in the doom of your rebellion." Ruka said.
      "What? No, that's impossible!" Soka sputtered.
      "Is it? Soka, if I had allowed your rebellion to live longer, you might have been able to do some serious damage to the Prophets and the Covenant Empire."
      "But, didn't you believe? Was that not our whole goal all along?"
      "Yes, Soka, but it was the wrong goal. This rebellion is the last thing that our glorious Empire needs right now. If you had managed to get your message out and to get a real following, we might have been talking about a civil war. That is completely unacceptable. What we need now is unity, not divisiveness. Our rebellion was indeed nothing but a cancer, a sickness inside the Covenant. We need the strength that can only come with a unity of thought and purpose to defeat the humans. You have threatened all that we once held dear, Soka. For that, you must die. For dragging me into this, you must die at my hand, or I must die at yours."
      "Ruka? How could you? Were we not friends once?" Soka asked.
      "Yes, we were friends once. But a traitor has no friends because he has proved that he cannot be trusted. Soka, we are all traitors, and we are all alone."
      "So be it, Ruka." Soka snarled, activating his plasma sword.
      Ruka activated his own sword. Their blades glowed with a killing gleam. They started to slowly circle each other among the ancient corpses and statues of the shrine. Soka attacked first, raising his weapon high over his head for a powerful downwards cut. Ruka quickly raised his sword to block the blow. The weapon impacted with such force that Ruka stumbled backwards. Soka surged forward, his weapon nothing more than a blur of motion.
      Ruka blocked Soka's lightning fast strikes, summoning all the skill he had with the weapon to keep himself alive. Ruka backed into the statue of a god. Seeing his enemy's plight, Soka attacked. Ruka dove around the statue, and Soka's blade blasted through the statue's legs. The tall statue fell to the side, hitting the floor and breaking. Soka leapt over the rubble and continued his attacks.
      The two Elites kept fighting, moving from the light in the center of the room over the alter. Their blades were flashes in the dark; their bodies were dark ghosts in the shadows. Eventually, they found their way back to the alter. Ruka backed up the steps of the alter, struggling to keep his footing as he stumbled over the three hundred year old hollow suits of armor of the dead Iron Hands.
      Ruka's foot hit Sritha Summakee's helmet and Ruka slipped. He fell onto his back, dropping his plasma sword. Soka leapt forward, his sword raised for a killing blow. Ruka rolled to his left and the blade cut through the chest plate of Sritha's armor, through the torn Iron Hands banner beneath, and then bit into the stone.
      Ruka grabbed Soka's arm and delivered a hard punch to the elbow. Soka's arm jerked from the blow, causing him to release his grip on his own sword. It clattered to the floor. Ruka flipped Soka over him. Soka landed on his back. Ruka leapt to his feet and so did Soka. Ruka punched Soka in the face so hard that he broke two of his knuckles. Ruka felt bone give way in Soka's face as one of his mandibles was broken. Roaring in rage, Soka tried to sweep Ruka's feet out from under him, but Ruka managed to avoid Soka's foot. While Soka might have been the master of sword combat, Ruka was his better in hand-to-hand combat.
      Reserving his right arm and its broken knuckles for blocking only, Ruka managed to land a few punches on Soka. It was not enough though. Soka landed a vicious kick to the side of Ruka's head and he fell backwards, back onto the alter. Soka dove on top of him, fist raised to drive Ruka's skull into the stone. Obviously, in his rage, Soka had not learned from his lesson. For the second time in as many minutes, Ruka flipped Soka over him. Soka landed on his back. Ruka started to get up and saw Soka's plasma sword lying a few feet from his face.
      Grabbing it and turning in the same motion, Ruka activated it and prepared to slice Soka in half. But to his surprise, Soka had retrieved Ruka's old sword. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Both blades impacted their targets. Ruka's blade cut deep into Soka. Ruka gasped in pain as Soka's blade cut through his side. They fell against each other. Soka looked into his friend's eyes and said, "There...you got...what...you wanted. The rebel...ion is...finished. Now...I die by your sword... and you...die by...mine."
      Soka Summakee drew his last breath, shuddered, and died.
      Ruka laid Soka's body down on the alter next to Sritha's. He staggered to his feet, gasping from the pain, his every breath painful. He called out to the two Prophets. They reluctantly came over. Ruka sank to his knees. The pounding on the doors grew louder. The troops outside were using the Hunters now. The stone started to fracture. Ruka stared at the growing cracks in the doors. The two Prophets were silent, looking at Ruka in awe. The doors collapsed, and two Hunters ran through, their weapons up. A swarm of Covenant soldiers followed them in. They froze and stood silent. They were shocked by the grandeur of the shrine, by the beauty of the statues, by the horror of the hundreds of ancient dead warriors, and by the figures that stood in front of them.
      Ruka rose to his feet, flanked by the two Prophets. He gestured to the body of Soka Summakee, his friend. Ruka's voice echoed throughout the chamber, the strange acoustics of the room making it sound like the death rattle of a cursed soul. "I bring before you the corpse of the last Iron Hand!" he yelled. The voice echoed until it eerily died away. At that moment, Ruka collapsed next to the body of his friend. As life left him, Ruka prayed that all who had died in this horrible place would find peace, and that he would live on in the eternal happiness of paradise. But it was not to be.